Political strategy of invoking dead alive and well

In his speeches, Mr Mar Roxas (above) recalls younger brother Gerardo Roxas Jr, a congressman who died of cancer in 1993.
In his speeches, Mr Mar Roxas (above) recalls younger brother Gerardo Roxas Jr, a congressman who died of cancer in 1993. PHOTO: REUTERS
In his speeches, Mr Mar Roxas recalls younger brother Gerardo Roxas Jr (above), a congressman who died of cancer in 1993.
In his speeches, Mr Mar Roxas recalls younger brother Gerardo Roxas Jr (above), a congressman who died of cancer in 1993. PHOTO: MARROXAS.COM
Mr Marcos (above) is banking on his father's feats.
Mr Marcos (above) is banking on his father's feats. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Mr Marcos is banking on his father's feats (above).
Mr Marcos is banking on his father's feats (above). PHOTO: PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Mrs Leni Robredo (above) is riding on a legacy platform: her late husband's.
Mrs Leni Robredo (above) is riding on a legacy platform: her late husband's. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Mrs Leni Robredo is riding on a legacy platform: her late husband's (above).
Mrs Leni Robredo is riding on a legacy platform: her late husband's (above).PHOTO: PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Senator Grace Poe (above) references her father, Mr Fernando Poe Jr, in her speeches.
Senator Grace Poe (above) references her father, Mr Fernando Poe Jr, in her speeches. PHOTO: REUTERS
Senator Grace Poe references her father, Mr Fernando Poe Jr (above), in her speeches.
Senator Grace Poe references her father, Mr Fernando Poe Jr (above), in her speeches. PHOTO: PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

In Philippine politics, dead men tell tales.

As much as they hammer on issues, candidates also invoke memories of their dead - yet still popular - kin to gain voters' sympathy.

"Filipinos are very spiritual. They connect well with the dead and their memories… Call it 'necropolitics'," said Mr Gregg Lloren, a communications professor at the state-run University of the Philippines and a former advertising executive.

President Benigno Aquino, 55, was not considered a contender back in 2009 until his mother, democracy icon Corazon Aquino, died in August that year.

The outpouring of grief reminded voters of the immense sacrifice the Aquino family had made for the Philippines.

Riding on that emotional rocket, Mr Aquino barrelled through a lacklustre field of candidates and won a six-year term, topping his nearest rival by over five million votes in 2010.

PROS AND CONS

(Using the dead) is a good communication device… because it has high emotional appeal. But it can also backfire because it also brings up bad memories, and not everyone has a short memory.''

MR GREGG LLOREN, a communications professor at the state-run University of the Philippines

As seven months of campaigning begin, candidates are using the same tack. They are dredging memories of their fathers, brothers and husbands, banking on nostalgia and hoping their kin's positive legacy would rub off on them.

Senator Grace Poe, 47, references her father, movie icon Fernando Poe Jr, in her speeches. She has said she is running for president to finish what her father began and to right a great injustice done to him.

Mr Poe, who was known as "the king of Philippine movies" for his decades-long film career, ran for president in 2004, but lost to Mrs Gloria Arroyo amid allegations of widespread cheating.

He died that same year.

In his speeches, former interior minister Mar Roxas, 58, Mr Aquino's candidate, recalls his younger brother, Mr Gerardo Roxas Jr, a congressman who died of cancer in 1993.

Mr Roxas, who trails Ms Poe in surveys, portrays his run for the presidency as carrying on the legacy of a long line of politicians that, apart from his younger brother, includes his grandfather, the nation's fifth president Manuel Roxas, and father, former senator Gerardo Roxas.

Mr Roxas' running mate, Representative Leni Robredo, 51, is also riding on a legacy platform: her late husband's. Mr Jesse Robredo, a former mayor, was a well-regarded civil servant when he died in a plane crash in 2012.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who is seeking the vice-presidency, is banking on the achievements of his father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos - which includes developing the country's infrastructure and promoting food self-sufficiency - to win a younger set of voters to his side.

Whether the gambit will work is up for debate.

Invoking the ghost of Marcos is also bringing up memories of massive human rights abuses and wholesale plunder that happened under the old man's 21-year rule.

Using the dead "is a good communication device… because it has high emotional appeal", said Mr Lloren. "But it can also backfire because it also brings up bad memories, and not everyone has a short memory," he said.

Raul Dancel

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'Political strategy of invoking dead alive and well'. Print Edition | Subscribe