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Opinion

Withdrawal

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

In the 2019 midterm elections, an official of a group that regularly commissions surveys by the country’s two top pollsters said the numbers consistently pointed to a shutout of the opposition Otso Diretso Senate slate.

Considering all the issues hurled against President Duterte, the opposition found the scenario unbelievable. If Otso Diretso changed its campaign tack after that observation was made, it was indiscernible to us in mass media.

For the current campaign, the official faced us on One News’ “The Chiefs,” where he was asked for his comment on statements that surveys aren’t always accurate.

His reply: You know what happens to those who don’t believe in surveys? They lose.

Earlier this year, pollsters told us that about half of the commanding lead of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. consisted of soft votes, so his rivals could still work to narrow his lead.

Today people are wondering if those soft votes have become solid (OCTA Research says they have). The speculation has intensified following the press conference that disrupted our Easter Sunday lunch.

Partisans say the Marcos-Duterte-Carpio camp is rejoicing after Vice President Leni Robredo was painted as a disrespectful, scheming liar by three of her rivals, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and former defense secretary Norberto Gonzales.

On the other hand, Robredo supporters say the three have committed hara-kiri and have turned her into an underdog (usually a plus for candidates in this country). There is also that image of the only female candidate being ganged up on by male rivals – a picture the three have sought to dispel.

You can gauge the dominant reactions through the clarifications issued the next day by those at the press conference, and also by the conspicuously missing. Sen. Manny Pacquiao was supposed to attend, according to the three candidates, but failed to make it.

In truth, according to his running mate Lito Atienza, Pacquiao had no intention of attending the press conference, much less join that call made by Yorme Isko for Robredo to withdraw from the race, as her supporters have been urging her rivals.

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There is truly an active effort to rally the other non-administration candidates behind the one placing second to Bongbong Marcos in the surveys. This happens to be Robredo, although Moreno’s camp argues that in surveys for the second choice for president, he is the top pick.

Lacson prefers to ignore the surveys altogether, and hopes voters will do the same. He says that going by his experience on the hustings, his ratings are unrealistically low.

As I have previously written, the world’s most reliable pollsters have stumbled big-time, attributed largely to faulty sampling, in recent elections in the US and Britain.

Today pandemic restrictions have posed greater challenges to accurate polling. The upcoming elections will test the reliability of surveys in our country, particularly those conducted by top pollsters Social Weather Stations Inc. and Pulse Asia, with OCTA, riding on the consistently frightening accuracy of its COVID trend tracking (although this is different from polling), as the promising upstart.

Moreno seems to be getting the brunt of the flak from the Easter press conference, largely because of his call for Robredo to drop out of the race and give others a chance. But he is unmoved, reiterating yesterday his call for Robredo to “be a hero, withdraw.”

It wasn’t simply a tit-for-tat call. As Moreno explained, in so many words, if the goal is to prevent the dictator’s son from winning the presidency, the person driving voters to Bongbong Marcos should be taken out of the picture.

The argument is that Robredo, despite her campaign’s color change to pink, is still seen as the torch bearer of the yellows in a renewed battle between the Marcos and Aquino camps. And BBM’s high numbers can be attributed partly to voters’ rejection of the yellow-pinks.

This argument must have sprung from Moreno’s impressive initial showing in the presidential surveys, until Robredo finished her discernment and decided to throw her hat into the ring, close to the eleventh hour of the filing period.

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If the surveys are accurate, you feel sorry for Moreno and Lacson, who are both worthy aspirants for the nation’s highest post. Both are self-made, owing nothing to a famous (or notorious) surname, and do not belong to the power elite.

Moreno has a compelling life story, clawing his way out of extreme poverty (like Pacquiao) through a combination of street smarts and an abiding belief in his own potential. I can attest, having been born and bred in Manila, that he is the only mayor who has succeeded in dramatically improving livability in a city wallowing in urban blight. And I have no doubt that he can replicate this in most parts of the country, if given the chance. But if he loses, the 47-year-old mayor can still try, try again.

Lacson is not exaggerating about his track record and sustained battle for good governance and against corruption, from his days as a constabulary and police officer. Corruption is truly a cancer that must be excised from national life, and it starts through leadership by example. But at 73, it’s his last chance at the presidency, so I can understand why he will want to fight to the finish.

The formula that Lacson said was presented during the unity talks last year still seems like a good idea: the aspirants would pursue their candidacies until April, when those trailing in the surveys would withdraw and support whoever has the strongest showing against Marcos. But with all the bad blood now out in the open, is this scenario still viable?

It’s April, crunch time. And the candidate consistently ranking second to Bongbong Marcos is Leni Robredo. Marcos supporters say only a miracle will narrow the gap between him and the Vice President. But ours is a land of miracles (and black swans), and there is always hope.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who found the presidency dropped into her lap, famously said attainment of the nation’s highest post is a matter of fate.

After that Easter press conference, BBM’s fate is looking sealed, for better or worse for our weak republic. Perhaps the title of the 1965 biopic about his father will come true for him: “Iginuhit ng Tadhana.” It is written in the stars. It is drawn by destiny.

OTSO DIRETSO

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