First Crack by Fel Maragay, Manila Standard Today, March 3, 2010
The rivalry between two leading candidates in the nation’s capital city—Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and former Mayor Lito Atienza—is becoming as intense as the scorching weather. It has come to a point where men from the camp of the incumbent mayor have allegedly resorted to tearing down Atienza’s campaign posters, including those pasted on the walls of private homes which is allowed under the Fair Election Practices Law.
As reported by some newspapers, one such ugly incident took place on Feb. 21, around 10 in the morning on H. Lopez corner Infanta streets in Balut, Tondo.
Another happened on Feb. 24, at 2 p.m. on Quezon Boulevard across Central Market. Personnel from the city government’s Department of Public Services, using dump trucks, were seen roaming around and entering private premises to remove the Atienza propaganda materials.
Subsequently, in one incident, Atienza’s followers confronted the culprits and a scuffle broke out. This prompted barangay officials concerned to ask Chief Supt. Roberto Rosales, director of the National Capital Region Office of the Philippine National Police, to intervene in the brewing trouble between the rival camps. Likewise, Arnold “Ali” Atienza, son and campaign manager of the former mayor, filed a complaint with Arturo Panaligan, director of the Civil Service Commission field office in Manila against certain DPS officials and personnel who were responsible for the illegal acts. However, DPS chief Francisco Baltazar countered that they only removed posters not installed in designated common poster areas and even accused Atienza’s followers of harassing them.
If Lim’s partisans had gone out of legal bounds by tearing down Atienza’s posters, even in places where these were compliant with law, that was a hostile, provocative and unwise move. Enraged followers of the challenger could retaliate by also scuttling Lim’s posters in their neighborhood. And that would have sparked a posters war.
If the sitting mayor had a hand in the illicit act aimed at reducing his opponent’s visibility in the propaganda front, that could backfire on the former because it could only bring him embarrassment and criticism. It would also create the impression that he is getting desperate in the face of his adversary’s claim that he is making inroads in his bid to recapture the city hall.
Some political pundits say that instead of destroying Atienza’s posters, Mayor Lim should start clearing Roxas Boulevard and other city avenues of the ubiquitous yellow streamers and pennants. These streamers started sprouting in the middle the streets when former President Corazon Aquino died in July. But up to now, they are still there. And people are wondering why.
Most of the streamers were destroyed and swept away by the winds when killer typhoon Ondoy unleashed its fury in September. But these were instantly replaced by brand new ones. In fact, the streamers appeared to have multiplied on the occasion of the birth anniversary of the late Sen. Benigno “Ninoy Aquino Jr. on Nov. 27. The streamers were replenished when Cory Aquino’s birth anniversary was commemorated in January and the 24th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolt was observed last month.
The yellow streamers should have been pulled out from the streets days after Mrs. Aquino was buried. But this did not happen because the streamers served an important purpose other than keeping the memory of the late president alive. The Aquino family was still in mourning over her demise but the Corystas were already mulling the idea of fielding Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as Liberal Party presidential candidate in place of Senator Mar Roxas who was then trailing behind other aspirants in the ratings charts. They were overwhelmed by the outpouring of public emotion over the loss of the beloved icon of democracy.
What else is the purpose of keeping the yellow streamers flowing across Roxas Boulevard and other streets of Manila but to send subliminal message to the passersby about the legacy of both Ninoy and Cory Aquino? This strategy is meant to sustain public support for the presidential candidacy of Noynoy who is billed as the logical heir and bearer of the legacy of his illustrious parents.
The yellow streamers are seen as intended to prop up Noynoy’s presidential bid and thus could perhaps be categorized as campaign materials, the continued display of which can be questioned by any of the protagonists in the presidential contest before election authorities. If nobody has taken this move, maybe it’s because the survey ratings of the Liberal Party standard bearer have since steadily declined. From a high of 60 percent last September, Noynoy’s score has plummeted to 27 to 32 percent putting him at a statistical
tie with his closest rival, Senator Manual Villar of the Nacionalista Party. Analysts say if Noynoy’s ratings have sharply gone down, it’s partly because the Cory euphoria has died down. Which goes without saying that the usefulness of the yellow streamers has been devalued.
At this juncture, it may be asked, who between Lim and Atienza is ahead of the mayoral race in Manila? By December, a survey purportedly showed that Lim had the upperhand in the fight. Political watchers say that if that was true, it was because the Atienza campaign machine was hardly moving at that time. After all, he was still preoccupied with his duties as secretary of environment and natural resources. On Dec. 28, he resigned his Cabinet post although there was a Supreme Court ruling that appointive public officials could remain in their posts— even if they had already filed their certificate of candidacy—until the official start of the campaign period for the local candidates on March 26.
Atienza said he did not want to divide his time between preparing for his campaign and discharging his responsibilities as a Cabinet member. His gesture was in stark contrast to that of his peers in Malacañang who clung to their positions for as long as they could. The reason was obvious: to take advantage of the funds and resources of their respective agencies to promote their candidacies.
Now we are being regaled with claims from the Atienza camp that the tide of the political battle in the premier city has turned around in his favor. But where is the empirical basis for this? We have yet to see a survey done by any credible research outfit to give us an idea of how Lim, Atienza and a third candidate, retired police general Avelino Razon, are faring.
But perhaps a concrete gauge of their campaign is going is how they are able to mobilize their supporters during rallies and other mass gatherings. In a show of force, the Atienza camp organized two huge rallies over the last two months, The first was held in the Port Area
in January in which Atienza’s followers overwhelmingly manifested their support for Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino standard bearer, former President Joseph Estrada. The second was in Plaza Miranda, Quiapo on Feb. 9 when the PMP national and local candidates in Metro Manila held a mammoth rally to mark the start of the poll campaign.
Then on Feb. 19, at the Century Park Sheraton Hotel in Malate, a fund-raising dinner was held for the benefit of members of Atienza’s Buhayin ang Maynila (Revive Manila) team. The hotel restaurant overflowed with leaders of street vendor groups and associations of small- and medium-sized enterprises, together with representatives of big business. There were 100 tables (of ten persons each) reserved for the occasion, but many other participants were unable to find seats in the jampacked dining hall.
Former Manila Assemblyman, General Manager of the National Housing Authority, Manila Vice-Mayor for 6 years, Mayor of Manila for 9 years, and Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources