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MMK: Can JPE save son's campaign?

Carmela Fonbuena
Posted on 05/03/2013 8:30 PM  | Updated 05/06/2013 1:57 PM

DAD TO THE RESCUE: UNA senatorial bet brings back his father Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to the campaign. Photos from Jack Enrile's Facebook pageDAD TO THE RESCUE: UNA senatorial bet brings back his father Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to the campaign. Photos from Jack Enrile's Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines - United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) senatorial candidate Jack Enrile peaked as high as 3rd most preferred candidate in the Pulse Asia survey released in September 2012. It seemed then that a Senate seat was in the bag.

But the younger Enrile's ranking in the latest surveys is proof of how fickle voters' minds can be. Surveys conducted a month before the elections show Jack is hovering between 11th at best and 16th at worst. The Magic 12 is stil within reach, but he will fight tooth and nail for it.

Maalaala Mo Kaya's (MMK) two-part series about his father, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, is a curious move. Why bring the old man back in the campaign when Jack deliberately adjusted his strategy so that it is not hinged on his father? (READ: Jack Enrile: I asked Dad to keep quiet)

Why remind the public of the father, who was disgraced by a money scandal not too long ago?

Jack earlier benefitted big time from his father's rock star image, gained because of his perceived impartiality in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

But the old man also pulled Jack down when the public suddenly turned sour on him. JPE's popularity plunged in January at the height of his televised quarrel with fellow senators over the P1.6 million "cash gifts" he gave to favored senators.

The impact on Jack's numbers was immediate. He dropped 12.8 percentage points from November 2012 to January 2013. Things got worse when Jack's violent past - somehow linked to the deaths of Alfie Anido and Ernest Lucas - was also revived. It has been a downhill ride.

"The senior's meltdown was a big factor. But all the alleged past murders [were] the main reason," said a media strategist. (READ: Can Jack Enrile bury the past?)

MMK appears to be a "desperate move," said another strategist. "It seems they're trying to do everything so in the end they will not regret not doing it," the strategist added.

JPE's approval ratings recovered 7 percentage points from 46% in January to 53% in March. But it's still a long way from his 73% after the impeachment trial.

The young JPE

The Maalaala Mo Kaya series that aired on April 27 and May 4 stayed out of his controversial political life.

MMK showed the young JPE whose family struggled through poverty in Cagayan province in northern Luzon. He was depicted as a World War 2 hero who was tortured by the Japanese and who later joined the guerilla movement.

But the highlight of the show was JPE's dramatic search for the father who did not know he existed until he showed up in his law office in Manila when he was 22. That's when JPE's fortunes changed. The help of his influential father allowed JPE to finish high school, get a college degree at the Ateneo de Manila University, and a law degree at the University of the Philippines.

The MMK story ends on that day he returned to Cagayan - already a lawyer - to defend a man supposedly framed up for murder. JPE, the brilliant lawyer, wowed fellow Cagayanos including his proud mother who would forgive him for abandoning her when he lived with his father and his new family.

It is a classic MMK tearjerker that showed JPE's inspiring determination to succeed in spite of all the odds in his young life.

MMK and elections

The political power of MMK was first tested in the 2004 elections by then senatorial hopeful Pia Cayetano. She did not place within the Magic 12 until the last survey by the Social Weather Stations, where she ranked 10th-11th. She pulled a surprise when she ranked 6th in the final tally of the Commission on Elections.

Her camp admitted that the MMK episode on his father, the late Sen Rene Cayetano, was part of her campaign strategy. Her character, played by Sharmaine Arnaiz, was prominently featured in the episode aired 4 days before the polls. The National Statistics Coordination Board also recognized the impact of the MMK episode in its analysis.

In the 2010 elections, MMK also featured the mothers of presidential candidates Benigno Aquino III and Manuel Villar Jr.

MMK is fascinated with the life of the Cayetanos, it seems. Re-electionist Sen Alan Cayetano - brother of Sen Pia Cayetano - had his own life story featured in MMK on February 8. No less than Gerald Anderson - one of ABS-CBN's most popular actors - played his character.

The senator's numbers only moved a little in the succeeding survey although there were various factors at play that time, including the his word war with JPE. He rose from 48.9% in January to 52.8% in February.

The other candidate to have an MMK episode is former censors chief Grace Poe, who was played by Erich Gonzales in the February 3 episode. Unlike Sen Alan Cayetano, Grace Poe's numbers climbed after the episode. She rose from 30.9% to 42.1% after the episode aired.

Learning from past elections, the new implementing rules of the Fair Elections Act bans documentaries portraying the lives of candidates. Both MMK episodes of Sen Alan Cayetano and Grace Poe were aired before the campaign period. (READ: 4 media rules for election bets)

What's wrong in featuring JPE's life on MMK a week before the polls? He is not a candidate. He just happens to be the father of one and they just happen to share the same name. And never mind that ABS-CBN also aired Johnny: The Juan Ponce Enrile story in September 2012 after publishing his autobiography Juan Ponce Enrile: A memoir.

Will the inspiring story of the young JPE prevail in the minds of voters who watched the episodes? Or will they remember the controversies that hounded him in the past months? Election results will show if the risk will pay off to save JPE's popularity and, along with it, Jack's campaign. -

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