MANILA - Reelectionist Sen. Nancy Binay doesn’t command attention, and she knows it.
Sporting a plain blue shirt with the slogan “Be Nice” and a caricature of a smiley, Binay stepped out of an SUV and walked around the Rizal Provincial Capitol grounds in baggy jeans, and a pair of flat, nude espadrilles.
“Ang common feedback pag nag-iikot ako ay 'di daw ako mukhang senador. Flattered [ako] kasi ang dating daw, simple ako,” she told ABS-CBN News ahead of a campaign motorcade in the Southern Tagalog city of Antipolo last March 14.
(Whenever I make rounds, I am often told that I don’t look like a senator. I feel flattered because it means that I look simple.)
But for someone who admittedly has a plain and ordinary look, Binay has earned much fanfare online in some sort of love-hate relationship. First, as the subject of several memes and online jokes, and now, the admiration of netizens for her tolerance of teasing about her skin tone and style choices.
“Simple lang kasi ako (I’m a simple person). I don't command attention. I think it’s an advantage too because people can relate to me more,” she said.
The eldest daughter of former Vice President Jejomar Binay is seeking her second Senate term in the May 13 midterm elections with a campaign anchored on the heavy bashing that she has endured since entering politics in 2013.
It was her first foray into the political scene after serving as her father's personal assistant, and she won, placing 5th.
“Hindi ko siya dinamdam. For me, I have other things to do instead na magko-concentrate ako dun sa negativity online. I guess nag-evolve 'yun, na-appreciate ata nila na hindi ako nega[tive],” the senator explained.
(I don’t mind the bashing that much. For me, I have other things to do instead of concentrating on the negativity online. I think that evolved and people somehow appreciated that I’m not a negative person.)
Binay’s appearance has spawned thousands of memes that sometimes, she admits, gets to her.
From being compared to the Black Nazarene to wearing a dress that matches the carpet, the senator has been a favorite subject of jokes for her skin tone, and fashion choices that even she herself pokes fun at.
“Hindi naman porke't di ako nasasaktan it means na OK na 'yung ginagawa nila… It's a personal choice on my part not to get affected,” she said.
(Just because I don’t get hurt doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is fine.)
Binay, on the flip side, managed to turn things around from being a cyberbullied senator to an anti-bullying advocate.
She has even written a book on how to handle online bashing titled “Make Love Not War,” which she co-authored with one of her fiercest critics—online personality “Senyora.”
In the book, the senator urges readers to “be nice,” a play on her last name, in the face of rabid online bashing.
“Maraming masasakit na salita na sinabi sa akin ang ibang tao, pero hindi ko pinapansin (Many painful things have been said about me but I don’t mind any of it)… I don’t dwell on it, kasi nga (because), why are you going to let other people ruin your day? You know yourself better,” she said in the book.
For her reelection bid, Binay’s campaign centers around the color black, which has oftentimes been used by her critics to discriminate against her.
“For me, it worked na hindi ko pinatulan 'yung mga panlalait na ginawa nila sa'kin and ngayon, I guess naa-appreciate nila 'yung trait na you don't counter negativity with negativity,” she said.
(It worked that I didn’t mind the bullying and attacks against me and now, I guess they appreciate the trait that you don’t counter negativity with negativity.)
Binay’s campaign strategy falls under the so-called “impression management,” where candidates tap into a certain aspect of people’s vulnerabilities to be more relatable, said University of Santo Tomas (UST) sociologist Mark Abenir.
“You have to manage your impression that you are one with them (voters). It’s not exactly about how good you debate but how good you are in accommodating them, and how good you are in relating to them,” Abenir told ABS-CBN News.
Abenir said Binay’s case is an example of the classic Filipino favorite—the portrayal of an underdog.
“If you use it effectively that ‘I am discriminated but I am using that discrimination as part of my impression management capital, that I know how it feels to be discriminated and many of us can be discriminated according to skin color, socioeconomic status, according to many things, then you can trust me’,” Abenir said.
“Ginamit niya (Nancy Binay) effectively 'yung kaniyang kulay na kinukutya ng ibang tao para maka-relate effectively sa ibang tao na kahit kinukutya ako kaya ko pa rin makiramay sa inyo,” he added.
(She effectively used her color, which people often criticized, to relate to people more effectively and show them that even if she is made fun of, she can still empathize.)
While the strategy may not work for all politicians, Abenir said it is “more effective” when dealing with the masses since “many who are in a life of survival are very impressionable.”
MAKING HER OWN NAME
Prior to becoming senator, Binay was a long-time assistant to her father, an experience that she says trained her to master working “behind the scenes.”
“Despite my 6 years in the Senate, parang ganun pa rin ako mag-act—I'm behind the scenes pa rin (I still act as if I’m behind the scenes),” she said.
But the 45-year-old legislator has stepped out of her father’s shadows and is slowly making a name for herself apart from the “Binay” brand.
Instead of simply following her father’s footsteps and political style, the senator has instead taken on a wide range of advocacies to diversify her image, said UST political analyst Dennis Coronacion.
“She has been trying to become independent in terms of campaign agenda. It appears that she has taken a different route compared to her father who is more pro-poor. She, on the other hand, has a diverse campaign agenda—anti-cyber-bullying and for women,” Coronacion told ABS-CBN News.
“Despite the family name, she can be a good legislator,” he added.
The eldest in the Binay brood is currently the highest-ranking elected official in the family.
Asked whether she feels the weight of continuing the Binay political dynasty, the lawmaker shrugged and said she doesn’t see her political career that way.
“Sa akin naman, I just work. I am a public servant so regardless of the name, sa akin kailangan trabaho lang (for me, it’s just work),” she said.
She, however, has had to fend off allegations of corruption against her family since her father and her brother are facing graft charges over the allegedly overpriced P2.2-billion Makati City Hall 2 parking building.
A self-proclaimed advocate for women and children’s rights, Binay has filed over a combined 200 bills and resolutions in the Senate.
Among the measures she pushed for are repealing the crime of premature marriage, expanding the privileges of Persons With Disability, and developing the sugarcane industry.
She also recently co-sponsored the Expanded Maternity Leave Law, which grants a 120-day maternity leave to female workers regardless of civil status, and The Filipino Sign Language Act.
If she wins on May 13, it would be Binay’s last Senate term.
“Nandiyan pa rin 'yung pangangamba tsaka takot. In fact, I think 'yung husband ko nga eh nakukulitan na sa akin kasi every day routine na namin 'yung tinatanong ko sa kanya ‘Mananalo ba ako?’,” she said.
(The worry and fear are still there. In fact, I think my husband already finds me annoying because I keep on asking him every day whether he thinks I will win in the elections.)
Binay has consistently been in the "Magic 12" of senatorial preference surveys. She was in the 7th to 10th bracket in a recent February Pulse Asia poll.
And while the online jokes about Binay may remain offensive and are unlikely to die anytime soon, the senator is grateful that people take time to make memes about her, even calling these “entertaining.”
“Nagpapasalamat ako sa kanila because the mere fact na naglalaan sila ng oras para sa akin eh di naman ganun kadali gumawa ng meme, kailangan mo maglaan ng time and effort,” she said.
(I thank them because the mere fact that they set aside time for me despite the fact that making a meme is not that easy, you need to set aside time and effort.)
“And for me, sino ba si Nancy Binay para paglaanan nila ng oras?”
(And for me, who is Nancy Binay for them to dedicate their time to?)