ON DISTANT SHORE WITH ABELGAS Surveys Should Alarm President Aquino

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The latest surveys of Pulse Asia and the Social Weather Station confirmed what many have predicted all along – the May 9 presidential elections will be the closest race in the history of the Philippines. The surveys also seem to ensure that the next president will become another minority president, just as all the elected presidents in the post-Marcos era had been.
 
The coming presidential poll promises to be even tighter than the 2004 presidential elections when incumbent Gloria Macapagal Arroyo defeated actor Fernando Poe Jr by the narrowest of margins – a mere 3.48 percent or 1,123,576 votes – for the presidency, and broadcaster Noli de Castro bested fellow broadcaster Sen. Loren Legarda by only 2.9 percent.
 
The 2004 elections became so controversial following the “Hello Garci” scandal that revealed a phone conversation between Arroyo and Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano where the president allegedly asked the poll official to rig the elections. Arroyo was nearly toppled in July that year in the midst of massive street protests that followed the Garci scandal.
 
Poe filed an electoral protest but died of heart attack before the case could be adjudicated.
 
The 1992 elections was almost just as close with former Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos becoming the first president elected under the 1987 Constitution with a margin of only 3.86 percent or 874,348 votes – a mere 23.58% of the vote against Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago (19.72%), businessman Danding Cojuangco (18.17%), former Speaker Ramon Mitra (14.64%), former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos (10.32%), former Senate President Jovito Salonga (10.16%) and former Vice President Doy Laurel (3.4%).
 
The 1992 race was so close, Santiago, who led in the first five days of canvassing, immediately filed an electoral protest that has since been dismissed.
 
The May elections could do a repeat of these two close contests, hopefully without any claims of cheating.
The Pulse Asia survey showed that Sen. Grace Poe had regained her lead to become the leading candidate in 2016. The survey, which was conducted from January 24 to 28, revealed that 30 percent of the respondents would vote for Poe. Vice President Jejomar Binay got 23 percent, while Liberal Party standard-bearer Manuel “Mar” Roxas II and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte both garnered 20 percent.

In the SWS survey, which was conducted in the first week of February, Binay was back on top with 29 percent, with Duterte and Poe tied in second place with 24 percent. Roxas had 18 percent, while Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago got 4 percent.
 
It has been a roller coaster rides in the last few months for the candidates except for Roxas, who is climbing steadily but excruciatingly slowly, and Santiago, whose failing health has prevented her from conducting a more aggressive campaign. Binay, Poe and Duterte had taken the lead at one time or another in the last few months, which was caused more by the uncertainty of the outcome of the disqualification cases against Poe and Duterte rather than by the candidates’ platform or the efficiency of their campaigns.
 
No definite pattern could be established by the surveys until the disqualification cases against Poe and Duterte are resolved with finality by the Supreme Court. This situation makes it even more urgent for the Tribunal to decide on the cases at the soonest possible time.
 
However, the surveys of the past several months have established for certain that Binay, despite a slew of allegations of corruption against him, is the man to beat in May. The Makati mayor has withstood all damaging allegations against him and his family and has kept his core base of about 23 to 25 percent through all the surveys.
 
Very close behind is Poe, who started strongly since she announced her candidacy in September, toppling Binay until questions on her qualification surfaced a few weeks later. Poe has also stayed above the 23-percent level even after the Comelec disqualified her in December, the appeal of which remains pending in the Supreme Court.
 
If the surveys were to be believed, it will be a very close fight among Binay, Poe and Duterte unless the Davao mayor runs himself out of the race with his reckless pronouncements or simply runs out of cash before May 9.

The LP hierarchy remains optimistic that Roxas can still catch up with the three leading contenders. Senate President Franklin Drilon is confident that Roxas’ numbers would further improve before election day since the administration has the “biggest political machinery” and has the “most credible campaign manager” in the person of President Aquino himself.

“And therefore, we’re confident that over the next three months, we’d be able to bring the numbers of Mar Roxas and Leni Robredo especially that were standing on the platform of ‘daang-matuwid’ (straight path),” he said.

But some political observers, including this writer, believe that it is precisely the fact that Roxas does not offer anything new, but only promises to continue Aquino’s “daang matuwid” that keeps him shackled to the bottom of the heap. Voters have expressed doubts on Aquino’s reform agenda as shown by his continuously dipping approval ratings, which dropped below 50% for the first time last week, and as shown by the continued popularity of Binay, who the administration has alleged to be the anti-thesis of the “daang matuwid.”

Aquino has joined Roxas in his campaign rallies lately, but the Capiz politician remains lagging behind the three leading candidates with less than three months left before the May 9 polls.

Another indication of the voters’ dissatisfaction of the way the government has been run since the time of Aquino’s mother, the late President Cory Aquino, until her son’s term is the steady rise of Sen. Bongbong Marcos, the only son and namesake of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, in the vice presidential surveys.

Marcos, who has been the target of Malacanang’s missiles lately, has caught up with popular Sen. Chiz Escudero, who has led the vice presidential surveys since Day One, in the latest SWs survey. The two young senators have 26 percent each, ahead of Aquino’s candidate, Rep. Leni Robredo, who has 19 percent; and Duterte’s running mate, Sen. Alan Cayetano, with 16 percent.

If indeed the May 9 election is a referendum on the success of the Aquino administration, it seems, according to surveys, that it is facing a resounding rebuff. (valabelgas@aol.com)
 

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