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Andaya, cheap talk, and costly signaling

/ 05:05 AM June 08, 2021

Rolando Andaya Jr., a Camarines Sur representative for a total of 18 years and a budget secretary for four, is back in the news. Two weeks ago, it was for surviving an apparent assassination attempt. (The circumstances as initially reported drew a puzzling picture; the gunmen fired two shots, but Andaya said he didn’t realize what was happening and even went down from the vehicle to check on the disturbance.) And last week, it was for orchestrating ex-defense secretary and former presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro’s return to the spotlight.

The stage was Davao City, specifically the office of Mayor Inday Sara Duterte, and the occasion was not the birthday of the President’s daughter and survey frontrunner (although it took place the week of her birthday) but rather the start of the theater season — election theater, that is. Andaya was both impresario and performer: He emceed Teodoro’s visit on social and traditional media, and played his role as enthusiastic supporter of what he called a “done deal”—the pairing of Sara and Teodoro as running mates in the 2022 elections—to the hilt.

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It was, of course, no such thing. There was no done deal.

In the first place, Sara has not made a definitive announcement about her 2022 plans; it helps to have sycophantic supplicants like Andaya reinforce the inevitability of her presidential run, but it will simply not do for the announcement to be made through underlings. Secondly, and more important, it does not make logical or electoral sense for Sara, leading the pack of possible presidential candidates at 27 percent, to choose a sometime politician unheard from the last five years and polling at 0.5 percent in terms of vice presidential preferences as running mate. Aside from the funding she can get from Teodoro and his allies, including former president Gloria Arroyo—funds which she can raise elsewhere, from other allies—Teodoro at this point brings nothing to the table.

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Thirdly, the language Andaya used to explain his “done deal” statement gave the game away. He called the younger Duterte and Teodoro “soulmates,” as though their political union were inevitable. But the actual statement immediately showed just how absurd, vapid, and manipulative it was: “Parang natural, parang soulmates na nagkita pero soulmates talaga.” The connection between the mayor and her visitor, Andaya said, was like natural, like they were soulmates who met, like true soulmates. Right.

This is not to say that Sara and Teodoro did not hit it off; they probably did. Teodoro’s visit must have gone as well as that of the Marcos siblings, who met the mayor two days before her birthday. (In terms of election theater, the visit by Sen. Imee Marcos and her brother Bongbong can be understood as a preview.)

Teodoro, who declined President Duterte’s offer to serve again as defense secretary in 2016, has been immersed in the private sector since he ran and lost in the 2010 presidential election. He was a capable defense secretary under President Arroyo, who earned the respect of both Washington, DC, and Beijing; but it is political fantasy to think that, 12 years after his last political appointment, he has what a presidential candidate needs in a running mate.

Andaya’s entire objective in last week’s news cycle, then, was to simply raise Teodoro’s profile again, perhaps for a senatorial run. Was there in fact a done deal with Mayor Duterte?

Listen to his spin, and one should immediately realize that it IS spin. Speaking mostly in Filipino, he explained that the done deal he was speaking of was something he imagined: “Sa isip ko ‘yun.” But unwilling yet to let go of a good narrative theme, he immediately added, again speaking mostly in Filipino: But now that I’m on my way out of city hall, in my view this is a done deal for the country, too. Then, back to reality: In only a short while, he said, this tandem won’t be just a dream anymore, but will be the tandem of the entire country.

In signaling theory, this is an example of cheap talk. Like promising to effect a reform in three to six months, the act of talking cheaply does not cost the speaker much. If the audience, whether adversary or ally, accepts the statement at face value, good for the speaker. If not, it doesn’t matter to the speaker either. It didn’t cost much.

Andaya’s stunt last week is cheap talk in this exact sense: His bluster about a done deal got lots of airtime and media space; it was designed to do so, and it was designed precisely in a way that would appeal to the media. It wasn’t cheap by the standards of the ordinary citizen, of course; after all, they flew on a private plane to Davao City. But it was cheap to Andaya and Teodoro and their political allies both financially and politically: They got the media to play along by sending a costless signal. If the media had ignored them, they would have shrugged their shoulders and gone on to the next stunt.

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A costly signal is one that requires a serious investment, in resources, preparation, money. The orchestrated campaign to support Sara Duterte’s presidential candidacy, by accumulating 17 million signatures, is an example. It sends a very clear message that Sara is in fact serious about running; unfortunately, the cost of that costly signal (public officials’ time, public resources’ use) is charged to the Filipino’s account.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand; email: [email protected]

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TAGS: 2022 presidential elections, Gilbert Teodoro, John Nery, Newsstand, Rolando Andaya Jr., Sara Duterte-Carpio
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