Strike 3 for the Left?
IN A recent commentary, Raul J. Palabrica raised interesting points on the Left’s electoral strategy and why, for the third consecutive time, leftist organizations failed to have a senatorial candidate elected or to dominate even the party-list elections (“The Left’s failed political bid,” Opinion, 5/27/16).
In particular, Palabrica cited the failure of the Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan (Makabayan) and its party-list organizations to win a Senate seat despite fielding well-known leftists Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza in 2010, this author in 2013, and Neri Colmenares in 2016.
He makes much ado about the alliances that Makabayan forged with Manuel Villar’s Nacionalista Party in 2010 and Grace Poe’s Partido Galing at Puso in 2016, insinuating that these “marriages of convenience” did not help and maybe even pulled down our candidates’ chances at the polls.
But he himself seems unconvinced that this was a major factor. After all, in senatorial races, alliances are mostly tactical in nature, with little teamwork and candidates actually junking each other to get into the “Magic 12.” As in most elections, the senatorial candidates were on their own in 2016, raising funds and resources, and campaigning for themselves with little regard for their party mates.
“So what went wrong with the Left’s political strategy?” he asks. Why, despite their promasses platform and relatively generous media mileage, can’t the Left party-list groups get the maximum three seats each in Congress plus a candidate in the Senate? Good question.
Unfortunately, Palabrica fails to give his readers a clear answer, except to say that it’s a puzzler and that major adjustments in strategy and program of action are needed for the Left to be a “political force to reckon with in our country.”
Perhaps we can start with the basics.
Philippine elections are mainly about money and machinery. A national candidate may have the best image, messaging and platform, but without the hundreds of millions of pesos to spend on media ads, to pay the political dynasties and operators who control grassroots votes, and to fund the wherewithal of a campaign— from commissioned surveys to campaign giveaways—one will likely fall short of victory.
From all accounts Colmenares had a good image and a popular platform. He even had pro bono show biz endorsers Angel Locsin (who is actually his aunt) and supporter Boy Abunda. Unfortunately, he could not raise the funds to buy enough airtime to make a dent in the public consciousness during the campaign period.
During the precampaign period, Colmenares could not come out with even one TV ad, while similarly situated first-time candidates Martin Romualdez was estimated to have spent P311 million in TV ads alone, Win Gatchalian P167 million, and Isko Moreno P90 million. In the campaign proper, Colmenares spent around P45 million for his campaign compared to Gatchalian who spent P157 million, Moreno P120 million, and Romualdez P87 million.
On the ground, Colmenares could not provide barangay captains, mayors, governors, congressmen and political operators the funds or logistical support they are used to getting from national candidates. To be blunt about it, he simply could not afford to buy votes or curry favor from those with the capacity to deliver such command votes.
In the first place, where would a candidate get those hundreds of millions of pesos to fund a typical senatorial campaign? There are two main sources: government funds and campaign contributions from oligarchs and big business interests. Out of principle, Colmenares could not tap the latter, unlike some Aquino appointees who brazenly used public funds and government resources for their campaign. Neither could he expect much from the big funders, wary as they are of the Left’s agenda for wealth redistribution and social justice.
Of course, the Left has its own network of people’s organizations and nongovernment organizations. While adept at pursuing mass struggles, they are not designed for electoral battle, unlike the well-oiled vote-getting machinery of traditional politicians and election racketeers.
It’s not only in the senatorial race that the dominance of money and traditional politics are in full play. For years now, the party-list elections have been dominated by groups representing political dynasties, big business interests and religious groups. Thus, Makabayan considers it an achievement to have maintained its seven seats in the 2016 elections, possibly eight if Gabriela Women’s Party’s petition for its third seat is granted. Aside from Gabriela’s two seats, ACT Teachers Party-list won two seats, and Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Kabataan got one seat each.
Gabriela’s No. 2 ranking in the party-list elections was phenomenal with 1.4 million votes. So was ACT Teachers Party-list’s No. 4 ranking with 1.2 million votes. Anakpawis likewise increased its votes compared to the 2013 elections. In all, votes for the Makabayan bloc increased by almost a million votes.
The increasing number of dynastic and big business party-list groups may explain the drastic reduction in Bayan Muna’s votes, aside from its apparent difficulty in maintaining a distinct voting constituency owing to its multisectoral character.
Given such realities in Philippine politics, it is not too hard to explain Makabayan’s difficulties in winning a Senate seat or increasing its party-list seats. The challenge for Makabayan is, not simply to choose better allies or to repackage its candidates and platforms, but to defeat the dominant political elites in their own game and overcome the essentially reactionary character of Philippine elections.
Teddy Casiño is an activist who served for three terms in Congress as a Bayan Muna party-list representative in 2004-2013 and ran for the Senate as an independent in 2013.
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