“Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer’s day and some say to the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God." - Thornton Wilder, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”
Psychologists have a name for it: “counterfactual thinking.”
When some voters look back to the last May 13 elections, they wonder whether the mayors controlling Cebu’s major cities could have averted defeat had they done some things differently. Counter-factual thinking is usually applied to personal problems such as relationship issues. But, what the heck, why not on the woes of politicians too, they who had won past elections handily and held their prized turfs for years, even decades?
* Cebu City’s Tomas Osmeña didn’t quarrel with the police, used other ways to stop what he saw as terrorism against his leaders and himself, and backed out of that debate? Or President Duterte didn’t endorse Edgar Labella again and didn’t publicly shame the mayor once more?
* Mandaue City’s Luigi Quisumbing had treated his grandfather with more patience and understanding and the grandpa did not submit to the alleged manipulation in a family dispute and instead worked for his grandson’s victory?
* Lapu-Lapu City’s Paz Radaza, with husband Arturo Radaza, fielded for mayor his daughter Aileen or his nephew Harry--or someone else they could trust? Or better still, Boy decided to rest as he was clearly physically hobbled to do the work of mayor again. The Radazas could try to regain City Hall next election or opt for that graceful exit.
* Toledo City Mayor John “Sonny” Osmeña coalesced with Yapha, the third candidate in Cebu’s third congressional district, or used his vaunted skill in political ops? Or even better, chose to seek reelection as mayor instead of fighting in the bigger, harsher arena of a congressional district fight?
The flaw in analyzing one or a clutch of what would now appear as wrong moves is this: the analyst cannot be sure which had brought the fall. Unlike in the Thornton Wilder novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” in which cause of the deaths was solely the collapse of the bridge; there are multiple causes in losing an election.
Culprit in the May 13 debacle cannot be nailed down with certainty. It could be a fusion of many causes, big and small, and when contributory factors rushed, it would be hard to identify which one was fatal.
In the four mayors’ downfall, there were other “imponderables” that are often tough to sort out and label, even after the battle.
Such as: logistics and strategies on vote-buying or foiling fraud, messaging and propaganda, herding the voters, and the like. And the most elusive at all is the collective voters sentiment, which becomes definite only after the vote count ends, by which time it is beyond influence or control.
The next rational thing is to blame the cause that stood out, which the public saw, in full un-splendor and inglorious display. People remember the police “acts of harassment” and Tomas raging, in sound and fury, on many media platforms.
But why bother to indulge in a protocol, or game, of “what ifs”? Why not just blame, or credit, the gods for the defeat? To politicians, there’s always the next election to prepare for. Tomas, they say, started preparing after he knew he lost in 2013 to Mike Rama. The mayor’s concession speech didn’t talk of walking away and fading into the sunset.
In the psychology of “what if,” counterfactual thinking can be “upward.” The loser feels “a degree of satisfaction” once he identifies clearly the fumbles and missteps and how they could’ve been avoided‑-and he would avoid in 2022.