Before anything else, let this writer applaud and thank Pulse Asia for its timely and telling survey on charter change. Our September 16 column, “Time to do a survey: Should Aquino run again?,” had urged it, and the polling firm finished its week of face-to-face interviews with 1,200 respondents a day before the article came out.
The Sept. 8-15 Ulat ng Bayan survey found that 62 percent of voting-age
Filipinos are not in favor of President Benigno Aquino 3rd running again, even if the Constitution is amended to let him do so. That’s three out of every five voters who prefer another leader taking over at noon on June 30, 2016.
Notably, the survey did not ask about removing term limits on the President. While the rest of the poll tackled charter change, the question on Aquino’s possible re-election bid gauged people’s willingness to potentially have him serve beyond 2016. Clearly, most of his avowed “bosses” want him to step down when his term ends.
As for changing the charter, the Pulse poll showed far less support for it now than in the past administration. In its polls from 2006 to 2010, two-fifths of respondents consistently said they favored Cha-cha “now”, with another 20-40 percent open to amendment later. That’s about 60-80 percent favoring or open to amending the Constitution.
But in last month’s poll, the pro-Cha-cha responses halved to 20 percent, and those amenable to later amendment dropped eight percentage points to 30 percent. Meanwhile, respondents opposed to any constitutional change nearly doubled to 32 percent, from 18 percent.
It seems all these recent years that President Aquino was dismissing Cha-cha as unnecessary, have turned countless Filipinos away from it. Now that he is hinting at amending the charter to let him run again, the people are not swayed. Many may well be wondering why Aquino is changing his tune now.
Binay down, Roxas up
Another set of survey results gives further reason to discount six more years for Aquino: the voter preferences for the next president. They gave a lift to the dominant Liberal Party’s presumed standard bearer Mar Roxas. He is now probably less keen to have Aquino run again, as the Department of Interior and Local Government chief had mooted just last month.
Besides Cha-Cha, the Ulat ng Bayan poll also asked respondents which potential candidate for presidency they would vote for if elections were held today. Consistent topnotcher Vice-President Jejomar Binay still held first place, but his share of favorable responses fell by a quarter to 30 percent.
Just as important, DILG Secretary Roxas nearly doubled his share to 13 percent, and is now No. 2. That’s still way behind the top spot, but his LP camp must be figuring that in the next 18 months till elections, Roxas could very well cut Binay’s lead to single digits, especially if political and media attacks on the latter escalate in coming months.
Back in January 2004, just four months before the May elections, then-President Gloria Arroyo trailed actor Fernando Poe Jr. by ten percentage points in Social Weather Stations’ voter surveys: 26 percent to FPJ’s 36 percent. But in just one month, Arroyo took a slim lead: 31.8 percent against 30.5 percent.
Her gains continued, helped by the Iglesia Ni Cristo and El Shaddai endorsements just before the elections. By the week of May 1-4, just days before the May 10 voting, the incumbent surged ahead by seven percentage points — 37 percent to Poe’s 30 percent. That’s equivalent to a lead of 2 million votes. She eventually won by a million.
Thus, helped by the equity and resources of the incumbent and the nationwide machinery of the ruling Lakas-CMD party, Arroyo’s campaign reversed a ten-point deficit into a 7-point lead and a million-vote winning margin in just five months. Achieving a similar 17-point turnaround and more in voter preferences would seem eminently doable for Roxas and his backers over the next 18 months.
Who will succeed Aquino?
No wonder Roxas has stopped joining the Palace chorus still plugging a second term for Aquino. Despite the Pulse Asia survey, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the President was still gauging the sentiments of his “bosses” on running in 2016.
Malacañang’s apparent refusal to acknowledge the solid majority against an Aquino re-election bid, cannot but stir even more citizens against him. And against the LP, too, if it joins the presidential spokespersons in continuing to push the lifting of term limits.
Hence, the party leadership would be wise to focus their energies and resources on the doable objective of Roxas overtaking Binay, rather than the highly unpopular and potentially counter-productive bid to amend the Constitution and let Aquino run again.
To put the LP options in hard numbers, it’s easier to erase Roxas’s 17-point deficit behind Binay, than to overcome the 24-point gap between the 62 percent opposed to Aquino re-election and the 38 percent favoring it. Not to mention the 42-point difference between those who want Cha-cha now (20 percent) and those who don’t (62 percent).
If the Liberals decide to back Roxas rather than Aquino, expect increased efforts to build up the presumed candidate, along with escalating attacks on Binay and maybe even a full-fledged impeachment. This campaign is needed to ensure that people turning away from the VP don’t go to Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Grace Poe, or Chiz Escudero, the other presidentiables within striking distance of the top spot.
At the same time, Aquino and his mouthpieces, including Caloocan Representative and Aquino re-election advocate Edgar Erice, would do well to avoid stirring public anger and animosity by continuing to push the lifting of presidential term limits. They should bear in mind that any negative public sentiment would likely rub off on Roxas as the President’s top ally whom he is expected to endorse in 2016.
Still, given Aquino’s tendency to keep pushing an unpopular position upon which he has fixed his mind, he could very well press Congress to amend the charter and let him run again. That would likely boost the opposition, intensify public unrest — and undercut Roxas by casting doubt on his presidential bid.
Oh, prudence, thy nemesis is pride.