Last two minutes: Campaign 2010

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on April 27, 2010

In American football–a sport I grew up with in the Texas panhandle–an official timeout is called in the last two minutes of the game (There are actually two halves with two quarters each, as in basketball, so two such official timeouts.). In basketball–a sport I live with in the Philippines–the game clock stops in the last two minutes of the fourth period after a successful field goal.

In 1990, Filipino director Mike Relon Makiling gave us a movie titled “Last Two Minutes,” a basketball-centered comedy with a long list of stars, including Ruffa Gutierrez, Aiko Melendez, and Maricel Laxa. The movie has been largely forgotten, but “last two minutes” is a fixture of the business, social, and political landscape here as well as on oasis-like Texas football fields. The last two minutes refers to the last chance competitors have to win a hard-fought contract, a singing competition-or an election.

As the campaign period for national elections May 10 entered its last two weeks, Social Weather Stations (SWS) released its latest survey on the candidates’ standings for president. It’s not a tight race. Senator Begino Simeon “Noynoy” C. Aquino III (Liberal Party) appears to be pulling away from his closest rival, Senator Manuel “Manny” B. Villar (Nacionalista) having extended his lead to double digits.

The survey, conducted between April 16 and 19, showed Mr. Aquino enjoying a 12-point spread over Mr. Villar, 38% to 26%. During that period, Mr. Villar was on the defensive, under relentless attack, as a result of myriad allegations suggesting that he abused his position in the Senate for personal and professional gain. Meanwhile, Mr. Aquino found himself having to defend his sanity after medical records surfaced suggesting he had undergone treatment for a mental health disorder.

Mr. Villar has had a hard time defending himself, so much so that earlier this week his mother–yes, his mother–called a news conference to do the job for him. The news conference ended abruptly when Curita “Nanay Curing” Villar became hysterical. Mr. Aquino had an easier time, laughing off the allegations of emotional infirmity. The medical records were credibly shown to be bogus, and analysts and others quickly pointed to Mr. Villar’s campaign as the source, an allegation that was just as promptly denied.

The specter of a presidential candidate calling on his mother to defend his integrity seems a desperate, “last two minutes,” ploy. In football, such desperation is akin to what is called a “Hail Mary” pass. The quarterback throws the ball as far as he can downfield hoping that a receiver will be in position to catch it, but not really knowing. He also hopes the blind pass won’t be intercepted by a defender. Either way, the Hail Mary is usually the last play of the game.

A Hail Mary Pass almost always fails, and is only attempted when there is nothing to lose when it does. After months of persistent assaults on his character and the apparent inability of Mr. Villar to overcome Mr. Aquino’s lead–although he came tantalizingly close in February–is Mr. Villar intentionally resorting to a final, desperate Hail Mary end game? And if he is, what are the chances it will work?

Several years ago I moderated a panel discussion which included a former–and deeply unpopular–chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Other strong personalities on the panel started beating up on the former official and I quickly lost control of the discussion. Not surprisingly, the evaluations of my performance were terrible. Delegates to the conference who observed the session were upset with me for what they saw as unfair treatment of the former Comelec chairman.

Reading about Ms. Villar’s news conference brought back that memory, and I wondered if it were possible that by making his mother cry, journalists might have done Mr. Villar a favor. Everyone knows how popular mothers are in the Philippine social milieu. Will voters feel so deeply unhappy about the way Ms. Villar was treated that they will vote for her son out of disgust for the assault on social values and good manners? Did she actually catch the Hail Mary pass?

Sadly for Mr. Villar, a 12-point lead can’t be overcome by desperately silly tactics. But they can make it worse.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand . Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.).

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