FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Should Rodrigo Duterte’s “rape joke” produce the sort of political disaster his rivals hope for, the biggest beneficiary will be Grace Poe.

Poll studies show a high degree of interchangeability between Poe and Duterte voters. Duterte voters tend to have Poe as their second choice and Poe voters tend to have Duterte as their second choice.

Frontrunner Duterte and second-placer Poe attract voters wanting an “outsider” to be the next President. Their combined voting base accounts for over half of all voters. That is bad news for both Jejomar Binay and Mar Roxas, third and fourth placers respectively. The two share the minority of “insider” voters.

That is particularly bad news for Mar Roxas, the insider’s insider, having anchored his whole campaign on the theme of continuity – a complete misreading of voter sentiments. This is the reason the administration candidate continues to trail Binay despite all the negatives thrown the vice president’s way.

On the other hand, should the “rape joke” prove less than fatal for Duterte, Grace Poe has real problems on her hands.

All four recent voter preference surveys show Duterte surging ahead, with Poe’s campaign apparently fading quickly.

We discount here that outlying “mobile phone survey,” showing Duterte and Poe tied at first, because of crucial methodological issues raised against that survey by professional statisticians. The most important methodological issue is the absence of randomness in its sampling techniques.

A few weeks ago, after the Supreme Court ruled her eligible to run, Poe’s spokesman predicted his candidate will enjoy a 10 percent jump in her voter preference share. Not only did that not happen, what we saw was a significant erosion of support for Poe.

Now, without the suspense over her eligibility to run, voters are realizing there is not much to talk about regarding Grace Poe.

She has not offered a compelling program of government beyond her regular recitation of the names of people she claims to be her “advisers.” She has no track record of performance to back up any claim of policy remolding. She has no compelling record of public leadership to support her ambition to lead the nation through the thicket of challenges ahead.

In her speeches, Poe speaks about continuing her adoptive father’s “legacy.” What exactly that “legacy” was, no one really knows.

Then there are the integrity issues. The Comelec earlier disqualified Poe for material misrepresentation of both her citizenship status and her residency. The Supreme Court did not directly address those issues even if it removed all hindrance to her candidacy.

Allegations Poe, when she was an American citizen, used two social security numbers have yet to be fully resolved. The candidate often likens her US sojourn to the experience of millions of Filipino OFWs – even if she lived in a nine-bedroom mansion while there. We know that after she was supposed to have renounced her US citizenship, Poe used her blue passport a dozen times.

Only recently did we find out her American-born husband served in the US military. The facts of Grace Poe’s life, it seems, have to be teased out by a public expectant of transparency from their leaders.

Questions about how Poe is funding her campaign have not been satisfactorily addressed by the candidate. Here, too, there are allegations that Poe’s campaign is “sponsored” by a handful of billionaires interested in influencing the center of power.

One columnist wrote of dissension within the Poe headquarters. The source of this is that the candidate, who is the main recipient of contributions, has not been supporting her candidates. I have not heard the Poe camp address this allegation.

Many are disturbed at Poe’s propensity to poach campaign lines from her rivals. When Binay began scoring points by promising to raise the tax exemption levels and provide free medical care, Poe began repeating the same promises. When Duterte promised to substantially bring down criminality within six months of his assumption of office, Poe began promising a shorter period and even offered to name Duterte her anti-crime czar – even as she had earlier named Ariel Querubin to that role.

This candidate, many sense, is a hologram.

Seduced by high popularity ratings, Poe aspired for the presidency almost whimsically. A few politicians, likewise, seduced, threw their support behind her surprising quest. But they did not bother to craft a coherent vision they could offer the people, a program of government the candidate could stand on and a nationwide movement that could sustain this ambitious bid for power.

Without a clear narrative to sell the people, Poe’s bid is now overshadowed by the powerful narrative driving the Duterte campaign: the promise to clean the country of drugs and criminality. Without a narrative of her own, except the story of a foundling and the storylines of her adoptive father’s movies, Poe’s campaign begins to flag.

Poe is popular, but there are no real Poe fanatics like we see on the Duterte side. This is why Duterte has begun to eat into the Poe voting base as well. This is why the Duterte campaign is showing momentum and the Poe campaign appears to be in the doldrums.

This is why the “rape joke” is so important for the Poe campaign. Without real machinery to claw back votes in a ground war and with few days left before elections, this is probably the last opportunity to gain back votes that migrated to the Duterte side.

Unfortunately for the Poe campaign, there is no precedent for the course of political history being altered by a bad joke.

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