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PROFILES: The Battle of the “Presidential” Campaign Managers for #Eleksyon2022

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The 2022 elections will not only feature the battle between presidentiables and vice-presidentiables but also between their respective campaign managers who will architect the candidates’ winning or losing strategies in the next 90 days. The campaign period will test these men’s talents and instincts in drawing a sufficient number of people to cruise their patrons to victory come May 9.

We take a look at the men of the six top-polling presidential candidates who will call the shots behind the scene and create a game plan to claim victory in this historic #Eleksyon2022.

Benhur Abalos

Benhur Abalos on his last day as chairman of MMDA. He tendered his resignation on Feb. 7 to serve as campaign manager of Bongbong Marcos. (Photograph from MMDA)

Age: 59 years old
Political Affiliation: PDP-Laban
Chairman, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (2021-2022)
Mayor, Mandaluyong City (1998-2004, 2007-2016)
Representative, Mandaluyong City (2004-2007)
Member, Mandaluyong City Council, 1st District (1995-1998)
Presidential Candidate: Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

The former MMDA chairman resigned one day before the official campaign period to focus on former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s campaign. He has the easy but perilous task of maintaining his commanding lead in the surveys – standing at 53% as of December 2021, the first in the history of polling where a candidate received a majority preference from likely voters.

“Ako po ay BBM (Bongbong Marcos) dahil naniniwala ako sa kanya. Matalino siyang tao,” he said on Monday, Feb. 7.

Abalos and Marcos are good friends, with the former acting as the latter’s campaign manager for the National Capital Region in the 2016 vice-presidential race.

It is worth noting that Abalos’s father, Benhur Abalos Sr., was appointed officer-in-charge of then-municipality of Mandaluyong by Corazon Aquino after the historic 1986 People Power Revolution, which toppled Marcos Jr.’s father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., out of Malacañang after 21 years in power.

The UniTeam – moniker of Marcos Jr. and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s tandem – is grateful for Abalos’s addition to their camp, noting his “sensible and wise leadership experience.”

“[It] would play a big factor in leading the UniTeam to its desired victory, which consequently would be a win for the Filipino people,” they said in a statement.

Bam Aquino

Former Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV. (Photograph from Asia Society)

Age: 44 years old
Political Affiliation: Liberal Party
Senator (2013-2019)
Chairman, National Youth Commission (2003-2006)
Commissioner, National Youth Commission (2001-2003)
Presidential Candidate: Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo

The one-term senator who lost his reelection in 2019 and a Summa Cum Laude Graduate of Ateneo De Manila University’s Management Engineering Program is back, this time reprising his role as campaign manager for Vice President Leni Robredo’s presidential bid. He has forgone a Senate bid this year to ensure a Robredo victory on May 9.

Aquino is credited for architecting an effective campaign strategy back in the 2016 vice-presidential race when it seemed impossible for Robredo to win. She later bested five other candidates to eke out a narrow victory, winning by just over 200,000 votes against Marcos Jr., the frontrunner of that race.

The cousin of the late former president Benigno Aquino III is again facing a steep and daunting challenge: employing a strategy to overcome Marcos Jr.’s extensive political, financial and social media machinery and counter the demonization the vice president has suffered in the past six years.

“Sisikapin po natin na totoong people’s campaign ang gagawin natin. Galing ang enerhiya hindi lang sa kandidato, kundi sa taumbayan mismo. Buong puso po akong nagtitiwala sa pinagsanib nating lakas. Kaya natin ito!” he tweeted on Oct. 10.

Like his Father, Paul, who served as Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s strategist in the 2004 elections, Bam Aquino’s data-driven and science-based approach on election campaign allowed his team to clinch the historic upset win for Vice President Leni Robredo, who rose from 1% in polls to 35% of the actual votes last 2016 Vice Presidential Election. Can Bam Aquino make a two-peat this 2022 election?

Lito Banayo

Lito Banayo, then-chairman of Manila Economic and Cultural (MECO), the de facto embassy of the Philippines in Taiwan, on October 10, 2016. (Photograph from MECO)

Age: 75 years old
Political Affiliation: Aksyon Demokratiko
Chairman, Manila Economic and Cultural Office (2016-2021)
Administrator, National Food Authority (2010-2012)
General Manager, Philippine Tourism Authority (1998-2000)
Postmaster-General (1986-1987)
Presidential Candidate: Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso

The former chairman of the board of directors of Manila Economic and Cultural Office, the de facto embassy in Taiwan, is now on his seventh presidential campaign.

After successfully carrying Rodrigo Roa Duterte to the presidency, he thought it would be his last. But after receiving a call from Cesar Chavez, now general manager at DZRH, he agreed to be campaign manager for Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso.

“I liked what I heard. Of course, that time you could already see what he was doing in Manila was really good. And I’ve always lived in Manila for the past what, since I was Grade 1, so I really saw the change. And then when he explained to me what he was planning to do like the Tondominiums and all of these things, kako, wow! This guy, this guy is development-oriented,” he told Rappler on Sept. 13.

Banayo faces the task of placing Moreno to a solid second position against Robredo and then overcoming the commanding lead of Marcos Jr. He believes that the silent majority would vote the “knowledge-thirsty” Moreno.

“We think the silent majority will gravitate towards Isko Moreno and not Vice President Leni, with all due apologies to the handlers of Vice President Leni,” he told this Thursday, Feb. 10. “Precisely because the message of Vice President Leni has been centered on targeting her political enemies.”

Injecting a political veteran in Moreno’s camp would be of great help, considering that he has been part of the campaigns of Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel (1986), Ramon Mitra Jr. and Marcelo Fernan (1992), Joseph Ejercito Estrada (1992), Panfilo Lacson (2004), Aquino III and Manuel “Mar” Roxas II (2010) and Duterte and Alan Peter Cayetano (2016).

Sonny Melencio

Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) Chairman Sonny Melencio. (Photograph from Melencio’s Facebook page)

Political Affiliation: Partido Lakas ng Masa
Chairman, Partido Lakas ng Masa
Presidential Candidate: Leodegario “Ka Leody” De Guzman

Melencio, the current chair of Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM), will oversee the grueling task of passing through five high-profile candidates to carry Leody De Guzman towards victory.

De Guzman stood seventh in the December 2021 Pulse Asia survey, with only 0.004% of respondents aware of him. The number sixth, former anti-communist task force spokesperson Antonio Parlade Jr., who filed his candidacy for president, was not included in the final list of COMELEC.

“We will fight to the last drop of our blood,” Melencio told ANC’s Headstart on Thursday, Feb. 10. “We will fight to win, that’s what we are saying, and sa proclamation rally, hindi tayo titigil hanggang hindi tayo nagwawagi.”

It would already be impossible at this point to unify with Robredo, he said. Their camp’s goal is to “build a movement,” emphasizing socialist policies as answers to the country’s problems.

Melencio is a longtime activist who has written in a book in 2010, “Full Quarter Storms: Memoirs and Writings on the Philippine Left (1970-2010),” narrating the struggle of the Philippine Left across three periods of political turmoil, challenging readers “to strike boldly and […] build on the rich history of the struggle for a socialist future.”

Ronnie Puno

Former Interior Secretary Ronnie Puno. (Photograph from Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Age: 73 years old
Political Affiliation: National Unity Party
Secretary, Department of Interior and Local Government (1999-2000, 2006-2010)
Representative, Antipolo City, 1st District (2004-2006)
Presidential Candidate: Panfilo “Ping” Lacson Sr.

From foes to allies, former Interior secretary Ronnie Puno vows to make Panfilo Lacson Sr. his fourth president, after carrying Fidel V. Ramos, Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to victories. “FVR and GMA probably won by the skin of their teeth because of Puno’s supposed ingenuity,” then-Inquirer columnist Ramon Tulfo wrote in February 2016.

During the Estrada days, Puno has been at loggerheads with Lacson, clashing over an all-out war against illegal gambling but exempting some gambling lords.

But times have changed. With Puno serving as the chair of the National Union Party (NUP), he is faced with the task of presenting Lacson and Vicente “Tito” Sotto III’s unquestionable government experience to persona-driven voters.

“We have so many problems, and the solution should come from tough solutions, which can only come from tough leaders–those with ability, honesty, and bravery,” he said in an Online Kamustahan with Lacson-Sotto supporters in Pangasinan in December.

The “brilliant strategist” believes that the three-term senator will rise in the surveys, especially after the debates.

“But over time, and I think, you are [going to notice this] in this next 45 days when debates will come around, interviews will come around, people will be asked about their platforms and their experience, and so on. I think we’re going to do well,” he said.

Buddy Zamora

Business tycoon Salvador “Buddy” Zamora II. (Photograph from Rappler)

Board Member, Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (2021-present)
Chairman, Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (2017-2021)
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Tranzen Group Inc. (2008-present)
President and Chief Executive Officer, Nickel Asia Corp. (2006-2009)
Presidential Candidate: Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao Sr.

Renowned industry player and business tycoon Salvador “Buddy” Zamora will call the shots on the candidacy of Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, who has given up his illustrious boxing career to try to succeed Duterte on Jun. 30.

Zamora once headed the telco firm Philippine Telegraph & Telephone Corporation until September 2021 but is still a member of its board. He is one of the founders, meanwhile, of Nickel Asia Corporation.

Pacquiao, who is running alongside Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza that caught many in surprise, has put free housing as part of the thrusts of his campaign.

“He has built thousands of houses for free, out of his pocket, out of his earnings… He has provided for free,” Zamora said in October. “Free housing is one of his main objectives, but his number one objective is anti-corruption.”

Zamora noted that Pacquiao is strong among C, D and E classes, though in the December 2021 Pulse Asia survey, he’s fourth in the ABC classes (5%), statistically tied in third place with Moreno in D (8%) and fourth in E (12%).

While at a disadvantage, Zamora said they’re working on the grassroots to shore up support and not actively chasing Duterte’s endorsement, which has no standard-bearer this election.

“Right now, there are some governors and mayors who are not yet open to openly endorsing our candidate because they’re still awaiting the position of President Duterte. But we are working at the grassroots, we go directly to the people for soliciting their votes,” he told ANC’s Headstart on Thursday, Feb. 10.

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