Reinventing Mar

OVER a week ago, Kit Tatad, in his column in Manila Standard Today, wrote about the newly launched program of Malacañang to repair the 2016 presidential bandwagon of Mar Roxas which had experienced engine trouble on Noynoy Aquino’s Daang Baku-Baku. According to Tatad, no less than Aquino himself is heading a special task force whose main objective is to “rebuild” the image of Roxas and get him back on track as the Liberal Party’s standard bearer.
Tatad’s story appears to have been bolstered by an ABS-CBN report about an American political consultant named Paul Bograd having been hired by the Roxas camp, conceivably for the same reason: get Roxas’ image in shape for 2016.
A quick check with Google yielded some interesting insights on Bograd:
”Paul Bograd is an international communications advisor specializing in economic policy communications, crisis and risk management, public and regulatory issues management and communications, institutional brand development; and Behavioral Economics…. He has advised electoral campaigns in Asia, the United States, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Russia, including past Presidential campaigns in the Philippines, Russia, Indonesia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the United States.”
An excerpt from a 2004 article for Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism by Yvonne Chua, reads:
“Were it not for the 2001 impeachment trial of President Estrada, in fact, Filipinos might not have even found out the participation of another US political strategist, Paul Bograd, in the presidential bids of Ramon V. Mitra Jr. in 1992 and Estrada in 1998. The prosecution team had traced to Bograd a P5-million check Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis ‘Chavit’ Singson had issued out of the proceeds of jueteng, an illegal numbers game. Estrada would later admit that the US media consultant was working for him.”
I doubt, however, that it was Bograd who positioned Erap Estrada as “Erap para sa Mahirap” en route to a landslide victory in the 1998 presidential elections. Ever since he made his mark as the classic anti-hero in the film, Asyong Salonga, Estrada had always been a favorite of the masses – such that, the more he was criticized for his womanizing, drinking and gambling, the more he endeared himself to the folks that the late National Artist for Films, Lamberto V. Avellana, called The Bakya Crowd.
But then, one should never underestimate a hotshot political consultant who has handled such clients as Ramon Mitra (who lost) and Erap Estrada (who was desposed). Perhaps Bograd’s expertise will work this time – on Roxas.
Recreating an image is not an impossibility. Ramon Revilla did it with the film, Nardong Putik, literally resurrecting his movie career and catapulting him to the Senate.I happen to personally know this because it was I who wrote the screenplay. Among other things, Revilla endeared himself to the fans when he introduced the Caviteño expletive, “Bwakang ina.”
We understand, Mar Roxas tried his hand at that macho thing himself, screaming, a Tagalog expletive at a protest meeting against Gloria Arroyo’s threatened Cha-Cha. However, the feedback on Roxas’ colorful language was less than encouraging.
At any rate, Roxas can certainly use some expert image making and PR handling after the series of drawbacks, gaffes, blunders, mistakes, miscalculations and public relations disasters that have bedeviled his presidential aspirations.
Apparently encouraged by the success of his Mr. Palengke ad campaign, Roxas’ image makers probably decided to go the whole hog and tried to portray him as a Mar of the Masses (like Erap and Ramon Magsaysay, get it?). Even before the official campaign period, they released publicity materials showing him at wet markets, mingling with The Great Unwashed, even lifting a sack of onions and driving a tricycle. Sadly, it was as incongruous as Manny Pacquiao performing Hamlet’s soliloquy.
Did the public buy the ballyhoo? Not according to public opinion polls. His preparatory efforts had so much difficulty gaining enough traction, his advisers and financiers finally persuaded him to back off and yield the candidacy to Noynoy Aquino.
But that first drawback was followed by an even worse one: Mar lost the vice-presidential race to a dark horse, former Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay.
And then followed a series of PR fiascos, fit only for someone marked by the Curse of Job. His tenure as Secretary of the Department of Transportation & Communication was characterized by the media as a study in analysis-paralysis. Given another post that offered more opportunities to build a national campaign infrastructure, namely, the Department of Interior & Local Government, Roxas continued to snatch failure from the jaws of success.
Handling the investigation of a mysterious explosion at a high-end Ayala-developed condominium complex, Serendra, which claimed the lives of three people, Roxas took all of four months to come up with a conclusion that defied the facts. The Keystone Kops couldn’t have done worse. Expectedly, social media pundits began portraying Roxas as the new spokesman of the Ayalas.
When the pork barrel scandal exploded, there was Roxas again, this time with Aquino, personally attending to the surrender of suspected scammer Janet Lim Napoles and escorting her to her quarters at PNP headquarters. Can someone think of a worse PR snafu?
Perhaps, hoping to give Roxas maximum media exposure, Aquino made him point man in the government’s effort to resolve the Zamboanga stand-off with Nur Misuari and the MNLF. But Roxas was simply not in his element. Among other missteps, Rappler reported that he refused to acknowledge and allow the surrender of 80 MNLF rebels, along with several hostages, subsequently denying that it ever happened. Rappler stood by its story.
And then Yolanda hit, devastating Tacloban and surrounding towns of Leyte and Samar. Again, designated point man by Aquino, Roxas’ incompetence came to the fore.
CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper had a dire commentary on the way the government was handling the crisis – a matter that sparked a sharp exchange between Cooper and TV newscaster, Korina Sanchez, Roxas’ wife. And when another CNN correspondent, Andrew Stevens, asked why piles of body bags on the street had not been hauled away, Roxas argued that they were new piles that had replaced the previous ones. It wasn’t a convincing story.
Asked about efforts to search for survivors, Roxas replied that it was not a priority because the government was busy recovering the dead. This led one sick joker to comment that my poor fellow Taclobanons were dying to be rescued.
At a media briefing on the government’s relief operations, Roxas and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman talked about a “convergent approach” to crisis management by which, by their own admission, no one was calling the shots. Good grief!
And then there was the classic on-camera confrontation with Mayor Alfred Romualdez of Tacloban, where Roxas insisted on formal paper work before government aid could be given, otherwise, “Bahala na kayo sa buhay niyo.”
Given all of these, Paul Bograd has his job cut out for him. But, again I say, rebuilding or, rather, rehabilitating the image of Mar Roxas is not an impossibility. It can be done.
Of course, it may take longer than the amount of time left to prime him for the 2016 presidential elections.
But then, there’s always 2022.

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Email mmsi13@gmail.com.

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