First World techniques, Third World setting
The Philippines uses state-of-the-art campaign techniques, but its elections are taking place in a political culture that is pre-modern and oriented toward the family. BY LUZ RIMBAN
SATURDAY, JANUARY 3RD, 2004
| Filipino politicians use the latest campaign techniques, but still look upon voters as mendicants.| | |
ADVERTISING guru Reli German tells the story of the time he was tapped to produce commercials and jingles for then candidate Ferdinand Marcos’s 1965 presidential bid. The campaign was more of a family venture with no less than Marcos’s wife Imelda herself directing the troops. She would drop by German’s office to look over campaign materials and listen to the jingles being prepared for her husband’s campaign. “It was more of Imelda that we were dealing with directly for the campaign in 1965,” German recalls. One night Imelda summoned German and his production team to the Marcos home in San Juan, where they were led to her bedroom, which had a closet full of shoeboxes. The group, a team of professional advertising people, did not know exactly what they were doing in Imelda’s boudoir, but the mystery was soon revealed. German remembers that “she took three shoeboxes and the boxes were offered to us, and they were full of money!” With that, the campaign production team was paid, and paid handsomely. German’s story does not only provide insights on the other uses Imelda made of her shoes (or, more precisely, the boxes they had come in). It also tells us that advertising professionals had been involved in Philippine election campaigns as far back as 1965, when radio was reaching its peak and television, just beginning to make a dent in Filipinos’ consciousness. Then and now, however, professionals like German are relegated to the background, hidden members of the campaign team who are traditionally composed of the candidate’s trusted family members. Campaign professionals, though, have actually been around longer than that. Soon after the United States introduced elections in the Philippines, the country’s former colonizer also exported to the islands U.S.-style campaigning. This included the use of the mass media to create and manipulate public images, the hiring of public relations and advertising professionals, and later, the employment of sophisticated tools like campaign research and polling. Candidates like Manuel Quezon, Ramon Magsaysay, and Ferdinand Marcos were sold to voters partly through images crafted by experts and peddled to the public through newspapers, radio, and later, television. At least in terms of elections, the Philippines is not the laggard of Asia, but perhaps the first country in the region that has mastered the use of first-world election techniques. | The first national-level Philippine elections were held in 1907. Photo shows voters reading campaign posters issued for that election.| | |
But it isn’t easy applying first-world election know-how to a third-world political setting. Despite what appear to be advanced campaign methods, the Philippines is still basically a feudal society where the family lords over political life. And with the weakening of political parties — alongside the weakening of other institutions in society — the family has remained the country’s basic political organization. This feudal, family-oriented base is one of the factors that stunts the growth of political-campaign professionals. Four decades after Imelda Marcos successfully steered her husband to power, Philippine campaigns are still far from being well-oiled political projects run by professionals. In the Philippine setting, a political campaign machine — especially one designed for a presidential candidate — can be a complex structure with various compartmentalized sub-groupings. The professionals would be embedded somewhere within, a silent and unknown minority who bow to tacticians and campaign operators. These tacticians and...