Right now, the only politician who can challenge—and possibly beat—Mr. Binay in the 2016 elections is Senator Grace Poe. The reason has nothing to do with competence and integrity. It has nothing to do with a shared view that she will be a breath of fresh air who will blow away the cobwebs and corruption in Philippine politics. And cleanse the putrid, toxic dump that is the closed-off center of power.
It is not superior organization, either. Or better messaging. Or, the lining up behind Grace Poe of the country’s best political minds.
The reason is all about predisposition and mind set. Filipino voters just love to give closure to sad chapters in the country’s political history. With the perception that his dad was cheated out in the 2014 election, voters may want to close that chapter and give Ms. Poe a chance to do what his late dad was not destined to do.
If you want to challenge this, just look at the history of contemporary Philippine politics.
Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. There was a national outpouring of grief. Grief was translated into a powerful and overwhelming sense to give justice to an assassination, a dastardly act never tried before in Philippine politics. Voters wanted to close that sad chapter of the assassination. What they did was to elect Cory Aquino president of the republic.
Mrs. Aquino, the first president after martial law died, again with the subdued sadness of a nation that asked these questions. Where would our country be right now had the coup plotters reined in their thirst for power and allowed Mrs. Aquino and her personal integrity to govern in total peace? That question and the palpable nostalgia were the principal reasons why their son is our president right now. Before her mother died and before the sadness poured in, Mr. Aquino, the incumbent president, was regarded as a middling senator, a hard-to-imagine presidential material.
Mar Roxas was the presumed standard bearer and was just waiting for his coronation as the challenger to Mrs. Arroyo’s candidate and against all comers. Cory Aquino’s death changed all that.
There is a phrase for that. Double for the trouble. That those who have suffered grief will have their just compensation on earth even has a biblical ring.
In a contest with Grace Poe, Mr. Binay will be running against a powerful imagery of a hugely popular, well-loved former “king” of Philippine movies, represented by his daughter. It will take a lot of smarts and resources to counter that powerful imagery.
And a look-back into the past, will also tell two stories. The win of Magnolia Antonino in a senate run after the plane crash of her candidate -husband. And Ramon Magsaysay cradling the limp body of murdered Moises Padilla on his way to a landslide win.
What about the 30 percent or so lead of Mr. Binay over Poe in the early polls ? Is that not too big a gap to overcome?
The 30 percent lead of Mr. Binay has to be evaluated from a realistic context. Mr. Binay is the putative frontrunner. The political types—from the national leaders to those at the grass roots—have been engaged in a long product roll out to portray Mr. Binay as “The Inevitable.” LGU candidates, if case you have not noticed, want to take their “ selfies” with Mr. Binay, when he comes a visiting and that is very often.
And Mr. Binay has the reputation of a frontrunner with the deep, deep pockets and with the thickest, most extensive political Rolodex.
Ms. Poe, in contrast, has yet to drop the slightest hint that she is interested in seeking the presidency. She is not playing coy. Unlike Hillary Clinton who is all set to run but has kept mum about her plans to avoid intense scrutiny this early, the senator has yet to weigh in on whether this is the time or not to run for president. She is fully aware that she is a senate newbie and that she has yet to log in a decent record in legislation. The big luck of Mr. Binay is that Poe has her two feet on the ground and keenly aware of her limitations.
The heartbreaks that her late father had to go through after the 2004 run are still fresh wounds within the Poe family. Poe may not want her family to go through the same ordeal in case of a loss.
A Senator Poe on a full-throttle campaign to be president will be a different scenario altogether. It may narrow or overcome that 30 percent gap. A 15 percent support on just the perception that she might run is good enough to start a presidential campaign.
The best case scenario for Mr. Binay in 2016 is a presidential run without Poe as a challenger. The Manila Times was the first to say it. Poe and Opo will be Mr. Binay’s nightmare words in 2016. Without Poe in the field of challengers, Mr. Binay would have cleared the only major hurdle to his presidential run.
Those within the Binay camp whose wont is to dismiss the potency of a Poe candidacy should remember that the most popular and heart-tugging narrative ever in television drama is the melodrama. After all the challenges and the struggles and hardships, there is a silver lining at the end of the long, dark tunnel. At the end, there is only vindication and victory for the vanquished.
Only the characters change, the plot lines never.
Will Mr. Binay face a formidable challenger in Grace Poe in 2016? This is probably the only question that still gives Mr. Binay nightmares these days.