The positive persona phenomenon

By Dean dela Paz

When Jose Marie Bautista, the husband of the famous teenage actress Jesusa Victoria Hernandez, ran for the Senate in 2019, one of his most potent and memorable television ads did not deal with the cliché requisite platform demanded of those seeking a legislative charge. It was unnecessary. It was unnecessary especially for winning the top five slots in a contest of twelve where the electorate might easily remember top-of-mind names, but on the question of the sixth to the twelfth, variability among voters factors in uncertainty.

Bautista had easily won. It was no surprise. His ad was a work in concise communications. It was not meant to educate – an endeavor the electorate considers a negative. Its singular message was that he would be running for an office he previously held.

The ad tackled no issues. It presented no arguments. It had no platforms. Ironically, it was perhaps the most eloquent if not potent ‘feel good” medicine for an electorate sickened by politicians of any color.

The message did not require analysis. Bautista was simply back, having survived legal trials and trepidations heaped upon him, if at all these were even important to those that voted for him.

In December 2018, Bautista was acquitted of plunder charges six months prior to the May senatorial elections. The positivity of his ad, its catchy and youthful tune, the presence of his son and their father-and-son gyrations to the tune of ‘Budots’ were critical. It had skillfully and effectively revalidated his positive public persona.

Learning from a strategic mistake that had once afflicted his father, the younger Bautista consistently ran under a different name having changed it legally in 2009. He won under his nom d’ecran, which evoked the larger-than-life heroic if not mythical and comedic characters he played on cinema and television. Where life imitates art and vice versa, lines blur and succinct stereotyping can extend far beyond fantasy and well into reality.

The winning formula was the product of alchemy brewed outside the campaign period, constantly in the public eye, visible always, associated with positive imagery, and consistently fed to a salivating electorate that needed whatever the persona of a prospective political protagonist promised. In the case of Bautista, that persona represented a heroic avatar and defender of the weak, vulnerable, and downtrodden.

Following the fifties, a former bootblack and newspaper vendor had managed to make a name for himself on radio and later television on a bandwagon of popular programs catering to students and soap opera aficionados. Articulate, charming, humble, and endearing, a journalism graduate, he made it to the Senate and is known for his lifetime advocacy for changing the name of the republic.

In our post-dictatorship years, Philippine cinema’s most charismatic rogue had reset the bar when he eventually won the presidency. This hypothesis of a positive public persona as a potent political catalyst has been proven several times and revalidated in the current Senate.

A former stuntman turned action star, governor, senator and then from an extended cameo on the early evening boob tube, a sitting solon reprised his congressional cameo with nary a campaign.

Another who jumpstarted his public life as an actor now chairs the powerful Senate Committee on National Defense. His first starring role reprised an award-winning performance originally played by his iconic actor-father.

Mirroring society’s morality, neither appropriate academic attainment nor previous careers are requisites. Likewise, neither knowledge of the law nor experience in lawmaking are electoral criteria. If these are not among the voter’s criteria, imagine what a nebulous and indefinable concept morality and uprightness might be. The downtrodden simply seek who they think they can either approach for help or deify on the Senate tabernacle as a paragon embodying their highest ambitions.

Now two more have joined the cast. One is a multimedia broadcaster who had crafted for himself a reputation for being an ‘’Equalizer” – a messiah of last resort catering to the powerless and unrepresented.

Perhaps the most stupefying is the iconic amalgam who now owns the record for a senatorial mandate as he embodies the personae of all we described. Endearing, funny, charming even in his silliness. Representative of the electorate’s moral standards, he remains forever fuzzy and flawed.

Totus mundus agit histrionem. In a mirror, darkly, all the world is a stage.

(Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance and Mathematics professor)