How Darlene side-stepped then kayoed Pacman
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-06-03
One of the edifying stories of our last elections was about the triumph of a wee lassie from the south over an internationally celebrated prize-fighter and sports icon.

Darlene Antonino-Custodio versus Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao for Congress Representative was a match that drew curious interest, largely because many people wanted to know if Pacquiao’s seeming invincibility in the ring would also win him a seat in Congress.

Pacquiao was at the peak of his glory, hailed and adored as a hero by fans. Many even believed that he could win as senator. Mayor Lito Atienza wanted Pacman to run for vice-mayor of Manila and be the running mate of his son Ali, Lito’s would-be successor who eventually lost to Fred Lim.

Pacquiao’s boxing victories provide diversionary relief for a nation living with a battered self-image. For this moment, we forget our deteriorating poverty. For this moment, we bypass our shame of being among the world’s most corrupt and the most dangerous place for journalists and activists. Pacquiao’s conquest of Erik Morales reassured Filipinos that they are world class and capable of achieving noteworthy feats.

Pacquiao’s aura of invincibility reminds me of the same powerful impact George Foreman exuded before Muhammad Ali demolished him in the 1974 Kinshasa, Zaire “Rumble in the jungle.” Before fighting Ali, Foreman demolished all his ring opponents, with very few of them going beyond five rounds.

Foreman was the outstanding favorite to beat Ali — especially after having previously kayoed the only two fighters that had tarnished Ali’s ring record, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. Foreman demolished both Frazier and Norton in bouts that each lasted less than six minutes.

Ali at past 30 and believed to be on the decline stunned the world by knocking out Foreman in eight rounds — crushing a fighter who until then was thought to be invincible. This made Ali the second heavyweight to regain a lost world crown.

The encounter in Gensan between Darlene Antonino-Custodio and Manny Pacquiao reminded me of the Ali-Foreman superfight. Here was Pacquiao, icon of Pinoy machismo and undoubtedly the greatest fighter in his category — up against a wee, frail-looking lassie who looks like she can’t even swat a fly.

Sidestep your opponent’s strength

Last Sunday, I finally got my chance to interview Darlene to hear it from her directly how she won that Gensan congressional race with plenty to spare.

Darlene applied a classic marketing strategy that all sums up to: Sidestep your opponent’s strength and play your greatest advantage.

In a marketing war where one toothpaste brand is well-established for fighting cavities, a good approach for its competitor will be to be promoted as the toothpaste that delivers fresh breath. If a car brand is known for its speed, the competitor can position on the platform of safety.

Darlene did not denigrate the one strength that Pacquiao had, which is his triumph in the ring and the honor and joy he brought to Filipinos. Instead, Darlene gamely watched and cheered the ‘Pambansang kamao’ in his fight against Jorge Solis, effectively forging a bond of unity with Pacquiao’s most avid fans.

Despite being a member of the affluent Antonino clan, Darlene had the humility and perspective of a public servant which kept her from being generalized as a member of the upper class. This spared her from being isolated into an “us versus them” equation where she is regarded part of the entrenched elite while Pacquiao takes on the role of the champion of the underprivileged, unrepresented Filipinos.

Darlene had carefully stayed away from frontally challenging Pacquiao’s qualification to run for the congressional seat. Instead, she focused on reporting what she had already accomplished and communicating her future plans for her Gensan district when re-elected.

She realized that a lot of other people are raising the issue of qualification against Pacquiao and she did not have to join the fray. After all, it does boggle the mind to imagine how a boxer can transform himself into becoming a congressman, a position that requires education credentials. Very few people will take up boxing for a living if they had the education.

By focusing on her strengths, Darlene indirectly provided contrast to Pacquiao’s lack of credentials. Pacquiao failed to address people’s doubts that he will be able to effectively represent them in Congress. Pacquiao’s celebrity status did not equate to effective congressional representation.

Not only that, many voters doubted if Pacquiao can do two jobs that both require full-time attention. It was logical for people to think that Pacquiao will naturally concentrate on his boxing career where he makes millions. Thus, the issue of his lack of qualifications was exacerbated by doubts about his availability and inclination to do the job.

It was a no-contest from the very start. It was for Darlene to lose had she made the wrong moves. In her surveys, Darlene was comfortably leading Pacquiao before and during the campaign period.

Perhaps sensing the desperation of his cause, Pacquiao lost a lot of points when he resorted to ridiculous and outrageous claims against Darlene — at one point saying that he has been marked for assassination. If Pacquiao was up against Abra Governor Vicente Valera, who is hounded by allegations of ordering the killing of a political opponent, that line might just fly.

Another major setback for Pacquiao’s candidacy was his perceived closeness to Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. Ten Genuine Opposition and two independent Senate bets won in Darlene’s district.

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