THOSE seeking the presidency are supposed to be honorable and professional people. But in this election, it seems that some of the candidates are using the strategy of negative campaigning to gain the upper hand. They are engaged in mudslinging instead of conducting their campaign at a high level.

Because Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Liberal Party and Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party are, for example, battling it out at the top based on the surveys, some quarters are calling their competition a fight between good and evil. Noynoy is supposed to be the “good” one because of his clean record and Villar the “bad” one because of corruption issues hounding him.

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Other bets like Richard Gordon and Jamby Madrigal are ganging up on Villar. Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro, another frontrunner, is also perceived to be “bad” because of his affiliation with the Arroyo administration.

Meanwhile, black propaganda is circulating against Noynoy. He has been called “autistic” and “walang alam” and one who is just riding on the popularity of his parents. Of course, this is meant to discourage voters from voting for him. But whether the accusation is true or not, Noynoy's opponents should not harp on his defects.

Negative campaigning or “mudslinging” is trying to win an advantage by referring to the negative aspects of an opponent or of a policy rather than emphasizing on positive attributes or preferred policies. The term also includes any rhetoric that refers to an opponent by way of contrast or that attacks his character. It is called argumentum ad hominem, with the debater resorting to personal attacks when he runs out of arguments.

This, though, is the dynamics of Philippine politics. Some candidates resort to character assassination and personal attacks rather than tackle substantial issues like presenting their platforms of government.

Media partly contributes to this because it sometimes focuses on negative rather than on positive issues. Nindot ug makalingaw man gud estoryahan ning bati. Unya kitang mga Pinoy mahiligon baya sa entertainment. Mas daghang mang maminaw sa radyo ug motan-aw sa television kun mga eskandalo ang ipagawas nga news.

Negative campaigning can be found in instances when ideas are being contested. An example is running an advertisement attacking an opponent's personality, record or opinion. This is what is happening now.

Noynoy projects himself as incorruptible with his “hindi ako magnanakaw” television ad, in effect attacking opponents who are perceived to be corrupt. Villar is trying to get the sympathy of the voters with his rags to riches story. The indirect message is that he is a self-made man unlike his opponents like Noynoy and Gibo who belong to rich families.

Gibo is projecting himself as the most talented and qualified presidentiable with his “galing at talino” ad. I won’t mention the advertisements of the other candidates. Anyway, they won’t win.

Dirty tricks are also considered a negative political campaign.

An example is secretly leaking damaging information to the media.

Another dirty trick is feeding the opponent's team false information hoping they will use it and embarrass themselves.

Expect these strategies to be used as the campaign heats up. Ingna kong bakakon.

(bobby@sunstar.com.ph/ bgnalzaro@gmanetwork.com)