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The next president: Duterte vs. Roxas and Poe’s bubble

CROSSROADS (Toward Philippine Economic and Social Progress) - Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star) - April 26, 2016 - 10:00am

It would be crystal balling to speculate on election outcomes. I will not do this.

But I will try to explain the reasons behind the evolution of the presidential campaign so far.

Emerging two-man contest. With two weeks to go before votes are cast, the shifts in preferences among voters are trending toward a two-man contest. It is between late-comer challenger, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and the administration candidate, Mar Roxas, the anointed successor for the administration of President Aquino.

For some time, Vice President Jejomar Binay and Grace Poe, the two other candidates were quite strong, suggesting that it would be a tight race among four candidates.

Changes in sentiments have registered at the expense of these two candidates in the last two weeks. The Binay support which had held earlier at above 20 percent is now below that level. With time’s passing, Binay’s failure to provide a satisfactory answer to corruption charges against him and his family as mayor of Makati has reduced his credibility.

It is easier and faster to track public sentiments across the nation among all classes of voters because of the almost universal existence of cell phones in the hands of voters.

There is also in existence the quicker technology of polling arithmetic that can be calculated statistically through software applications. SWS and Pulse Asia, the nation’s established polling companies, are in competition in tracking public opinion.

Grace Poe’s bubble. Early on, Grace Poe was seen as the candidate to beat. She has supported the Aquino government program, except where it fell short. Thus positioned, she became the “acceptable” alternative to a Mar Roxas candidacy.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision that permitted her to run for the presidency, it was expected that her candidacy would be sharply boosted even more, but the opposite happened. Her ratings fell precipitously, after a short period of rise.

Several reasons might account for this turn of events.

First, the Supreme Court was utterly divided in its decision. The decision appeared more political rather than dedicated to the core legal issue that it faced. The court was sharply divided on the “natural-born” issue as applied to her case, as pointed out in the minority dissent of Justice Carpio.

In a way, the Supreme Court has exposed the circumstances of her case under greater public scrutiny. It did not help that the Supreme Court, in rendering its decision, glossed over an error of fact regarding the residency requirement for her candidacy. (A more stern Supreme Court had disqualified, in a separate case, a candidate for the post of mayor who used his US passport to travel abroad).

Second, her opponents for the presidency also made good use of the fact that Poe acquired American citizenship only to give it up to run for president. The tag of being a former American has been used as an argument for lack of sincerity and an example of opportunism.

Third, equally serious is the criticism about her lack of experience, which she tried to build as an asset rather than a liability. Her platform of government is comprehensive but has no immediate priorities.

The programs do not add up: most of them either reduce tax income of government or involve additional public spending. In this, however, her program is no different from that of candidates promising new programs in order to get elected.

With all these factors at play, she was unable to hold on to a weak core of substantial support from voters. That weak core proved very vulnerable toward changing loyalties. It seemed that much of that support had moved over to the camp of Duterte. (The weakened support for Binay likewise has benefitted Duterte.)

Mar Roxas, steady but behind. The Aquino administration is the support behind the candidacy of Mar Roxas.

The core support for the administration is normally steady and strong, given that the administration is in control of the government and its power of patronage. The Liberal Party and the Daang Matuwid program are the support structure of the Mar Roxas candidacy as the standard bearer of the administration program.

Roxas’s candidacy has failed to impress partly because the candidate is essentially a shy politician. He is not a natural politician who could mix easily with the people. But more importantly, he avoids taking risky positions that natural leaders often do.

Essentially, Roxas has not positioned himself to be his own man and has remained content to be a symbol of continuity of the Aquino presidency. (His recent efforts to engage and challenge Duterte on specific issues have the trade mark of juvenile comedy.)

Despite these limitations, the administration has the power of the purse, both in terms of timing and of patronage. It is a great advantage during election time to be on the side of the government.

Campaign resources that are being unleashed during the late stage of the campaign show how logistically prepared and well-funded is the Roxas election drive.

Rodrigo Duterte, reluctant candidate with few priorities. Rodrigo Duterte’s candidacy initially was on and off. When he filed for candidacy, it was mainly to substitute for one that had already been filed. The drama of his candidacy is that it was almost like an afterthought.

In finally filing for the candidacy for president, he therefore presented himself as an unwilling candidate, who when challenged to do it, would deliver on his promises. His message is simple: get rid of drugs and drug cartels, criminals and criminality, put in law and order and make sure people are made to obey the rules.

The message appears to resonate with the voting public. His popularity has surged despite a plain-speaking campaign technique that is filled with expletives, cuss words, and unsavory jokes.

In this way, he sometimes trips and invites the enmity of groups that would otherwise be sympathetic. Recently, this has happened in the case of a joke on rape.

He seems to have absorbed the loyalties of those who used to favor Binay and Grace Poe. In the recent polls, his favorable rating has surpassed every other candidate, especially that of Grace Poe.

After the last full presidential debate held on Sunday, April 24, the Duterte bandwagon is not likely to implode or tire out. Based on the immediate commentaries of those who were tracking these by radio and television and the assessments on social media, his participation provokes debate and also support among many voters.

My email is: gpsicat@gmail.com. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/

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