POSTSCRIPT / May 1, 2022 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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No to debates, yes to ‘hakot’ crowds?

The San Fernando City police have a problem: how to report a bigger estimate of the rally crowd last Friday of former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. staged on the same site as the April 9 event of Vice President Leni Robredo, his main rival for the presidency.

Presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. waves to the crowd that attended his UniTeam's rally on April 29 in San Fernando City, Pampanga. Photo: Manila Standard

Rejecting the challenge of Robredo to a public debate, Marcos said he would rather focus on his campaign sorties and talk directly to the people in the remaining days leading to the May 9 national elections.

He had to produce an event eclipsing that mammoth Pampanga rally of Robredo and her vice presidential running mate Sen. Kiko Pangilinan that, the police and the organizers said, drew a crowd of 220,000, a figure that raised the eyebrows of some police higher-ups.

Backed up by Pampanga’s political big guns, including former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the powerful Pineda clan, Marcos tried to produce an extravaganza dwarfing the earlier Leni-Kiko rally.

Marcos “hakot” attendees arrived on buses to beef up the local crowd. Some of them reportedly had tickets for snacks and dinner, and a few said that they expected to receive P2,500 before going home.

The busing of such reinforcements failed, however, to pad the sparse crowd. Drone shots of their attendance showed a smaller and less dense crowd as compared to the earlier Leni-Kiko rally.

* * *

The police had said that the site, near the Robinsons Starmills, was seven hectares (70,000 square meters), but that the Leni-Kiko rally used about 55,000 sqm only. Using an average of four persons per sqm, the police and organizers assumed a minimum attendance of 220,000.

If a bigger number was expected or desired for the Marcos rally, the police could report that the entire seven-hectare area was occupied and assume four persons standing on every square meter of space to yield 280,000 warm bodies.

The problem is that the drone shots taken at the time Marcos went up the stage to address the people, whose number had peaked by that time, showed that the crowd was not thick enough to beat the Leni-Kiko record.

Why did Marcos, who claimed to be focusing on the field campaign instead of debating with his rivals, fail to muster a bigger crowd amid his camp’s claims of having superior drawing power.

How come the crowds marching to Robredo’s beat in increasing numbers appear to be more animated – an element that does not jibe with the poll surveys’ supposed findings that Marcos was way ahead in the race?

* * *

Attendees are openly being hauled or bused from out of town to Marcos’ rallies. Some of these “hakot” don’t mind showing their tickets for free snacks and dinner, and a few even say they expect to be paid (some mention P2,500 per head) before going home.

The videos and photos of the Marcos crowd gathering in San Fernando and the shabby treatment that some of our province mates got were disgusting.

Seeing people sticking their open palms though a fence – as if begging – for some give-aways, we were moved to tweet local leaders, including former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, why they allow this humiliation of the cabalens.

Some items in boxes were sometimes simply thrown at the people instead of being properly handed to them. Sometimes the boxes burst and there wais a scramble for the contents. The spectacle was so demeaning.

Do the organizers look down on plain folk in Marcos rallies because they think they have paid them already? The thought is infuriating in light of allegations that some of the money being tossed around had been misappropriated from public coffers.

Then there are the photos on social media showing how the crowds in Marcos rallies sometimes left the site littered, in sharp contrast with how attendees in Leni-Kiko rallies tidied  up the place before leaving.

The difference between the leadership qualities of Robredo and Marcos is evident. Examining the two candidates in totality, it is not difficult to see who is the better person to lead and inspire people to rise together.

It is not often in a nation’s history that a commanding figure comes along and offers himself or herself as the timely servant-leader.

* * *

Properly managed, public debates and forums make for an orderly discussion of public issues. One is tempted to conclude that Marcos’ refusal to participate in election debates springs from a fear of having his thoughts, plans and platform, if any, examined.

Listening to his speeches, one notices that he just keeps repeating the theme of unity. But reconciliation and unity as requisites for national progress is a given. In fact, it is time to go beyond just talking about unity.

Aside from just repeating it, Marcos or any presidential candidate should publicly elaborate and explain, possibly in a debate, how he intends to heal the divisions among us.

It could be an ordeal for people, such as reporters covering Marcos on the campaign trail, hearing the same catchwords and phrases without enlightening discussions.

His refusal to participate in public discussions of election-related issues could be out of a fear of being exposed as shallow.

He looks haunted by the drubbing he received in 2016 when forced to defend himself and his family in the debates with Robredo and former Speaker Alan Cayetano when they were running for vice president.

The refusal of the late dictator’s son to allow the people to examine his proposed program of government and his preparedness for the presidency is not the people’s loss. It is his.

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