Hope springs eternal for ‘page 2’ candidates in the Senate race

Celine Isabelle Samson, VERA Files

Posted at May 11 2019 10:47 PM

Senate hopefuls Ding Generoso and Ernesto Arellano speak at ABS-CBN Townhall debates earlier in March. Screengrabs from ABS-CBN Youtube channel

With one day to go before E-Day, conventional wisdom is that those in the top six in the pre-election surveys of credible pollsters are assured of new Senate seats.

There will be changes in the bottom six as those in the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and even 15th will exhaust all energy and resources to make it to the Magic 12.

Of the 62 senatorial candidates,only about a third rank consistently high in the electorate’s minds. And only the same 15 to 20 people - many of whom are former and current public officials, or are political scions - place in the first page of senatorial preference surveys of polling bodies Pulse Asia and Social Weather Station.

The rest continue to battle it out in the remaining two to five pages of results.

VERA Files checked in with two Senatorial aspirants about how their campaign runs have been, despite the odds seemingly stacked against them.

Ernesto Arellano

Lawyer Ernesto Arellano, founding secretary of workers' group Kilusang Mayo Uno, has been fighting for workers’ rights for more than half a decade but only made up his mind last year to bring the battle to the Senate.

“My group has decided that we have to view the electoral arena as a more significant venue for the workers' struggle,” the seventy-eight-year-old independent candidate said in a phone interview.

“The usual struggle is in the courtroom and the streets... (but) there is much to do in legislation because the laws for the workers are very inadequate.”

Labor issues such as the lack of jobs and of a nationwide minimum wage are among the five most urgent national concerns of Filipinos, according to a February Pulse Asia survey.

However, Arellano ranked 30th to 41st in the polling body’s latest senatorial preference survey, along with at least four other candidates running on a campaign furthering labor issues.

Arellano says the current set-up of electoral campaigns in the country largely serves the rich, who can afford to spend millions on printed publicity materials, television ads and for hosting rallies.

“These practices were perpetrated or invented by the people who had the money, yung tarpaulin ang lalaki (their tarpaulins are so big), they're all over the country. Eh kami wala naman kaming milyun-milyon na pera pambili (We don’t have millions of pesos to spend),” he said.

Arellano added that the Commission on Election’s rules on campaign spending also benefits wealthy candidates, citing its provision about independent candidates being allowed to spend five pesos per voter.

“Eh mayroon kang 61 million voters nationwide and at five pesos, baka mga P300 million, (If you have 61 million voters nationwide, at five pesos, that’s around P300 million)” he said. “So (even) in the rules, it allows only millionaires to win the national campaign for that national position.”

Arellano, who at the time of the interview had been campaigning in Northern Luzon, said running the Senatorial race has been very hard with financial limitations.

He and his team, however, have been able to work with the resources they have.

“The only remedy is we have organized unions, organized associations in the whole archipelago. ‘Yun nalang ang kaya nating magamit pambasag (This is the only thing we can use to break away [from the norm]) this elections.”

A veteran labor leader, Arellano said his campaign has focused on labor organizations and unions around the country, as well as with fisherfolk, farmers and informal settlers. Since the campaign season began on Feb. 12, Arellano has covered the Visayas and is completing his rounds in Luzon.

“Ngayon umiikot kami dahil in the absence of national exposures, like the media, the main media, ay eto, pumunta nalang sa mamamayan at makicommunicate sa kanila via assembly, palengke (We’re now going around the country. In the absence of national exposure, like (being) in mainstream media, we’re going to the people instead and communicating with them via assemblies and going to public markets),” he said.

Ding Generoso

Reaching out to people by speaking with partner organizations around the country is the same approach being used by another Senate hopeful, Ding Generoso.

Spokesperson of the Consultative Committee formed by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 to review the 1987 Constitution, the 58-year-old is running on a campaign anchored on charter change and federalism.

He has made his campaign a federalism literacy initiative. With the help of several pro-federalism organizations such as Hugpong Federal, the party Katipunan ng Kamalayang Kayumanggi, and Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating Committee, he has been able to go to several provinces explaining his advocacy and helping others understand charter change.

“Kapag mayroon kaming ginawang road trip… namimili kami ng mga bayan na hihintuan at sa mga istasyon ng bus, tricycle, ng jeep, sa palengke, sa mga pinagiipunan ng mga tao at makikipagkwentuhan ka tungkol sa pederalismo (When we do our road trips… we choose cities to go to as well as bus stations, tricycle lines, jeepney terminals, public markets… anywhere where people convene, and we talk to them about federalism),” he said.

Similar to Arellano, Generoso also ranks in the bottom half of senatorial preference surveys, placing between the 40th to 59th spot in a February Pulse Asia poll.

Admitting that campaigning for a Senatorial run can be expensive, he says he has chosen to maximize his human resources, such as the networks of his organizations.

“Wala naman tayong mga rally na ginagawa dahil... yung magtatayo ka sa entablado at magsasalita ka doon na nakikinig sa iyo ay libu-libo, pero hindi naman kayo nagkakaintindihan. Napakagastos ng ganoong kampanya, so sa akin ay talagang direct na pagpunta sa kanila na... makikipag-usap ka lang sa palengke o kung saan man, mayroong mga leaders at sila na nagcacascade sa mga tao nila ng ating adbokasiya,” he said.

(We don’t have rallies because… standing onstage and just talking there with thousands of people, you don’t really get to understand each other. And that’s a very expensive campaign, so what I do is I go directly to the people, talk to them at public markets. They also have leaders who help cascade our advocacy.)

“Ang isa naman mayroong mga grupo na katulad ng Hugpong Federal na sila mismo nag-o-organize ng summits tungkol sa federalism (And there are groups like Hugpong Federal who organize summits about federalism),” he said.

He added that he has also found social media to be a cheap but helpful way to run his campaign.

With a day to go before the elections, the 62 candidates are scattered around the country, sharing their final words with the voters before they decide on the country’s fate on Monday’s elections. Their survey rankings notwithstanding, for Generoso and Arellano at least, they remain forward-looking about their chances.

“Mayroon tayong fighting chance kasi malawak din naman yung mga groups na sumusuporta sa atin,” said Generoso.
For Arellano, he says he likewise remains positive about his chances.

“I look at it historically because there was a time when government belonged only to the kings and the nobles. Eventually, the aristocracy will be thrown down by the majority who are workers and the marginalized,” he said.

“It's really a hard, hard battle but eventually I think the majority will eventually win,”he said.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)