Results of the Third Quarter Pulse Asia voter preference survey on prospective presidential and vice-presidential candidates, done around August 23-September 6, are expected at the end of this month. But political parties probably purchased preliminary tabulations this week or last.
That may explain why two reputed presidentiables made up their minds about running or not. Last week Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte announced he isn’t, amid rumors of throat cancer, which he denied.
Then yesterday, September 16, Senator Grace Poe, frontrunner in the last Pulse Asia poll straddling May and June, held a press conference to announce her candidacy under the Nationalist People’s Coalition of billionaire Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco. Since last month NPC has declared support for Poe if she runs for president.
The coming Pulse poll results probably place her at No. 1 or 2 in voter preferences. Probably also crucial to Poe’s candidacy was Secretary Mar Roxas’s score. If the Liberal Party standard bearer endorsed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd, had rated high, Roxas’ invitation for Poe to be his running mate might have been more attractive.
But Poe’s presidential bid suggests that Roxas didn’t do impressively in the latest Pulse survey. Now, even Aquino’s uncle Cojuangco has to look for another presidentiable to put his money on.
Danding’s San Miguel group has trillions of pesos worth of assets and revenues in infrastructure and energy ventures greatly affected by government policies. Plus interests in the nearly P100 billion coconut levy fund sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government and claimed by coconut planters led by Cojuangco.
What about Roxas?
With Poe’s presidential bid, what looms is a two-horse race for Malacañang. She and Vice-President Jejomar Binay will likely to leave the rest of the field behind, as then President Gloria Arroyo and the late action superstar Fernando Poe Jr., Senator Poe’s adoptive father, did their 2004 poll rivals.
But before discussing the survey leaders, what about Roxas? He will still run, especially with the LP’s massive war chest amassed amid unprecedented smuggling and pork barrel, the mammoth Disbursement Acceleration Program funds juggling, dubious transport, defense and other contracts, and flourishing jueteng, which Roxas never cracked down on, despite threats to do so after taking over the Department of Interior and Local Government, following jueteng buster Jesse Robredo’s death in 2012.
Moreover, there are dozens of LP stalwarts banking on a Roxas win to ensure that for six more years, the administration’s selective justice continues to spare its allies from honest-to-goodness investigation and prosecution for pork barrel and other sleaze.
However, his apparent difficulties in catching up with survey topnotchers, despite Aquino’s endorsement and massive political advertising, has made many congressmen look for a stronger presidentiable to ally with, in the hope of being spared from pork barrel charges after June 2016.
Hence, the Poe candidacy as well as the backroom deals with Vice-President Binay’s camp. Due to unspoken arrangements with the VP, even administration stalwart House Speaker Sonny Belmonte has repeatedly declared there was no ground to impeach the Binay. This despite the LP’s undisguised efforts to oust him.
Speaker Belmonte knows very well that very few of his fellow legislators would sign an impeachment complaint against someone who could be President, with the key to the anomalous pork barrel files at the Department of Budget and Management.
Of course, a massive campaign could still propel Roxas into serious contention in coming months, especially if Binay, Poe, or both face insurmountable obstacles to their candidacy, or commit grave blunders in their campaign, as FPJ did in snubbing, berating, and alienating media in 2004. But at this time, Roxas seems way behind.
The foundling and the politico
As for Poe, she is seen by politicians and business interests as a strong option to retain power and influence, and for those implicated in irregularities, a way to avoid prison. If she holds or cements her leading position, expect politicians to swing to her camp, as they did during Aquino’s rise to the top of the surveys in 2010.
However, those seeking Poe’s protection may have another thing coming. Asked by Tony Lopez in a BizNews Asia magazine interview in July whether she would “jail someone who is corrupt,” Poe replied: “It’s for the courts to decide. But I will, of course, uphold what the courts will decide on.”
The senator added that if VP Binay wins the election and pardons grafters, his presidency “will start on the wrong foot. And I don’t think that administration will last.” Poe herself reacted to talk that “because we’re family friends, I’s probably pardon him [Binay]. I don’t think people would be confident in that administration” if she did.
With the Roxas and Binay camps likely to lambast each other while sparing Poe in coming months, to avoid looking like bullies beating up on a woman, she may gain in the polls. But she may not have the experience, connections and gumption to wheel and deal for political support, though NPC and her political partner Senator Francis Escudero would mostly take care of such alliance building.
For his part, Vice-President Binay has long been reaching out to potential allies, and may attract those worried about Poe’s anti-corruption rhetoric. That clique may include many in the administration camp who would consider outside candidates if anointed standard bearer Roxas seems not a strong contender.
Much of that alliance building will happen in the month before the October 16 deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy, with major presidentiables and their parties firming up their lineups for the vice-presidential, senatorial, congressional, gubernatorial, city and municipal races.
In her magazine interview, Poe remarked: “The presidency is a privilege, but I think it is abnormal for anyone to desire it. It is a big challenge. Six years of your life of almost being in a convent.”
A month from now at the Commission on Elections, at least three citizens would signify their desire to become president of the Philippines. Then it will again be politics as normal.