By Antonio C. Abaya
Manila Standard Today,
June 19 issue
It was Metro Manila Development Authority chair Bayani Fernando, a self-declared presidential candidate for 2010, who started it all several months ago. He had giant tarp billboards of himself, arms crossed, staring sternly down from the columns of the MRT on Edsa on hapless motorists and commuters stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. He had a one-ward message: Kaayusan or Order.
When questioned by media on the propriety of promoting himself and his presidential ambitions, using government money and government-owned infrastructure, Bayani cheekily retorted, “Wait till I start smiling in these billboards.”
If Bayani had commissioned a survey on his popularity, before and after he put up those billboards, he may have found out that his popularity, which was never high to begin with, has dipped and that he has nothing to smile about, judging from the reaction of media and the public at large.
People have the gut feel that what he did was wrong. Not only because it was too early to campaign for the presidential elections two years away, but also because people knew that he was spending taxpayers’ money and government-owned property to promote himself and his personal ambitions.
Hopefully he has learned his lesson, which may be the reason those offending billboards have been taken down.
But Bayani has started a trend and other presidential aspirants – both self-proclaimed and officially proclaimed – not wanting to be left behind in the race for name and face recall and recognition, are tripping over each other to have their giant billboards – much larger than Bayani’s – put up in strategic corners of the metro as well as on prime-time national TV, in the guise of product endorsement or advocacy promotion.
Vice-President Noli de Castro, who does not belong to any political party but who hopes (forlornly, if you ask me) to be nominated by the administration Lakas-Kampi coalition, is pushing housing loans, which is consistent with his being the chair of HUDCC.
Senate President Manny Villar, the official candidate of the Nacionalista Party, endorses a toothpaste brand and at the sane time publicizes his assistance to overseas Filipino workers who land in trouble.
Sen. Mar Roxas, the official candidate of the Liberal Party, endorses a detergent brand, capitalizing on his winning image in the 2004 senatorial elections as “Mr. Palengke.”
The lovely and photogenic Sen. Loren Legarda, who hopes to be named presidential candidate of Danding Cojuangco’s Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) is product endorser of a skin-whitening crème and food supplement and at the same time promotes her tree-planting advocacy. (The thought just occurred to me: would Barack Obama endorse a skin-whitening crème in the current US presidential campaign?)
Sen. Ping Lacson, who hopes to be presidential candidate of the PDP-Laban, promotes a facial care center, while Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who hopes to be the vice-presidential candidate of some as yet indeterminate party, is selling a brand of instant noodles. Sen. Richard Gordon, who is aiming for the vice-presidential slot of Lakas-Kampi, endorses a brand of bath soap, while Sen. Francis Escudero, a potential VP for the NPC, is promoting a brand of food supplement.
With so many senators suddenly and shamelessly endorsing commercial products, for the sole purpose of exponentially increasing their public exposure (and being paid for it, in the process), the Senate is fast becoming a talent agency for the advertising industry. And the senators obviously do not feel any loss in dignity for the crass commercialization of their official personae. Onli in da Pilipins.
When this issue was brought up in the ANC program Media in Focus, Sen. Lacson, facing negative reactions from the three other guests and from the TV audience as well, was game enough to admit that he was prepared to have second thoughts about his (and the other senators’) controversial gimmicks.
But Sen. Lacson was not as gracious when fellow senator, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, bared her fangs on the matter. “I see some faces plastered in huge billboards all around Metro Manila, in effect constituting an election offense of premature campaigning,” complained Miriam, citing the bad example set by politicians aspiring for higher national office.
“Nakakasuka na ang mga tagagawa ng batas ay siya ring unang lalabag nito, umaasaw lamang sa isang teknikalidad.” (“I find it revolting that the lawmakers themselves are the lawbreakers, relying only on a technicality.”)
Replied Lacson sarcastically: “I hope and pray that some crazy companies will risk losing some money on certain products and get her as endorser so she would stop sour-graping on our ads.” (Standard Today, June 18).
Sen. Santiago is not a presidential or vice-presidential candidate in 2010. But if she were, as a reputed sharp-shooter, she could endorse a revolver. *****