Masterfully played by dishonored Erap Estrada, the populist rhetoric is now being employed by the contenders for the presidency. In impoverished and developing countries where poverty is prevalent, taking a populist stand can get you places. It can make a monster appear angelic in the eyes of the poor. It is a very successful way of winning the hearts and minds of the people especially those who "think" that you can relate to them. It gets into one's nerves at times. Take the case of Manny Villar who takes you back in youth and tries to convince you that he is poor. Everytime his commercial comes up, I quickly change the channel.
But the practice has gotten Hugo Chavez to perpetual power and has somehow legitimized his presidency despite subverting their constitution. The same cannot be said about Manuel Zelaya of the Honduras who was kicked out of office by the Honduran army. Zelaya tried to change their constitution in the guise of change. At least the Honduran judiciary and congress were independent enough to abide by their laws. But the people of Honduras who have been tricked into believing that reforms are coming continue to support Zelaya who is a member of the oligarchy. Now if only the world could accept that democracy can be manipulated.
Gloria Arroyo is also using the populist strategy through her "social programs" aimed at the poor. The difference is that Filipinos are now more discerning. Her advantage however comes from a weak judiciary and a congress who seems to be fond of "loot bags" and junkets. Will the populist rhetoric work its magic for the contenders in 2010? I don't think so. The Villars are not so popular with their constituents nor with investors whom they've eased out to give way to their businesses. I should know, I was one of their victims. Mar Roxas may have a shot but has to change his strategy at some point to a more believable one.
Only time can tell if indeed this ploy still works. Judging from the dynamic Philippine political landscape, this may not be a formula for success.