When Joseph “Erap” Estrada decided to run for the Philippine presidency in 1998, he had the majority of the Filipino masses behind him. He was the champion of the poor and poor people came out in droves to vote for him, resulting in him enjoying a wide margin of votes over his opponents. This was, to the dismay of the majority of the middle and upper class members of Philippine society. Never was Philippine society so divided as during Erap’s reign. I actually know of a few Filipinos belonging to the upper classes who left the country because they were so disillusioned by an Erap presidency. And that was even before he was sworn into office!
It is safe to assume that Erap’s supporters then were mostly coming from the lower classes, those who are less-educated and easily swayed by hollow slogans and empty promises to wipe out poverty. Fast forward to this year, 2010. Erap is running again for the presidency and he still has the same type of supporters he had twelve years ago. However, he won’t be getting the same wide margin of votes this time. This time around, he has Noynoy Aquino to contend with.
One would have thought that seeing Erap running again after spending some time behind bars for plunder would be the biggest joke of all this coming election. But Noynoy’s bid all but eclipses that. Noynoy’s presidency bid ranks right up there with the worst political jokes in Philippine history for the simple reason that Noynoy, despite being in the race only after forced to run by avid Aquino fans despite his lack of accomplishments in politics, is now leading in the supposedly “informative” polls.
While it is clear where Erap got most of his support, Noynoy Aquino’s supporters come from all different sectors of society. There are Noynoy supporters coming from the lower class (uneducated class), the middle class (the consumers), and the upper class (the elite). Noynoy’s appeal is said to be an emotional one, as oppose to that of Erap’s starstruck supporters. Thanks to the advent of internet campaigning, Noynoy supporters can be seen using bullying tactics by mentioning God’s name in the campaign, which cuts to the heart of every church-going Filipino.
Whereas Erap’s supporters saw in him hope in a government that might alleviate their poverty, a lot of Noynoy’s supporters just want to see the return of an Aquino to Malacanang for old time’s sake. This is evident in the way they keep saying “I haven’t seen anything like it since the days of Cory and People Power” and “all these point to another Heaven-made Aquino presidency”.
Noynoy supporters feel good about the comfy familiarity of having another Aquino in Malacanang – they feel safe. It is against Noynoy supporters’ principles to question why they feel that way though. They are simply adamant that it is safer than choosing someone who has been in politics longer or someone who has more accomplishments.
For most people, Noynoy Aquino’s ascent to cult leader status is a phenomenon that is hard to fathom. He was virtually unheard of and was under the radar before his mother’s death. In order to understand how and why Noynoy Aquino is receiving cult like adulation now from every sector of the Philippine society, we must delve into the mind of a typical Filipino who is a Noynoy supporter. I suppose we can use the analogy used in the field of advertising.
In advertising, the most important element in the message is not the information but the suggestion that appeals to people’s emotions. The best advertising agencies are the ones who can make consumers believe that they need a product to survive or make their lives worthwhile. They condition the mind into believing one needs to send a loved one flowers on Valentines Day, for example. Advertisers make advertisements that promise to make people feel good if they buy the products they pitch. The best commercials can push the right buttons in the deepest recesses of the human psyche – our fears, our needs, and our relationships with other people. The suggestions lay dormant in people’s sub-conscious until one gets triggered by an event like, say, someone’s death (i.e. Cory Aquino).
Let’s say that you manufacture Coca-Cola. Sales are down due to the economic crisis. You decide to hire the best advertising agency in town to help sell your products. The agency comes up with an ad that shows a young family who are sad and destitute as a result of the financial crisis. The young son opens the fridge and says, “Hey, we still have Coke!” and then everyone shouts in jubilation and then the director cuts to the scene where everyone is again, ecstatic. It may seem shallow at first but if that commercial is seen often enough; a person could start to believe that everything will be ok once he drinks Coca-Cola.
How do avid Noynoy supporters use advertising tactics to ensure Noynoy gets the most votes? It is very easy because Filipinos are God-fearing people. We are a prayerful lot and most of us believe in miracles and in leaving everything to fate. By mentioning the name of God and insisting that this election is a fight between good versus evil, Noynoy’s campaigners mess with the minds of Filipinos by inducing fear, fear of being ostracized by the supposedly “good” people. Those who use logic or those who go against what Noynoy supporters say are “Acts of God” are branded “evil” and are excommunicated not by the Catholic Church, but by their family and friends who are Noynoy supporters.
Since Philippine society is still stuck in a medieval mindset, most Filipinos defer to their emotional impulses rather than rely on their logical faculties. You can see it in the way Noynoy’s supporters keep chanting “Noynoy is the chosen one” over and over. In Medieval times, people were made to recite repetitive chants to clear the mind from what were perceived to be impure thoughts and pursuits that distract from piety. This kept people in check and helped the party in power keep a longer and stronger hold over the people.
The way Noynoy supporters feel about Noynoy can also be compared to the placebo effect. The placebo effect is a pharmaceutical term that refers to a pill that contains nothing more that sugar. It has no chemical of medicinal value in it but the way it works is that people who have chronic illnesses are made to believe that they are taking a genuine pill. Doctors use it to test if the illness is all in the mind of the patient. If the patient who takes the pill that contains nothing more than sugar feels better after, then the condition is deemed to be more psychological than physiological in nature. In the same manner, Noynoy supporters who swallow the Aquino pill may feel better psychologically even if the pill contains nothing more than the empty slogans of “Walang mahirap kung walang corrupt”. Isn’t that slogan so similar to “Erap para sa mahirap?” It’s a slogan that gives people a powerful “high” but will also see people crashing hard after the effects have worn off.
With Philippine society so divided again over Noynoy Aquino’s bid for the presidency, we’ll see another wave of Filipinos leaving the country because of disillusionment. We’ll never hear the end of the likes of Adam Carolla saying “Philippines, get your sh*t together!”