LIKE similar political exercises in the past, the May 13 senatorial election promised fresh advocacies and alternative politics. But with familiar names again dominating the Magic 12, did voters achieve change or did they only get what they deserved?

Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., whose son Koko won in the senatorial race, spoke of a "prevalent cycle of poor judgment" among voters.

“Just because you are winning,” he told the Varsitarian, “you are not necessarily qualified for the job you are seeking.”

He cited the basic function of senators, legislation, a work requiring “a certain expertise.”

But it didn’t seem to matter to those who voted for the likes of Grace Poe, the top vote-getter in the senatorial derby, and Nancy Binay, who placed fifth in the race. Both candidates had no prior experience in legislative work, much like Bam Aquino, the cousin of President Aquino who won under the administration ticket.

“Branding” is key, said Ramon Osorio, ABS-CBN corporate communications head and a professor at UST’s Communication Arts program.

“You have to sell yourself as a brand,” he told the Varsitarian, noting how the strategy apparently worked for Poe.

The candidate, former chief of the government’s censor board, focused her ads on her late father’s popular surname. It helped, too, that the name sounds like Filipino word used to show respect for elders, Osorio added.

“It was a very culturally attached campaign of creating awareness for her name,” he said.

Another apparent beneficiary of a name recall was Binay. Despite widespread criticism over her lack of government experience, she was a big winner in a senatorial election whose Magic 12 featured old names and second-generation politicians.

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All in the family

Consider the other winners: incumbent Senators Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano, Antonip Trillanes IV and Gregorio Honasan, and Representatives Juan Edgardo Angara, Joseph Victor Ejercito, and Cynthia Villar.

Angara will replace his father Edgardo, while Villar will take over the post to be vacated by her husband, Sen. Manuel Villar. Ejercito will join his half-brother, Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada. Cayetano’s victory meant he and his older sister Pia will be part of the same chamber for the next three years.

Why are we stuck with the same politicians, anyway?

“It seems that voters still go for established names,” political science professor Dennis Coronacion said. “They don’t want to experiment.”

As was apparent in the election results, he said picking candidates for Filipino voters was not unlike shopping for appliances: they still preferred established brands.

Losers

But political pedigree was no sure ticket to election victory. Ask Rep. Jack Enrile, whose affiliation with his father, then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, was not enough to tow him into the winners’ circle.

Or how about Risa Hontiveros, who enjoyed immense support from no less than the President for her second crack at a Senate seat?

Enrile, said Osorio, “kept advocating cheap food prices when it doesn’t suit him at all.”

Coronacion noted Hontiveros’ “fighting” (palaban) image was not effective, especially because she was running under the administration ticket.

“Sinong lalabanan niya?” he said. “There’s something really wrong with her packaging.”

Political dynasties

The results of the May 13 elections also showed the country still had a long way to go if voters really wanted to eradicate political dynasties.

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In the 15th Congress, 19 out of 23 senators belonged to political families, while there were least 207 (74 percent) out of 281 members of the House of Representatives, according to data by GMA News Research.

Coronacion said political dynasties restrict democracy.

“People will not be able to realize the essence of democracy, particularly the opportunity for everyone to serve in public office,” he said.

Erap ‘branding’

One of the most closely watched encounters in the local elections was the one between former President Joseph Estrada and incumbent Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim. Estrada, unseated by a popular revolt in 2001 and later convicted of plunder, defeated Lim, his former Cabinet secretary, by more than 30,000 votes.

How? Osorio again pointed to branding.

Three years from now will come the much bigger presidential election. Candidates will go for tried and tested approaches to image building and packaging. Whether voters will finally see through the political cosmetics will remain to be seen.

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