Gauging politics for 2024

By Edmund Tayao

Another New Year, another chapter to our very exciting politics.

As the end of 2023 came upon us, there had been a lot of political noises.

Whether deliberately inflamed or not, it raised a lot of questions and disrupted a good number of supposedly settled political agreements.

As such, much of the discussions were about what’s next; what’s in store for Philippine politics. And so 2024 promises to start with real fireworks.

I was asked in a number of interviews if the UniTeam has in fact reached dissolution. And I explained, as far as I’m aware, that the President and the Vice President remain in communication and that if say, for the sake of argument, there are reasons to end the alliance, it is simply not yet the time.

Political alliances, especially in the kind of politics that we have, which is governed only by political personalities, are principally borne out of utility.

At this juncture, that utility remains, and breaking it can only lead to more of loss than gain.

In other words, the cost of breaking the alliance at this time is remarkable. Both our top leaders remain in symbiotic relationship, and this is significantly because of a significantly changed Philippine political environment.

There will still be those, of course, who will insist that breaking the alliance while significantly costly, nonetheless will result to gain.

That may be too much of an assumption. Again, because our politics is very fluid, as it entirely depends on political personalities, there could not be any definite calculation.

Politics in the first place is probabilistic, and the lack of a system all the more makes it supple and therefore difficult to have a firm hold.

Only hubris can lead to any assumption that presaging is possible in Philippine politics, especially when lacking the right appraisal and in turn applicable approach and or strategy.

And there had been a good number of instances where calculations in Philippine politics simply failed.

Remember Hyatt 10, a good example of a well-planned, even calculated political move. Many expected that event to lead to another successful political coup, that people will again mass to Edsa and force the resignation of the sitting President.

If on the other hand one is inclined to think that another precipitate assumption to the Presidency can be duplicated, that is copying what happened to former President GMA’s serving as President for 10 years, one should at least ask, where are those who were responsible for defending her Presidency from the group of Hyatt 10? Then a more meaningful calculation can be made.

Instinctively, it seems, strategizing in Philippine politics is almost always an attempt to simply duplicate a previous successful political production.

For example, when President Noynoy Aquino was elected with a resounding mandate in 2010 and managed to sustain remarkable political popularity, many thought whoever will be his chosen successor will likely be given the same popular support.

The result of course, was an upset.

This political upset of a formula in 2016 became the popular blueprint in 2022.

The candidates showed grit, toughness and resolve, mimicking the then outgoing President’s style, promising practical programs and policies, albeit some being outlandish and obvious attempts bordering on desperation to appeal to the mundane thinking of the people, and ultimately distancing themselves from what many have seen to be already passe Liberal party, especially their frontline political personalities.

Even the candidate of the Liberal Party evidently tried to show independence, that she is a brand of her own.

What has clearly become patented presumptuousness however proved to be difficult to shake off. It remained blatantly on display, much as they tried to reinvent themselves.

In the end, while the assumption that the people will likely vote for the candidate that is not from, identified or even similar to the Liberal Party, is generally true, it is not like anyone who were not them had equally good chances in winning.

Ultimately it has to be someone who is distinct personally and politically.

The support of the Dutertes, especially the daughter and now Vice President without any doubt contributed to PBBM’s election.

Nevertheless, considering that the father, the former President was not a known supporter — in fact, he was every noted to be disapproving of Marcos Jr.’s candidacy when the political discourse in preparation for the coming presidential election started.

The Duterte support in other words, could not have been the critical reason for his win.

We should even consider the composition of the then candidate Marcos Jr.’s team, the people who ran the campaign including the senatorial slate, and one will not miss that it’s an entirely different political aggrupation.

In other words, while there are some elements from the success of the previous administration, it is not one that is simply a duplication that it would appear, there could not be any single formula that could work in Philippine politics.

Interestingly, many who have seen — and especially those who have been involved ‚— in the operation of previous political formulations, remain of the thinking that the same strategy can still work.

If we are to look at each successful political bids, every President who won were products of different formula. Not only of a different strategy, but a a different strategy in a different environment.

Whoever has eyes on the next presidential election, or even plans to capture the presidency even before the election, should first be able to read the political environment accurately, and on that basis formulate a compelling approach.

So far, what is ahead of each interested group or party remains daunting.

Foremost reason is as what has already been mentioned, while the groups may be inclined or are of the assumption that they are prepared and or ready, they seem to assume that the political environment has not been changing.

We should be reminded of attempts to have a third Edsa, the same reason why the militants have been successfully weakened in the previous administration.

It may be an effective campaign as some claim, but it arguably came at the right time, a time when people had become wary of seeing red flags visibly adorning popular demonstrations as these are vigorously waved by demonstrators.

Religious groups were also rather actively involved in previous successful political takeovers, they remain active but seemingly not as potent as before.

There has to be a conscious and thoughtful re-reading of the country’s political environment.

The signs are glaringly there for us to see and acknowledge, that there has been a significant reconfiguration.

Remember what happened in 2016 and 2019. Everyone was stunned of the results, who would have thought that a former mayor could be suddenly catapulted to national prominence?

Then 2019 happened and all attempts to discredit the ‘President Mayor’ were met by an unprecedented decimation of the opposition slate, a whopping 12-0.

Then came 2022, which many thought was simply a continuation of the pivotal political turn in 2016.

The previous president remains popular, no doubt. But is he as popular as he was before, not only in terms of number but also in terms of reasoning?

Is this popularity defined by preference of the people or mainly and plainly that they hold him in considerable regard because of his unique character?

Remember how it was when former presidents Ramos and Noynoy Aquino exited? Were they not popular presidents when they exited?

Did that popularity translate to support to their supported successor or leaders? Was their administration assessed as perfectly successful that there is not one significant policy or issue that became widely criticized?

Was there no particular political personality identified with them who was seen as a contravening factor that may lead some to reconsider sustaining support?

This is the very reason why I have always been saying that there is no such thing as bobotante. I’ve written several times before including here in this opinion page. It may seem that the voters remain swayed by popularity, true, in fact could be mainly, but as it is in making formulations, it is not a singular consideration or element. Ultimately, the people, as they are human beings just as anyone else, capable of thinking and weighing, people also reflect on what has taken place after the previous election and administration. The people’s memory is short as they say, maybe, but only because what resonates as it is readily noticed and felt, is what is fundamental in everyone’s everyday life, is more of whether or not there were in fact improvements in their day-to-day lives as they were promised. There should be no doubt that history is significant, but however we’d like to idealize things, what is more important is whether there were in fact practically changes that actually happened.

The thing is, much as political groups make an effort to paint a perfect picture of their group — say, for example, of previous administrations and or leadership — in time, sins of omissions and commissions inadvertently come out.

It may not be made apparent in news reports, but anyone can put two and two together that the public will still compare and often successfully at that, of how things are at the moment from how it was, or especially what they were previously promised.

Any pronouncement made of a program or policy will always be believable at the time it is introduced in public.

That’s how policies and programs work after all; when formulated and introduced it would always appear to be promising as it would appear to be promising in theory or in formulation.

Ultimately, though, it can only be assessed in time. The result of such assessment is then used to make subsequent political judgments.

It would then be imperative to make a reckoning of the political situation if the effort to engage the people and have them act approvingly on one’s initiatives are to materialize.

Next year is practically already an election year. In fact, the election year has already started, or especially for those planning to run for office come midterm election, preparations should have already started in earnest.

So, it can’t be helped to already see overzealous political elements exaggerating political issues and agitating the people in the process.

The season of political propaganda is therefore now with us again. Will it work? If such initiatives are based on a reliable political reading, assiduously taking note not only of what has happened and what has worked before but also, in fact, more importantly, what is most significant to the people today including their inclination, then such an initiative is promising.

On the other hand, if the initiatives are plain and simple more of the same and the assumption is that the people has remained as they were before, then it might not only fail, but could in fact backfire.

Audacity, for example, remains potent but it can no longer be plain and simple audacity, it has to be made substantive as to involve the people more and make them feel in fact, part of the process, of critical decision making in public.

Political organization is another fundamental consideration. Often, political groups are inclined to assume they are already prepared, especially because they have the most proficiently known people already allied with them and therefore part of their team.

Proficiency on the other hand would not be enough, it has to come with the concomitant adroitness, together may be referred to as political savvy.

It is not something that comes naturally, it comes more with experience and not only extensive educational background or titles.

This experience is crucial, as it means that the capacity of a person politically has been adequately cultivated.

This can happen only when a person is exposed to the right environment at the right moment, that s/he has worked with the right team and directed by a competent first among equals.

First among equals because it cannot just be any leader who can and will bark orders and direct people around; note that what is being organized is a group of political professionals.

We are also not only talking about the one who is managing the initiative but also the principal who is on top of everything and at the same time providing much needed inspiration.

In the end it all boils down to organization and inspiration.

It would be sheer folly to cast one’s entire lot now, but well, if one doesn’t make the choice now, it might already be too late.

That’s how politics is, after all.

If one is capable of making that careful assessment though, it should ultimately make that folly intelligence. Then the crucial preparation can earnestly proceed.