The last time Vice-President and then multiple-term Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay tangled on the hustings with Interior Secretary and then Senator Mar Roxas, tables were turned.
Back in August 2009, six months before the May 2010 elections, Roxas topped vice-presidential candidates in Pulse Asia’s voter preference survey. He scored 21 percent against Binay’s 12 percent, three places behind. That lead grew till the March 2010 opinion poll, with Roxas garnering 43 percent to Binay’s 19 percent.
But in the last pre-election survey in April 2010, Binay surged within nine percentage points: 28 percent to Roxas’s 37 percent. And in the exit poll by Pulse Asia and broadcaster ABS-CBN, asking voters their chosen candidates right after they cast their ballots, Binay topped Roxas 42.7 percent to 37.4 percent.
The exit poll mirrored the official results: Binay won by more than 700,000 votes — 14.64 million (41.65 percent) against 13.92 million (39.6 percent).
Will the tables turn again in 2016? Roxas hopes so. In the latest Pulse Asia polls, conducted May 30-June 5, his 10 percent score, though up from 6 percent in December, trails results for Senator Grace Poe (30 percent), VP Binay (22 percent), and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (15 percent).
With President Benigno Aquino 3rd campaigning and the Liberal Party’s nationwide political network and massive financial resources, Roxas should make some gains in coming months.
Of course, this time is too early to reliably gauge election chances. And there are some major uncertainties: Will Poe run for president? Or for VP under the dominant LP? Will Binay rebound with his attacks on the administration, or continue falling under corruption allegations? And will Roxas surge in the next voter survey later this month?
Watch that Pulse Asia poll
That Pulse Asia poll three months after its last one straddling May and June, will impact political decisions and alignments. For one thing, it is the last quarterly voter survey before the October 12-16 period for filing certificates of candidacy, though parties and candidates could very well commission polls in September and October.
Depending on how certain presidentiables fare, they and their prospective supporters may opt in or back out of the race. With limited resources, Poe, Duterte and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago would need strong survey results to convince them and, more importantly, their financiers.
Binay and Roxas, on the other hand, are determined and well-resourced, and will almost surely run no matter what. Besides ambition, another reason is corruption cases they or their allies would face if they do not win the presidency.
In March, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales filed a case in the Sandiganbayan antigraft court against Binay and his son, suspended Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, over the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall second building.
The Aquino camp, meanwhile, fears an avalanche of charges over pork barrel anomalies, which the administration has kept under wraps while speedily charging opposition stalwarts; and the illegal P157-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program, whose authors the Supreme Court ordered investigated and charged.
Plus a host of dubious contracts, including the Metro Rail Transit maintenance deal negotiated when Roxas headed the Department of Transportation and Communication. His former aide, dismissed MRT general manager Al Vitangcol, is accused in the recent Sandiganbayan case against the contract, and has issued a statement asking why he is the only senior official implicated. DOTC Secretary Jose Emilio Abaya signed the contract days after taking over from Roxas in 2012, but was not charged.
The threat of corruption cases against both the Aquino and Binay camps adds self-preservation to the usual presidentiables’ drive for power, prestige and legacy. It makes for a more aggressive and nasty campaign, alliance-building, and election. And administration politicians are even more likely to jump ship just to stay out of prison, if Roxas fails to rise.
Thus, after the August Pulse Asia poll results come out next month, expect major political maneuvering if Roxas doesn’t come out a close No. 3 at least. Pressures to draft Poe, if she again leads the survey, or support her candidacy with a new coalition may emerge. And if Binay regains top spot, especially with his greater media exposure since quitting the Cabinet, then he would garner more backing.
Either outcome would be a big problem for Roxas’s camp, of course. Hence, they would almost surely escalate their media campaign against Binay in the coming weeks, in the hope of narrowing the gap between him and Roxas.
But that might not benefit Roxas much. Negative propaganda against Binay may just shift voters to Poe, Duterte, or Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who recently floated the idea of running after receiving a favorable report on her cancer.
Sit tight and watch the show
One crucial player is the Nationalist People’s Coalition of billionaire Eduardo Cojuangco, Aquino’s uncle. NPC has the nationwide network to mount a presidential campaign, as it did in 2004 for Poe’s adoptive father, the late action star Fernando Poe Jr.
With his San Miguel business empire, Cojuangco has more than enough funds to back Senator Poe and former NPC stalwart Chiz Escudero, who wants to run as her VP. If Roxas doesn’t do well in the next Pulse Asia survey, Cojuangco may just tell his nephew in Malacañang that he has to support Poe in order to ensure that his vast enterprises with its mammoth infrastructure interests, would continue to enjoy good relations with the Palace in the next six years.
The ruling camp may well have the same message for Roxas. If despite the media boost from the State of the Nation Address and Aquino’s endorsement, the endorsee does not score well in the survey 2-3 weeks from now, administration politicians may need to make other arrangements to save their skin. Maybe even Aquino.