If you think the current double-digit leads of Vice President Jejomar Binay, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and, if she’s allowed to run, Senator Grace Poe in various voter surveys, point to an opposition victory in the May presidential elections, think again.
For starters, surveys reflect hugely changeable hypothetical choices of 1,200 eligible voters supposedly selected by some random manner and given impartial questions. There is, of course, no certainty that such a small fraction of more than 40 million eligible voters would reflect even closely their choices four months from now.
Indeed, as fellow columnist Rigoberto Tiglao explained in an October column (see http://www.manilatimes.net/how-sws-and-pulse-asia-have-been-fooling-us-and-undermining-democracy/224492/ ), as many as 35-40 percent of respondents say they may change their vote come May.
Once survey ratings are discounted by a third to account for this uncertainly, the leads shrink to a few percentage points — eminently surmountable over several months. Indeed that was what happened in the 2010 vice-presidential race, when eventual VP-elect Binay overtook main rival Mar Roxas between January and April.
Ditto the 2004 presidential polls, which saw Gloria Arroyo turn a 10-point deficit to Fernando Poe Jr. in January into a seven-point advantage — equivalent to 2 million votes — in the last permitted surveys before the May elections. She eventually won by a million votes, or half her final opinion poll lead.
LP war chest
Playing catch-up is greatly helped by the gargantuan election war chest of Mar Roxas’s Liberal Party.
Pork barrel and smuggling both tripled to all-time highs under President Benigno Aquino 3rd. If just a quarter of uncollected value-added tax alone on the estimated P4 trillion in contraband went to bribes collected by administration bagmen, that’s P200 billion.
And that’s just smuggling. Aquino jacked up pork barrel to more than P20 billion a year, and still included it in the current budget despite the Supreme Court decision declaring it unconstitutional.
And there are many billions more from jueteng, which he protected from its nemesis Jesse Robredo by letting his shooting buddy Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno supervise the Philippine National Police, even after Puno was named by anti-gambling crusader Archbishop Oscar Cruz as “ultimate recipient of jueteng payoffs.”
That’s not counting tens of billions of pesos in government outlays for conditional cash transfer monthly stipends for the poor, countryside road maintenance, and Department of Interior and Local Government funds controlled by Roxas’s successor as DILG Secretary Senen Sarmiento, a fellow LP stalwart.
All that makes even the hundreds of millions of pesos in contributions from top tycoons seem like peanuts.
The PCOS factor
Then there’s the PCOS factor. As critics of the Precinct Count Optical Scam system used since 2010, its legally mandated safeguards have been repeatedly junked, including indispensable digital signatures needed to verify transmitted results and validate their sources.
Neither was there an adequate review of the machine source codes, which control the counting. That’s like not knowing whether election tabulators would canvass the votes correctly in a manual system.
And the last line of defense against electronically manipulated PCOS results — the random manual audit of counting votes by hand to check the computer tally — was rendered useless by announcing three days ahead the precincts to be audited, alerting fraudsters to avoid them.
A further check urged for the coming polls is to give voters a printout of their votes as counted by PCOS, for them to check if it’s accurate. Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista nixed it due to fears that the printout could be used in vote-buying, Why didn’t he just let voters put printouts in a sealed box after checking the count?
The opposition now fears that with a Comelec packed with Aquino appointees, PCOS could be rigged to favor Roxas, especially if he is not to far behind the topnotchers and could conceivably overtake them.
A futher complication is the possibility that a disqualified candidate or two may still be on the ballot. Then opposition votes may be wasted on disqualified candidates. Or worse: PCOS cheaters could divert to DQs the votes cast for the leading opposition candidate.
The road to opposition triumph
So what’s the opposition to do?
First, get behind efforts to implement printouts of voter choices, to be left in a secure box after verifying if the PCOS machine tallied correctly. Among other moves, lobby the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines meeting in Cebu on January 21-24 to call for this indispensable safeguard. In addition, get Comelec to scrap its stupid practice of announcing precincts for random manual audit before voting starts.
Second, speed up disqualification cases so they are decided before the ballot printing deadline. In this way, there are no DQ’d names robbing the actual opposition candidates of votes, either by mistaken choice of voters or “hocus PCOS”.
Grace Poe and Rodrigo Duterte should not delay DQ proceedings. If they are eventually disqualified, but their names are on the ballot, it would only help administration schemers who want them out.
Third, unite. Jaded political watchers are chuckling now, since presidentiables never give way to one another. Thus, FPJ lost by a million votes, when just one of his fellow opposition candidates Panfilo Lacson, Raul Roco and Eddie Villanueva could have given him two million by bowing out and backing the late actor.
Today, disqualification may lead to opposition unity. Senator Poe has said she would support Duterte if she is disqualified. The mayor plans to throw his weight behind Binay if he is barred from running.
As for Binay, he seems sure to run, and those fearing his arrest may be assured that High Court justices would almost surely not allow the charging and jailing of any impeachable official — like themselves.
Bottom line: The opposition had better find a way to unite and win. Otherwise, they face the kind of treatment meted by this administration to its opponents since 2010.