IF you are wondering like most other people why Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is still hanging on to her seat, blame it on this nation’s inutile and pathetic opposition. As my good friend Conrad de Quiros would put it, branding the opposition as mediocre is to insult the mediocre. Indeed, if the opposition had even an iota of mediocrity, they would have, at the very least, succeeded in ousting and prosecuting Madame Arroyo for the undeniably enormous crimes she has committed against the Filipino people.
By opposition, I refer to the hodgepodge of personages and groupings that shares the common denominator of being averse to Madame Arroyo’s continued misrule. This will include the political opposition parties (PDP-Laban, PMP, LDP), the various civil society groups and the many politically and ideologically unaligned and unattached Juan de la Cruzes out there.
For all of them, perhaps a crash course on Marketing 101 will go a long way.
Marketing 101will tell you why people junk products and shift to another. Basic Marketing will also teach you that a product regarded as a ‘lemon’ will be tolerated and retain patronage if that product does not have an acceptable or viable alternative. Forces averse to Madame Arroyo’s imposed leadership fail to recognize the people’s deeper sentiments, aspirations and frustrations. They think that a simple extraction of the irritant will suffice in meeting public demand.
Bible history would have taught the opposition that in order to spare Barabas, his goons had to egg the mob to pick Jesus Christ to be crucified instead of Barabas. Today, what we have is a Babel of opposing voices and suggestions that lead nowhere, not even to one commonly agreed solution. They have not even bothered to delve into the people’s innermost cares and needs so that they can appropriately customize a product that will both be responsive and relevant to such needs.
Up to the time when the railroad became the more convenient mode of conveyance, people were happy getting from here to there by horse and wagon. The first time mobile phones were introduced in the country, they were very costly and people then did not mind lugging along the bulky battery contraptions. At that time when even fixed lines in the country were scarce, the cell phone prototype certainly became a status symbol for the busy, once hard-to-locate executive. But the lightning speed at which digital technology developed soon turned the analog cell phone into a museum piece. Now with the entry of 3G technology, consumers expect their cell phones to be more than just a telephone – they are soon turning it into a videophone, TV, gaming console and teleconferencing tool.
In Marketing 101, one learns that the process begins and ends with the consumer. It begins with a study of what the people need and the process ends with the delivery of the product that satisfies that need. You may have all the fantastic features that you think would prod people to patronize your product but if your product does not meet their desires and expectations, you will not succeed. In the bottom-line, it is what the potential buyer wants that counts and not what you think he should buy. The successful marketer will look first into the mind of his intended consumer before he starts to even plan to mass produce and advertise anything. Now that is what the opposition has failed to do.
The pathetic opposition to Madame Arroyo simply presumed that public disgust with the failed pretender in the presidential palace will automatically drive the people to ‘buy’ their ‘product’. To begin with, they do not even have a decent product to offer – at least one that will measure up to what the public really wants.
The recognized opposition parties forgot that just four years ago some of their compatriots were the very same occupants of the palace who were ousted by the people during EDSA II. They also forgot that among them are the remnants of the dictatorial regime that was ousted by EDSA I. Simple marketing principle here – when people wanted a mode of transport that was faster than the horse and wagon, they did not go back to walking. Sick and tired of Madame Arroyo, nobody wants to go back to the experience of the Marcos and Estrada years. Like all sane people on the planet who are aspiring to improve their lives, the Filipinos want desperately to move on from Marcos, Estrada and Macapagal-Arroyo.
The civil society groups on the other hand keep attempting to provide “brand” alternatives which are actually bastardized versions of the old product. They fail to recognize or accept that people no longer trust the system (product category) and want a totally different product and this is the reason why they are cold to the purported reforms raised by Joe de Venecia’s Charter Change offer. People are also cold to the proposal of replacement through constitutional succession which would be Vice President Noli de Castro. It is so much like giving a camel to people who no longer find the horse and wagon a fast enough transport mode. It will not work because it is not what the consumer wants.
The Philippine political reality is that people no longer want the rotten system. As a result, people do not rally behind anyone or any group whose proposition smacks of anything associated with the system. It is not that Madame Arroyo is more acceptable than the choices – over 80% believe she stole the 2004 elections and a great majority want her ousted. Neither Marcos nor Estrada suffered such a dismal rejection. Yes, they want her removed but until someone comes up with an offer that proves equal to what the Filipinos now want, they cannot expect the people to go out and start doing something like another People Power.
In marketing, this is the case of the product category that became obsolete and irrelevant. When consumers have decided that they no longer want a certain product category, it goes without saying that the marketing problem then ceases to be a question of brand choice. When people reject riding a horse and wagon, giving them a choice of a white or black stallion will not make any difference. And this is essentially the root of the problem of the opposition forces – they merely offer an alternative brand in the same product category, thinking that the solution simply lies in brand substitution.
A foremost US foreign policy adviser for Asia, 82-year old Bob Scalapino, recognized this problem as early as October 2004 when he visited Manila. Bob shared this insight with me during a 30-minute one-on-one we had on October 8, 2004 which I wrote about in my October 18, 2004 column (The “perfect storm” that is about to hit the Philippines).
Previous to our one-on-one, Bob met with representatives of various sectors and he was shocked at how deep the disenchantment was in our society – one that went beyond the problem of leadership but of the very system itself. What worried Bob was that among the various groups that he met, most of them no longer considered democratic means (elections and so forth) for solutions. Bob even noted that the public cynicism far exceeds that of the Marcos era after the Aquino assassination. Very disturbing when one considers that these observations were made before the Garci tape was released!
An important foreign policy adviser like Bob Scalapino does not come to Manila to gather facts. People like Bob visit a country in order to validate what must have already been reported by the US State Department and the CIA. Top advisers like Bob Scalapino are asked to visit countries to check out emerging situations. So this means that the US monitors have detected as early as then that the ‘perfect storm’ was brewing.
Thus, a grizzled political watcher like me does not find it surprising that the US seems to be acting in anticipation of an earlier-than-expected post-Macapagal-Arroyo scenario all this time. The US renders the usual lip service to the collapsing regime but all actions of the US State Department are contributing to the regime change in the Philippines. They paid the same lip service to the late South Vietnamese president Ngo Ding Diem who was known to have been deposed and killed in a CIA-supported, if not outright planned, coup. Incidentally, Ngo Ding Diem also had a controversial presidential spouse, Madame Ngo, who hastened his downfall.
The US has geo-political interests to protect in the region and the Philippines is strategic to the objectives of the US. They cannot take an impartial role in the Philippine crisis – especially after Macapagal-Arroyo has initiated moves to cozy up to China in her hope that she can create a counter foil to the US. China is the very threat to US geo-political interests.
Imperial powers like the US anticipate their conflicts decades ahead and already plan how to win these conflicts even before these are fought. That is how they remain imperial powers. We plan our lives on a meal-to-meal basis and so it comes as no surprise that we are trapped in this third world reality. Having flirted with China after sensing the loss of US support, Macapagal-Arroyo only succeeded in hastening actions that will speed up her ouster. China, who she hopes will offset the pressure from the US, is in no position yet to openly challenge the only superpower in the world today.
This brings us to the dangerous attraction of the junior officers who at least offer a radical change from the unwanted system. Because of the failure of the opposition forces to offer the solution that people want, the junior officers (represented by the YOUng) who have been threatening to oust Madame Arroyo – now become the only “acceptable product” that appears to offer a system overhaul that will rid us of the yoke of the oligarchy that has been in power for too long.
Because people are no longer lured to the selling efforts of those opposition groups offering mere brand substitution, a military coup which has heretofore never attracted public support is beginning to appear palatable. The YOUng is now likely regarded as the most acceptable alternative to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and traditional politics.
This attraction has been gained by sheer default. Outside of the forces of the CPP-NPA, who have not really won the sympathy of the mainstream, nobody else offers the desired system change. Unless the opposition forces against Madame Arroyo get their act together and provide a better product, they will likely be watching from the sidelines when this issue is settled once and for all.
The opposition forces will have no choice but to stand on the side to give way to men who are much stronger and more willful – who did their homework and are ready with a product that the people want.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org