In today’s age of information, news travels fast in various forms of media. From the traditional newspapers and TV news channels to the phenomenal social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others. Social media has taken command of the Internet-based information-sharing industry. It allows “netizens” to practice their independent brand of journalism.
Indeed, social media has revolutionized societal and cultural norms. It also brought politics to a new playing field; particularly the way people elect their leaders. With a more “informed electorate” today, better leaders are voted into office, which begs the question: How do you inform the electorate? And what kind of information do you share with them?
For politicians, this is where public relations or “PR” comes into play. The objective of PR is to influence public opinion to make it favorable to a politician. Good PR produces positive results and bad PR produces negative results. It’s no surprise then that politicians hire PR professionals, political consultants, and image-builders to make them look good in the eyes – and minds – of the people.
If there was one politician who had good and effective PR in the past five years, it was Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay. As a result, he had maintained very high marks – highest among the national elected officials including President Aquino – in approval, voting preference, and trust ratings.
Debunking a myth
His PR strategy projected him as a good mayor who built Makati City to what it is today. Indeed, Makati City had become a model metropolis where financial institutions, major corporations, and high-rise condominiums are located and Binay claimed credit for its success.
But Vicky Garchitorena, who served as a senior government official and a former executive of the Ayala Corporation, debunked it. In reaction to my column, “Binay’s Achilles’ heel” (December 8, 2014), she said: “It is also not true at all that Binay made Makati what it is. As everyone knows, Makati was already the premium city before Binay even became Mayor in 1986. Makati was the vision of Col. Joseph McMicking, which the Zobels continued, built on, and modernized from generation to generation. In fact, a very large part of what Makati is known for is within the Central Business District (CBD), which has been constantly refreshed and redeveloped by Ayala Corporation and Ayala Land in coordination with MACEA [Makati Commercial Estate Association], an association of all the companies and businesses in the CBD. For example, the underpasses and pedestrian overpasses were primarily funded by MACEA. So Binay cannot say that what he has done in Makati he will do for the country.”
Indeed, Makati City was already a vibrant and burgeoning commercial center back in the early 1960s when the Zobels developed a huge tract of land into a planned community. By 1986, when then president Cory Aquino appointed Binay as mayor of Makati City, “Ayala,” as the CBD was commonly known, was already a fully developed commercial center and a magnet for new businesses.
When Binay assumed the Vice Presidency, President Benigno Aquino III offered him a position in his administration. Binay asked for the huge Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). But knowing that Binay had presidential ambitions, Aquino might have had some mixed feelings about giving his friend the powerful position of DILG Secretary. It would have been the perfect platform for Binay to launch a presidential run for 2016.
Instead, Aquino named him Chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) — or “Housing Czar” – and gave him the Coconut Palace, a once-opulent relic of the Marcos era, as his office. It may not be as powerful as the DILG post but Binay used it to reach out to the poor, which is a large voting bloc. He traveled a lot to meet his “constituency.” He even became an advocate for the release of Filipino “drug mules” imprisoned and sentenced to death in China. In a big PR job, Binay went to China twice to plead for the release of the Filipinos facing execution. He probably knew that he’d fail to free them but that in itself was a PR victory for him. The “masa” loved him for that.
During the Typhoon Yolanda relief operation, Binay went to Tacloban City to distribute relief goods for the typhoon victims. It was a perfect setting for him to promote himself. He had his name stamped on the relief goods, which made it appear that he donated the relief goods.
Binay’s PR men projected him to be the common man’s benefactor, an attempt to build his support base for the upcoming presidential elections. It’s no wonder then that his numbers in the Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS) polls were in the high 70s to the high 80s. His poll ratings were consistently higher than Aquino’s. Indeed, over a span of five years, Binay built a formidable façade of high poll ratings. Yes, he was on his way to the apex of power, his boyhood dream.
Not too fast, Jojo. In March 2014, Pulse Asia surveys show voter preference for Binay at 40%, which increased to 41% in July. Then the unthinkable happened. In September, his façade began to crack when his rating dropped to 31%. Last November, it nose-dived to 26%.
The same Pulse Asia polls also showed grim results on Binay’s approval and trust ratings. Last March, his approval rating was 87% and trust rating was 86%. Six months later in September his approval rating dropped to 66% and trust rating down to 64%. The latest polls taken in November show that his approval rating fell to 45% and trust rating to 44%. In a matter of eight months, Binay lost about 50% of his support base. What the heck happened?
Evidently, Binay’s refusal to testify before the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee investigating allegations of corruption against Binay and his family had a lot to do with his poor ratings. An SWS survey showed that 79% of the respondents want him to face the Senate and address the allegations. And to make matters worse, Binay backed out of a scheduled debate with Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV last November. That’s double whammy for Binay.
Quo vadis, Jojo?
What has gone wrong? For five years, Binay’s PR men had adroitly packaged him as an honest and incorruptible public servant. He was Teflon-coated, untouchable. He played the politics of political polls like a seasoned chess grandmaster. But the two bad moves he made may have irreversibly damaged his “Mr. Clean” image that he had carefully choreographed over the three decades he was in politics. And like chess, one bad move could cost you the game.
Meanwhile, the social media is abuzz with all kinds of anti-Binay postings. And it’s going to get worse as we get closer to Election Day. And, oh, by the way, watch his poll numbers go into a freefall.
At the end of the day, there is no better PR than to be truly honest and incorruptible. That’s the best way to win in the politics of political polls.