Special Election Issue

Featured Stories


First-World Techniques, Third-World Setting

The X-Men: The Story of Activists-Turned Political Consultants

With a Little Help from (U.S.) Friends

Much Ado about Numbers

Campaigning, Filipino Style

Spinning the News

Half-truths in Advertising

Campaigns on the High-Tech Road


The Presidency as Image


Elections are like Water

Between Tinsel and Trapo

The Enigma of the Popular Will


First-time Voter

Regular Voter


Hope and Elections in Payatas


Making (Non)Sense of Politics

Election Lexicon

Quickie Quiz for the Politically Insane

All these from is special election issue

i, the investigative reporting magazine

Order your copy now!

discuss this article
in our e-forum

[posted 9 May 2004]
Songs in the Key of Politics

Filipinos love to sing especially when they're campaigning.

by George S. Caparas

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos use their singing talents to win votes.
IN A country as crazy about music as the Philippines, it is not surprising that even politics has a soundtrack. Long before showbiz and media personalities dominated Philippine political life, music was already part of it, from the revolutionary songs that boosted the morale of the indios revolting against the Spaniards, to the different anthems Filipinos were made to sing before they were finally able to belt out "Lupang Hinirang" in public.

Song merged with struggle to form new musical languages during the colonial times. The late 19th-century kundiman (love song), for example, gave frame and form to subversive war songs during the revolution. Being courted was not a woman, but freedom for the Motherland, most famously embodied as "Jocelynang Baliwag." The songs of lament would continue even after the Spaniards left, and through the American and Japanese occupations. When elections finally became part of the Philippine political life, though, music remained as a constant presence, and it was only a matter of time before campaign jingles caught the politicians' and the public's fancy.

A jingle is basically a candidate's musical score, but its usefulness lies in its being a mnemonic device that compresses name, program, and platform into a two-minute rhyme. The best ones play endlessly in one's head. Blaring relentlessly from motorcades and speakers, a jingle enlivens the crowd before the big speech. Its mission is simple: Disarm the voter with a good harmony before drilling the message home. Speeches are all the same and easily forgotten, but a great jingle lingers.

That is why much care is given to the selection of a candidate's theme song. From Senator Panfilo Lacson's "Si Ping ang Kinabukasan (Ping is the Future)," to former Senator Raul Roco's "Iisang Bangka (One Boat)," to President Gloria Arroyo's energetic "Go, Go, Gloria!" the campaign jingle has been an election staple for the last 50 years. Even neophytes Fernando Poe Jr. and Eddie Villanueva have their own jingles. They appeal to the Filipinos' melodic sensibilities, inventiveness, and political preoccupation. And like the government of this country, their origins can be traced to America.

Political songs emerged in the land that would be the United States of America as early as the 1700s. They were elegies lamenting the pains of a nation being born-identity, oppression, injustice, and class struggle. By the 1780s came the first known election song for America's first president: "God Save George Washington" was sung to the melody of "God Save the Queen." It also began a tradition where election jingles were sung "to the tune of" an existing popular composition.

With the advent of published sheet music in the early 20th century and the introduction of radio sets, the ground was set for an innovative medium to be exploited by the American capitalist spirit. A mix of clever lyrics and a memorable tune gave birth to the advertising jingle. Salesmen used it to ply pianos, typewriters, tobacco, and petroleum. Astute politicians later adapted this template to sell themselves to the American public. Most notable among them was the Depression-era and World War II President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His theme to lift America's morale was the optimistic "Happy Days Are Here Again."

ALL THESE developments would filter into the Philippines, but it would only be after the war that Filipino politicians would have real use for campaign jingles. The first to use one was Manila city mayor Arsenio H. Lacson. Riding an emerging American musical trend of sensual African drumbeats and Cuban rhythms, the "Lacson Mambo" contributed to the mayor's victories in 1951, 1955, and 1959. Bloc voting had been abolished in 1951, which meant that major party affiliation was no guarantee of election success. Each candidate was left to his own campaign initiatives. This was a time when there was one radio for every 100 Filipino and television was just being introduced to a mass market. Nevertheless, Filipinos made sure they were up to date with musical trends from overseas, and the mambo had just the right mix of Latin beat and Hollywood flair to catch their attention.

At the time, the country's charismatic defense secretary, Ramon Magsaysay, was about to run for president. He was quick to take the public's musical cue. Composed by Raul S. Manglapus, the syncopated rhythms of "Mambo Magsaysay" soon had Filipinos tapping their feet and swaying their hips. But the infectious song's charm also lay in its straightforward English-Tagalog lyrics:

Everywhere that you would look/was a bandit or a crook/
Peace and order was a joke/'til Magsaysay pumasok/
That is why, that is why/ you will hear the people cry/
Our democracy will die kung wala si Magsaysay.

The jingle was crafted around Magsaysay's image as a fighter against communist guerrillas. It was one the United States adored. The words seem harmless. But in the context of America's concern with communism infiltrating Southeast Asia, a different shade surfaces. "Our democracy will die kung wala si Magsaysay" is a faint reminder that Magsaysay and only Magsaysay could save this nation from the communists. (Gentle persuasion or subtle mind control is the listener's prerogative.)

The song also complemented the defense secretary's American-style "Magsaysay is My Guy" slogan, which the candidate brought to life by being the first to go to the mountains and barrios to personally talk to the people and shake their hands. Previous candidates had either refused to campaign actively or left the road trips to their party's lieutenants. The people decided it was really time to "Mambo na!" and voted the burly Magsaysay as president in 1953.

Click here for more!

Copyright 2004 All rights reserved.