A presidential PR headache: How do you handle a candidate like Rodrigo Duterte?
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A presidential PR headache: How do you handle a candidate like Rodrigo Duterte?

MEDIA handlers and communications specialists are scrambling to deploy their full arsenals as they bid to reconfigure and reinforce the images of candidates seeking to get the maximum positive exposure.

From the grapevine, one presidential candidate was reportedly told by his campaign and media strategists to keep his family away from the limelight, avoid debates, forums and interviews and to keep their glib spokesmen on a very tight leash.

With headlines now being closely scrutinized by editors and publishers looking for any hint of editorial lapse or discrimination, placing political ads has become an expensive but necessary campaign cost for all presidential candidates.

Standing out for his lack of TV ad exposure is Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who, according to his camp, has only released a total of three since his name was floated as possible presidential candidate. Only one of them came when he was already a declared contender, and none so far this year.

No wonder he trails all the other presidential candidates, except Senator Miriam Santiago, in television ad placements and expenditures.

According to national campaign manager Leoncio Evasco Jr., they did not pay a single centavo for those TV ads. They were paid by supporters. And the figures quoted in the report were probably way above the actual ad placement costs.

When shown the final cut of one of the ads, Duterte gave his approval because it followed his wishes – it had no image of him.

The Duterte camp said his supporters paid less than P40 million (US$US$834,464) for the ‘Tapang at Malasakit’ political ad that introduced him to the national audience.

The Christmas greetings TV ad was reportedly bankrolled by a friend.

Duterte, the reluctant candidate, does not fit the image of Filipino politicians.

On his home turf in Davao, he is more known for the noticeable absence of tarpaulins, billboards and decals proclaiming this and that project as his.

Even ambulances are simply marked vehicles of the city government, where other local chief executives would insist the obligatory inclusion of their names even if these lifesaving vehicles were donated by Pagcor (usually) or the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

The highly successful 911 emergency project has tens of vehicles purchased the city government of Davao that do not bear his name either.

In a forum last week organized and hosted by Rappler in La Salle, he told the audience that Davao City is the only local government unit that has an incubator inside a 911 ambulance.

Hilasan ko (Gives me goosebumps),” Christopher Lawrence Go, also known as the omnipresent Bong Go, explains of Duterte’s aversion to ‘epals’ during a meeting last week of the mayor’s national campaign executive committee in Davao City where they discussed two TV ads that are already up for placement.

The previous TV ads were paid for by his supporters and, ever gracious, Duterte did not impose his own restrictions.

When shown the final cut of one of the ads, Duterte gave his approval because it followed his wishes – it had no image of him.

The two coming ads, after all, are paid for by campaign funds. Both reportedly followed the instructions of the mayor.

How his communications team is making room for the wishes of Duterte is something its members have probably not encountered before. But one can always presume many in the team are scratching their heads and rolling their eyeballs.

When Duterte made the Pope Francis gaffe, even his political party suggested that he hire public relation specialists to do a makeover of his strong-willed image.

Duterte would have none of it.

In General Santos City, he told his host during a private dinner that was strictly off limits to the press that he will not change his image or do a makeover.

Dili na na ako. Ayaw na lang,” he told his host. (It would no longer be me. Don’t bother.)

Duterte spokesman Peter Laviña said the presidential candidate is just being true to himself.

“Showing his humility,” Laviña said.