Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Papogi: The Imaging of Philippine Presidents (2004, Butch Perez)

Electioneering in the Philippines has been mostly about politicians projecting the right images to the people. As such, image makers are an important part of any politician’s campaign team. They recycle potent images that have been instrumental in getting votes in the past. A look at the current campaign tactics of presidential candidates reveal that they heeded valuable lessons from the 2004 documentary of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Papogi deals with successful presidential campaigns and identifies several Presidents who have captivated the public. Manuel Quezon, Ramon Magsaysay, Ferdinand Marcos, and Joseph Estrada are among the more astute politicians who have dazzled masses with their charisma and mastery of mass media.

Presidents in the limelight

The film suggests that Manuel Quezon is still the epitome of a person who fits perfectly the role of a President. Dashing, mestizo, and good-looking, he exudes oozing confidence in his regal poses for photographs. He instilled national pride by saying he preferred a chaotic government run by Filipinos rather than an efficient government run by Americans. He can easily converse with Americans and the Filipino masses. An iconic image of Quezon planting rice in a field was copied by succeeding presidents. It is a powerful image showing a ‘down-to-earth’ President stooping down to provide the needs of the people.

Long before Nora Aunor broke the stranglehold of mestiza stars in the showbiz scene, Ramon Magsaysay broke the streak of mestizo presidents. He projected himself as the ‘man of the masses.’ His campaign jingle Mambo Magsaysay brought a tinge of showbiz to the presidential race. If Quezon harped on the idea that the Filipinos are equal to Americans, Magsaysay reminded the masa or Filipino masses that they are equal to Filipino elites. A memorable image is that of hordes of people trooping to Malacañang Palace after Magsaysay opened it to the public. It prefigures the countless fans flocking to theaters showing movies of Aunor.

The handlers of Ferdinand Marcos took notice of Filipinos’ love for movies. They created the film Iginuhit ng Tadhana. It told the story of a brilliant lawyer acquitted of murder. Marcos was an excellent demagogue but it was his partnership with beautiful Imelda Romualdez that catapulted him to the country’s top office. If showbiz has Guy & Pip, the world of politics has Ferdie & Meldy.

In 1998, the worlds of politics and showbiz became aligned with the election of Joseph Estrada as president. A key movie of Estrada is Sa Kuko Ng Agila. This film depicts the Filipinos’ fight against the military bases of the United States. When the bases were kicked out of the country in 1991, Estrada and 11 other senators were hailed as heroes. Estrada won as vice president in the 1992 elections. After six years, his celebrity friends such as Fernando Poe Jr. helped him win the presidential race.

Lessons from the past

Presidential candidates still use celebrities and entertainment to boost their chances of winning. A desperate Dick Gordon appeared in an entertaining viral video with the Moymoy Palaboy duo. Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar have their separate groups of star supporters.

The Villar camp knows the value of courting female voters. In mid 1980s, Cory Aquino was belittled as a mere housewife. Women came out in droves to vote for her. Two decades later, Villar selected Loren Legarda as his running mate and chose 5 women in his senate slate.

The charisma of Ramon Magsaysay is the one thing pursued by current presidential candidates. Gilbert Teodoro took on the nickname Gibo to make him more accessible to the masses. Two candidates, Villar and Estrada, both run on pro-poor platforms.

Sincerity is the key

An advertising expert featured in the 2004 documentary enumerated three things that people look for in a candidate. These are platform, track record, and sincerity. Most candidates have similar platforms so the important things to scrutinize are their track records and sincerity.

The camp of Ferdinand Marcos harped on the lack of experience of Cory Aquino. The handlers of the latter emphasize her lack of experience in graft and corruption. This is also the tack used by her son, Noynoy Aquino. In his nine years as congressman and three years as Senator, Aquino failed to pass a major law. His opponents hardly touch on this issue because he might as well emphasize his lack of involvement in political scandals. In a television advertisement, he says ‘hindi ako magnanakaw.’ Is he sincere? Is he sincere in giving up Hacienda Luisita to the farmers?

Truth telling becomes an issue. Manny Villar’s story about being poor backfired on him. What is his definition of being poor? If he or his siblings experienced being hungry for a day, then he was definitely poor. Both of his parents worked so it is unlikely that the Villar family was dirt poor.

Wooing of voters

Voters are bombarded by images of ‘caring and good-looking’ presidential candidates. They need to go beyond the Facebook-persona of the candidates. They should stop being disarmed by flashy, charming ‘suitors.’ All they need to ask is ‘mahal ba ako ng taong ito?’ Is s/he sincere in professing love for the people (and the country)?

Huwag iboto ang isang kandidato dahil lang pogi/maganda siya o mukhang mabait. Baka pang-Facebook lang ang mga imahe. Alamin din kung tunay na may pagtingin itong taong ito. Iniidolo mo at mahal mo nga siya ng labis-labis pero mahal ka ba niya?

Iboto ang kandidatong nagmamahal (at magmamahal) sa ‘yo at sa bayan.

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