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PHILIPPINES: Presidential Bets Perform To Woo Voters

Mar 29, Mar 28 2010 (IPS) - Often described as too square and boring, Philippine presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III reaches out to the music-television generation as a smiling, hip-hop rapper in his television advertisement.

To show voters his lighter side, candidate Richard Gordon lipsynchs in a slapstick video with local comedians in YouTube while trying to the keep pace with The Tokens’ 1961 hit ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’.

Catchy songs, sung by children in his advertisements, is how real estate tycoon Manuel Villar reminds voters that he knows what poverty is. ‘Have you ever bathed in a sea of garbage?” and “Have you ever spent Christmas on the streets?” go the lines of one campaign tune.

With over a month left before the May 10 national elections, nine presidential candidates are busy displaying their ‘artistic talents’ using television, radio, print and online venues to get the nod of voters in this South-east Asian country. Sixty percent of 92 million Filipinos are eligible to vote, along with 7.8 million overseas voters.

Thus, 30- or 60-second election advertisements are what Filipinos have been seeing regularly on their televisions screens and the Internet, and hearing on the radio, since the campaign season began in February.

Song and dance numbers, campaign ditties from the catchy to the forgettable, along with rich doses of humour and satire, have long been part of the fiesta culture of politics in the Philippines.

The entertainment-loving crowd relishes the sight of their would-be leaders performing for them, whether it is in campaign sorties, or on television or radio.

“As in many parts of the world in varying degrees, politics is like selling consumer items. Definitely, showbusiness is a major part (of it),” said Joel Lacsamana, deputy director for presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro, a former defence secretary.

“People need to get to know who you are and that you are a candidate. The next step is to give yourself a brand and identity,” said Prospero de Vera, a professor of public administration at the University of the Philippines. A candidate for national office needs a voter recognition of 95 percent or more in order to win, he explains in an interview.

Since politics and show business merge during campaign periods, presidential candidates have been racing to get endorsements by actors and actresses, singers and entertainers.

This is the thinking behind one of Aquino’s television commercials, ‘Hindi Ka Nag-iisa (‘You Are Not Alone’), which is among the most-star studded political advertisements in a long time.

Its title coming from the slogan that became a national rallying cry after the 1983 assassination of Aquino’s father, the late Benigno Aquino Jr who was a key oppositionist to dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the advertisement shows people from all walks of life – acted out by a who’s who list of movie and television stars — carrying torches in support of the candidate Aquino.

Recall is key not just because travelling to campaign across the Philippines – which has 7,100 islands – is not easy.

In the first poll with a computerised counting system in May, voters will be voting for a long list of 11 kinds of public officials – president, vice president, 12 senators, a congressional representative, a party-list representative, a governor, a vice governor, up to seven provincial board members, a town mayor, vice mayor, and up to 12 local councillors.

Although radio reaches virtually all Filipino households, television has a 71 percent penetration rate — and is an essential tool for campaigning.

In the last national elections in 2004, surveys showed that “at least 90 percent of Filipinos got their information about the candidates from television”, De Vera added. Today, the candidates who have the biggest funds obviously find it easier to get airtime, especially during primetime from 7 to 10 p.m.

“The best and quickest way for a candidate to introduce himself to the public is through TV ads. . . . so it makes sense to put a lot of campaign money into TV ads,” De Vera continued.

On Friday, the Commission on Elections said that Aquino and Villar had exceeded the maximum airtime of 120 minutes set by law for each television station, in this case the ABS-CBN network.

As of Mar. 12, Aquino had 291.5 minutes airtime there and Villar, 250 minutes, it said. “We will warn them from airing further ads on the stations where they have exceeded their limits,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said.

Election offences are punishable by imprisonment, fines and disbarment from public and elective office.

Earlier, an AGB Nielsen media group study said that Villar spent the most in advertisement spending, which reached 150 million pesos (3.2 million U.S. dollars) from Feb. 9 to Mar. 8.

Filipino voters do expect to be ‘charmed’ by their candidates. “Even if there’s a growing number of more mature voters now, majority still go for the popular and entertaining. They actually clamour for the candidates to perform song-and-dance numbers in rallies,” said Ditas Bermudez, a former copywriter for an advertising agency.

But not all agree, saying that following the advertisements does not mean they rely on them to make a final decision in come voting day.

“I’m not really convinced by ads because they’re just like commercials. They’re like shampoo ads. They just make themselves sound good, but it’s not true,” said Aiza Salazar, a 24-year-old midwife. “I would believe more if I read something about a candidate.”

For others, the advertisements confirm whom they would not vote for.

“Erap is unwatchable, unlistenable to me. What the heck is he still doing alive in the political scene? He has no shame!” Heart Mauricio, a businesswoman from the central city of Cebu, says of former president Joseph Estrada, who was convicted of plunder, was pardoned and is again running for president.

*The Asia Media Forum ( is a space for journalists to share insights on issues related to the media and their profession, as well as stories and opinions on democracy, development and human rights in Asia. It is coordinated by IPS Asia-Pacific.

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