We cheered for her when she stood her ground for the RH Bill. We gave our loudest hurrahs during her appearances and statements in various debates. We flooded Twitter and Facebook with status updates, memes, infographics, posters, and tweets, all with the same battle cry: “Risa Hontiveros for Senator!”
Now, the same crying mouths are left gaping, with hands above heads scratching. In Filipino, “nganga!”
Soon, our denial turned in anger, with many posting rants in social media, lamenting the irony of “stupid” candidates winning and “intelligent, upright” candidates losing. Did the electorate do something wrong or is it a lapse in judgment on the part of the candidate and her handlers? If you’re the type of person who is quick to judge a candidate and his/her voters as “stupid”, clearly there is something wrong in your judgment.
If Risa Hontiveros haven’t learned from the past, that lesson is “repeating the same mistake.” From the beginning of the campaign, she got a lot of factors wrong. Her entire packaging—from the fashion sense down to the image she portrayed—it’s all reflective of 2010.
FASHION FAUX PAS
From that year when she first lost, nothing has changed in her attire. She still wears that classy, yellow blouse reminiscent of the traditional attire balintawak. Add to that the signature purple shawl or alampay which baffled most of us until they found somewhat of a use for it—as a sling-like contraption to “take out” corruption and poverty.
93% of our electorate comes from poor, usually less educated masses, and obviously, it’s very rare for them to wear a garment reminiscent of the balintawak or even an alampay. These masses, dubbed as class D and E by survey firms, can relate more to candidates who dress like them either in plain t-shirts or polo shirts, and jeans. If you can even wear slippers or sandals during your campaign, much better.
If Hontiveros could have taken a page from a team mate’s book, it should’ve been Sonny Angara. Just look at him during the last leg of Team PNoy’s nationwide campaign. He wore a yellow camisa chino or loose shirt commonly worn by farmers. That shirt sent the message that this guy is pro-farmer and pro-masses. Look at him now; he’s trailblazing at 6th place!
And to strike closer to home, just look at Nancy Binay—the bullied candidate which most of her supporters pitted against her. In all her sorties, Binay usually wore a plain t-shirt or polo shirt with UNA’s signature color orange. You now know how her attire made a difference in the election.
SINGLE MESSAGE FLOP
Never mind the attire and focus on the message: Yes, her handlers and supporters portrayed her as a tough, determined, no holds barred activist ready to take on issues such as corruption, poverty, discrimination, and women’s rights. The message is good, clear, and even concise but this has always been her message even in 2010. The masses have heard this before. What they need to know is what else can she do for us? What else can she transform into?
If her handlers packaged her as a multi-faceted candidate such as a mother (like Nancy Binay), a good daughter (like Grace Poe), or an entrepreneur (like Cynthia Villar), she would have appealed to the masses even more. And instead on focusing her platforms on issues closer to her heart such as women’s rights and RH Bill, she should have shown the electorate her plans of tackling issues closer to the masses’ heart like food, poverty alleviation, jobs, housing, health, and the likes.
IMAGE GONE WRONG
Another important factor Hontiveros and her campaign managers got wrong is the image. To tickle the electorate, one must present the image that you are “for the masses and with the masses”. But didn’t she do just that when she came out with President Aquino last year during the aftermath of Typhoon Gener, giving out relief goods to flooded residents around the Metro Manila? Yes. But it wasn’t election season yet and it was misconstrued by the masses as electioneering or as they would have it in Filipino, “umeepal”. What could have been an alternative is for President Aquino to appoint her as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or even the Commission on Human Rights so she can have a legitimate reason to be with the masses and in a national scale.
Unfortunately, instead of compensating for her somewhat absence in masa events such as provincial sorties, Hontiveros focused on reinforcing her strong-willed and intellectual image by attending more debates—10 in all, the highest attendance among Team PNoy candidates. This is not bad if you’re attracting the intellectual and educated classes A, B, and C or a miniscule 7% of the electorate. Even if this percentage all troop to Facebook and Twitter proclaiming how eloquent she is in her command of English while elaborately answering all debate questions, this wouldn’t matter to a whopping 93% masses who have no access to the Internet and have little penchant for televised debates. She would’ve fared better too if she didn’t join the bandwagon of Nancy Binay bullies.
At the end of the day, your intellect and stand in various issues is not as important as what you can do for a hungry and deprived electorate. Unless, of course, if you are Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who won in 2010 for her command of the vernacular.
A DIVIDED LEFT
But what destroyed Hontiveros’ campaign this year is what killed it in 2010: the rift between two sides of the Left movement, Social Democrats (SocDems) and National Democrats (NatDems). In layman’s terms—Akbayan and Makabayan coalitions. Their rivalry, rooted in their ideological differences during the post-Martial Law era, became hot in the House of Representatives in 1998 and came to a boiling point last year when Akbayan allied itself with President Aquino.
Makabayan’s questioning of Akbayan’s party list status and the subsequent brawl of its representatives at a restaurant in Malate proved disastrous for both the Hontiveros and Teddy Casiño campaign. Not only did it widen the gap between two sides of the Left Movement, it also publicized both party’s ugly tendencies and (by impulse) reminded the masses of their earlier connections with the New People’s Army.
If only Akbayan and Makabayan temporarily placed their ideological differences in the backburner and work together towards a common end, we would have more socialists in the Senate by now.
There are other factors I have failed to elaborate such as Hontiveros’ stand on RH Bill and her failure to get Iglesia ni Cristo’s endorsement. But I think the factors I mentioned are enough to convince you why she lost.
Nevertheless, Hontiveros is not a lost cause. I’m sure PNoy could find some good use for her in time for 2016 if ever she still wants to run for Senate. And given that she learns all her election campaign lessons and change her strategy by then, maybe—just maybe—she could finally clinch that elusive seat. But the House of Representatives, where she first shined and made a name for herself, is also not a bad place to come home to. If ever she decides to run again, she won’t be without convinced voters.SS
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