Should Sen. Grace Poe defer a presidential candidacy and go for the vice-presidency? Advisers and allies urging a Malacañang bid worry that her current top survey ranking may no longer be around for the 2022 presidential polls, so she should make a run for No. 1 next year.
Besides presuming to predict the unknowable future, that view seems to go against common sense. After all, six years to prepare for a presidential contest seems more conducive to victory than scrambling to craft, bankroll and implement a nationwide campaign and a credible program of government in just ten months.
Moreover, Poe’s present ratings may not hold up till May, especially if rivals deploy far greater resources in media and grassroots campaigning.
Her late father Fernando Poe Jr. saw his 10-percentage point survey lead over then President Gloria Arroyo in January 2004 erode and eventually reverse to a deficit of 6-7 points — equivalent to 2 million voters — in the last surveys before elections. Senator Benigno Aquino 3rd’s 51 percent voter preference at his mother’s mid-2009 funeral fell to 35 percent by early 2010, in a dead heat with main rival Senator Manuel Villar.
Maybe Poe and her advisers, including her son Brian, a graduate of Fordham University’s election campaign management course, know something that beats conventional wisdom.
This article, however, counsels a more deliberate, realistic and strategic game plan to run for vice-president in 2016, then president in 2022. Poe could then prepare herself better to contest and cope with the top job, should it eventually come her way.
And in her years as VP, assuming she is qualified and victorious, Poe can even help address the public’s concerns about corruption in coming years. More on this later.
An independent VP?
In pondering the vice-presidential candidacy, the question often raised is which party to run under. Yet with the personalistic character of Philippine politics, voters rarely choose according to party affiliation. Indeed, all VPs elected since democracy returned in 1986 were not of the ruling party.
Joseph Estrada hailed from the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), not then President Fidel Ramos’s Lakas party. When Estrada won the presidency in 1998, Lakas candidate Arroyo became VP. Her own winning running mate in 2004, broadcaster and then Senator Noli de Castro, was an independent adopted by Lakas. And in 2010, PDP-Laban’s Jejomar Binay beat Mar Roxas of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s Liberal Party.
So a hugely popular VP candidate like Poe need not even join a party to run. And given the immensely aggressive and acrimonious presidential race ahead, with attacks on declared candidate Binay since last year, Poe would not want to join any camp and get caught up in the mud-slinging with its rivals.
Instead, with her 41 percent VP survey score in Pulse Asia’s latest poll in June, more than twice her ally Senator Francis Escudero’s 15 percent and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano’s 12 percent, Poe as vice-presidential candidate can run as an independent, and still be adopted by one of the major nationwide parties.
Or even both. If Poe is so far ahead in the VP stakes, opposing camps may just concede the No. 2 post to her, so they can concentrate on snaring No. 1. And both coalitions could very well adopt her to prevent each other from monopolizing her appeal.
Should Poe accept adoption from rival camps? Why not? If they accept her independent platform of desirable policies and programs for the country, she can join sorties of opposing candidates and expound on her agenda.
She would, of course, avoid openly criticizing presidentiables and parties adopting her. Not a problem: there would be more than enough of negatives in the presidential race. Instead, Poe’s advocacy for reform and development initiatives would be a breath of fresh air amid the electioneering brimstone.
A vice president for the disadvantaged
So what agenda should Poe advocate for the vice-presidency, to garner support not only from the public, but also the presidentiables? Here are three ideas:
First, she should ask that the VP take charge of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation as a Cabinet official. These related areas are often neglected until calamity strikes. Then after a flurry of recrimination and pledges of action, DRR and climate change are again forgotten till the next catastrophe.
Putting these concerns under the VP would help ensure that their programs and projects get moving, especially if the President is occupied with more pressing matters. Plus: with the vice-president leading DRR and climate advocacy in global fora, the country’s position on those concerns would be stronger and more persuasive.
Second, the VP can be Lead Convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Council, chaired by the President. That would raise NAPC’s clout and profile, and harness the vice-president’s voice and position in pushing programs and projects for the poor. More important, the council can better challenge Cabinet departments and national agencies if their initiatives hurt disadvantaged sectors.
Third, if elected VP, Poe can pledge to speak out against irregularities, especially those involving top officials. Thus, Malacañang Palace may keep mum about sleaze among administration stalwarts, but not the Coconut Palace.
Now, one may ask, why would any party want to adopt a vice-presidential candidate who would attack grafters in its ranks?
Well, why not? Can any candidate or coalition publicly oppose an aspiring VP standing up against sleaze? Indeed, supporting an independent anti-corruption crusader for the second-highest position would help address many voters’ concerns over Binay’s alleged graft as Makati mayor, and far bigger anomalies abetted under Aquino.
His winning slogan in 2010 rode on the electorate’s perennial banes of poverty and corruption. So would a vice-president who pushes disaster preparedness, fights for the underprivileged, and rails against graft. Doing that for six years can only build broad public support for 2022.
Those planning to ride Poe’s ratings to power next year may not agree. But the Filipino people would cheer.