Anyone unsure about President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s support for Senator Grace Poe in the presidential race, should have nil doubt now. His Cavite remarks last week obliquely attacking Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte showed that Aquino is fine with either Poe or his endorsed presidentiable Mar Roxas winning next month.
Evidently, the administration now fears Duterte more than Vice-President Jejomar Binay, whose ratings dropped in the latest voter preference polls. The VP is still within winning distance, with his formidable nationwide machinery able to translate popularity into votes better than most rivals (see Rigorberto Tiglao’s column yesterday at http://www.manilatimes.net/only-binay-and-roxas-have-electoral-machinery/253878/).
However, if Duterte keeps gaining in coming weeks, with fresh funds boosting his media campaign, he may yet get more local political kingpins beefing up his vote-generating network. We’ll see.
For now, many voters are looking at the two frontrunners and asking: Who’d be the better President — Poe or Duterte? Let’s see.
Both seem to draw support from voters looking for a change from the present administration, but may be wary of VP Binay due to massive media allegations of corruption against him and his family during their decades of rule in Makati City.
Beyond that initial draw, Poe and Duterte attract different kinds of voter. Her supporters are drawn to her kindly personality, as well as strong sentiments for her adoptive father, the late action superstar Fernando Poe Jr.
Duterte gains among Filipinos wanting strong, decisive action, especially against crime and corruption. His straight-talking soundbites also win favor, so different from Poe’s careful tone, often deferring replies till she has given a question more thought.
So which type of leader and manner is better for the country at this time? It depends what one considers the biggest challenges faced by the nation.
Poe, Binay and Roxas have largely projected themselves as delivering a better life through jobs, education, and public services. Crime and corruption are not given as much emphasis or urgency.
Poe and Roxas downplay the latter concerns, largely echoing by their silence the adminstration’s claim that under Aquino’s Daang Matuwid, both graft and lawlessness are not paramount worries.
For his part, Binay has been careful not to talk much about corruption, which would only draw attention to the accusations against him. For example, in the second presidential debate on March 20, when the VP pledged to issue an executive order instituting freedom of information, the other candidates quickly criticized his refusal to appear in Senate hearings on Makati anomalies.
By contrast, Duterte has put crime, drugs, and graft front and center in his campaign messaging, highlighting his much-publicized campaign to clean up Davao City. His talk of using extreme measures against lawless elements has won many nods, while also provoking concern among rights advocates.
If Duterte’s iron-hand stance against lawlessness is winning support, it must be partly because it addresses a very real public concern.
After all, we now have three times the crime in the year President Benigno Aquino 3rd took office, leaping from 324,083 incidents in 2010 to more than a million a year since 2013. To quote the presidentiables briefing published in this column last August (http://www.manilatimes.net/presidentiables-briefing-the-crime-explosion/210493/):
“Crime incidence per 100,000 population nearly tripled to 1,004 in 2014, from 350 four years before. Index crimes, which include major offenses like murder, rape and robbery, more than doubled to nearly half a million in 2014, from just over 200,000 in 2010. Per 100,000 population, index crimes went from 218 to 493 in the same period.
“Crimes against persons hit 258,444 — triple the 2010 number, while crimes against property jumped 94 percent, from 118,943 to 231,005 four years later. Physical injury, rape and theft more than doubled.”
Contraband has also trebled under Aquino. The undeclared or under-declared value of Philippine imports has trebled, from $7.9 billion in 2009 to a record $26.6 billion last year, based on International Monetary Fund trade statistics. The proportion of goods misdeclared or never declared has doubled from 14.7 percent in 2010 to 27.2 percent in 2014.
And the total amount of smuggling exceeds an unprecedented P4 trillion, with revenue losses topping P760 billion just for uncollected value-added tax, with excise, luxury and other special levies not counted (http://www.manilatimes.net/smuggling-utterly-out-of-control-under-aquino-regime-p4-trillion-in-last-five-years/212920/).
As for corruption, the laglag-bala scam victimizing travelers and overseas workers, plus the widely publicized Metro Rail Transit anomalies that wrecked the MRT have shown voters that Daang Matuwid has failed to stop grafters squeezing ordinary Filipinos.
In the face of these undeniable scourges and excesses afflicting millions of Filipinos, Duterte’s rough approach seems to many the right tack, making other candidates seem not just ineffective, but even unconcerned by comparison.
Add to the growing concern over crime and corruption the escalating threat of confrontation in the South China Sea, and the spate of terrorist incidents in Mindanao, including the recent abduction of Indonesians and Malaysians.
And there’s still the yawning gap in public infrastructure, now dramatized by the five-hour blackout that disrupted more than a hundred flights at NAIA Terminal 3. People wondering what major projects have been done since 2010, are hard put to list them.
Again, what kind of leader do we need to address security threats and accelerate infrastructure — the kindly Poe or the nasty Duterte?
In the second presidential debate, the mayor asked the senator what she would do if, as President, she is awakened in the middle of the night by news that two Philippine coast guard vessels were sunk in an encounter with Chinese ships.
Poe waffled at first, prompting Duterte to repeat his question. She then replied that she would get up from bed (to audience laughter) and call the armed forces chief.
There will be many rude awakenings like that, as criminals, insurgents, terrorists, grafters, and foreign powers test the mettle of the next President and Commander-in-Chief. Who can rise to the crises, and who might fold, as Aquino did in the 2010 Luneta hostage carnage and the 2015 Mamasapano massacre?
That is one big question for Filipinos choosing between Poe and Duterte.