Senator who?


Fifty men and women are running for the Senate this year, while 115 party list groups are contending for seats in the House of Representatives. But one would hardly know it from the way the media are practically ignoring the senatorial and party list elections.

Assuming that the elections are neither postponed nor canceled altogether as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been stridently threatening, if the media focus on the presidential and vice-presidential race continues, by May 9 many voters are likely to vote only for those candidates for the Senate they already know, and to ignore the party list elections.

As in past elections, the media have paid hardly any attention to the party list race, despite its being a failing attempt to broaden mass representation in the House of Representatives. Crucial to that intent is the electorate’s capacity to distinguish between those groups that represent marginalized and voiceless sectors and those formations organized to enable the political dynasties to further tighten their hold on the House. As it is, many voters are not likely to make the distinction. The party list elections deserve close monitoring by the media, but have not been getting even the most rudimentary coverage.

While the official list of candidates for the Senate from the (so-called) political parties were mentioned earlier in the media, it was the usual high profile names that resonated among the voters either because they have been or are currently members of that body — for example, Drilon (Franklin), Gordon (Richard), Guingona (Teofisto III), Lacson (Panfilo), Osmeña (Sergio III), Recto (Ralph), Pangilinan (Kiko) and Sotto (Vicente) — or because they’re celebrities.

The list of candidates for the Senate has the names of

• a former party list representative known mostly to those who’ve been following his creditable performance in the House of Representatives (Neri J. Colmenares);

• another former congressman with a familiar name (Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez) whose House record of attendance and bills filed shows that he was doing his job despite his being the nephew of Imelda R. Marcos;

• the boxer and former congressman everyone calls “the national fist” (Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao) whose attendance and bill sponsorship records are practically zero;

• the former actress Alma Moreno whose cluelessness about national affairs was mercilessly exposed during a TV broadcast last year;

• the actor Eduardo “Edu” B. Manzano;

• broadcaster Reynante “Rey” M. Langit; plus, incredible as it may seem

• former Army General Jovito S. Palparan, Jr., who’s currently under trial for the abduction of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Kadapan

Whom did the media cover most or even cover at all among these worthies?

As of the start of the campaign period on Feb. 8 ’till early this week, the candidates for the Senate the media have focused on were Manny Pacquiao and Martin Romualdez.

The numbers tell the story — although the fact that the reports on the Senate race have been consistently low show an almost total lack of media interest in it.

From Feb. 8 to 20, for example, a monitor by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility found a total of 28 media reports on Pacquiao and 20 on Romualdez.

What this means for Pacquiao is that, as widely known and idolized as he already is for his boxing exploits, the media have been providing him the additional advantage over his political rivals of his name’s being constantly hammered into the consciousness of the electorate.

True, the media coverage he received Feb. 8 to the present has had nothing to do with either his qualifications for the post he’s aspiring for or his dismal record as a congressman, but about his ante-diluvian views about same-sex marriage and homosexuality, and later, his upcoming fight with Timothy Bradley and the petitions that have been filed urging his disqualification because of the cost-free publicity he’s been getting from the preliminaries of that fight.

But given the reality that name-recall more than anything else — more than qualifications and more than suitability to whatever elective post is being aspired for — is what decides much of Philippine elections, the media have practically assured Pacquiao’s claiming the title “senator” in addition to his boxing titles.

It’s not because he’s “only a boxer” which makes that possibility dire, but because his record in the House speaks volumes on his suitability for that post, about the responsibilities of which, judging from his attempt to justify his record number of absences from the House sessions (he said he preferred to be among his constituents rather than in the House because the only thing they did in that chamber was to pass bills), he seems to be totally clueless. He did author 15 bills and coauthored 28 during his term, but that compares dismally with the record of many of his colleagues.

Meanwhile, Romualdez’ placing second in media coverage during that period was apparently due to his being the brother of the publisher of the Standard, who also happens to be the husband of the Inquirer publisher. Romualdez appeared ten times in as many Standard news reports, and was four times the subject of Inquirer reports, compared to zero times for other senatorial aspirants.

Neither his name nor the coverage he’s been getting suggests that he’s anything but competent in the task of law-making. But the coverage he has been getting does give him an edge over his rivals, although, unlike Pacquiao, Romualdez was usually present in House sessions, and was the author of 46 bills during his tenure in that chamber.

While even more dedicated to the law-making task, as evidenced by his attendance and number of bills he authored (176) and coauthored (252). Neri Colmenares, who was the Bayan Muna nominee in the House, has been getting minimal print coverage, although he’s frequently interviewed over some television news programs. Among the bills he authored, which passed Congress but was vetoed by Benigno S. C. Aquino III, was the bill that would have increased Social Security pensions by P2,000.

Not being a Pacquiao or a Romualdez, however, Colmenares doesn’t have the advantage of name-recall, and has only his record as a lawmaker to recommend him to the Senate. Only media attention can turn this around for him and those other candidates who may have the qualifications but not the recognition advantage.

Among those who do have that edge are Palparan, Manzano, and Moreno. Palparan if only because, despite Benigno S. C. Aquino III’s call for the military to be non-political and despite its claimed and totally spurious commitment to human rights, he enjoys the support of both retired and active military and police officers who’re likely to campaign for him, media or no media. Moreno and Manzano could go the way of such other celebrities as Joseph E. Estrada, their names having been associated with the most powerful mass medium of all, the movies.

Imagine then a Senate with a Manny Pacquiao, an Alma Moreno, an Edu Manzano and a Jovito Palparan in it. Claro M. Recto, Jose P. Laurel, and Lorenzo M. Tañada would do cartwheels in their graves.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Published in the Business World
March 17, 2016

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