Who gains from the Supreme Court decision allowing Senator Grace Poe to run for president? The quick answer is, of course, Poe and her supporters. Disqualification would have denied her the presidency, just like losing the election, so reversing the DQ ruling enables her to possibly win, especially with the publicity and funding boost from the SC ruling.
Besides Poe, however, other winners in the 9-6 HIgh Court vote aren’t so obvious.
A day before the Tuesday ruling, there was front-page speculation about P50 million purportedly offered to each justice by the Palace and a billionaire businessman, to affirm Poe’s disqualification. That seemed to rule those powerful players out as gaining from the HIgh Court ruling.
Think again. President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his Liberal Party allies have, in fact, long been seen as secretly backing Poe as their Plan B to stay in power and out of jail, in case LP standard bearer Mar Roxas loses, as his lagging survey ratings portend.
As for the tycoon, the only billionaire with a direct political stake in the elections is Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco. He is said to be bankrolling Poe and her running mate Senator Francis Escudero as candidates of his Nationalist People’s Coalition, Escudero’s former party.
But if Aquino and his Uncle Danding actually want Poe to run, why the news about their camps inducing justices to keep her out of the running? Answer: it’s a ploy to counter all the talk about the two Cojuangco kin pressuring the Supreme Court to let Poe run.
The same disinformation tactic may have been used at least twice before. During the 2010 election campaign, there was false news spread about Aquino’s psychological report, which Ateneo de Manila University, the purported source, denied. That made any other documents about Aquino’s mental health, even genuine ones, no longer credible.
And in the search for ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona’s successor in 2012, there was talk that Malacañang favored then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. It stirred so much public opposition, people were actually relieved when Aquino named his classmate Maria Lourdes Sereno as CJ, even if her judicial experience and legal knowledge paled beside far more senior and accomplished justices.
The coming political shifts
The big question now is: Will Poe’s court victory lead to triumph at the polls?
Her ratings will likely go up in the survey right after the High Court ruling, thanks to the media boost and the influx of voters who were undecided or had favored other candidates when Poe’s candidacy was in doubt.
Most returnees would come from Vice-President Jejomar Binay and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, whose ratings rose while Poe’s declined in recent months. But not all who switched would go back. A good number would have learned good things about Binay and Duterte, and may stick with them.
Many who gravitated to Duterte probably found his tough-guy, straight-talking persona attractive. Poe may no longer appeal to them. As for voters who switched to Binay, they may have concluded that the corruption accusations against him are weak. Remove that taint of graft, and Binay’s long government record may outstrip Poe’s limited stint.
On top of survey gains, Poe will get more funds from wealthy supporters who wanted to be sure she could run before committing cash. With the flood of new money, expect her broadcast, print, poster and billboard campaign to escalate.
What about politicians? More will support Poe, not only because she could win, but also because she can help them win by generating goodwill for her backers, and by providing campaign cash from her growing war chest. Many of the new Poe-liticos would likely come factions in the Aquino administration which are not impressed with standard bearer Roxas.
The next survey would be crucial: If Poe shoots ahead by a big margin, Roxas and Duterte could lose political and financial support. Binay will likely hold his own, having ample funds and a nationwide network cultivated over the years and far more durable.
After elections, the real battle
So is the presidential race down to Poe and Binay? Hang on.
Duterte remains the top presidentiable in Mindanao, and as noted, his crime- and graft-busting character may seem more effective in addressing national ills than nice-lady Poe. And he came out ahead in the first presidential debates last month.
Roxas, meanwhile, still has massive resources and the Liberal Party machinery, which could keep him within winnable distance of the survey leaders. Indeed, while his camp may have wanted Poe out of the running months ago when she spurned his invitation to be his running mate, her candidacy is now instrumental in dividing the opposition vote.
Hence, if Duterte, Binay and Poe keep one another’s ratings at 20-something percent, Roxas could be within five or so percentage points behind, give or take the survey margin of error. That gap could very well be erased by election day mobilization and “special operations,” as the black hats call it.
So far from foiling the rumored Palace and billionaire schemers, the Supreme Court decision has in fact kept the administration’s Plan B alive, while giving Plan A a better chance with three, not two, top opposition candidates contesting the adversary votes.
Hence, the way to beat the Aquino camp is clearer than ever: The opposition must unite, as mooted in this column in January (“A formula for opposition unity”, at http://www.manilatimes.net/a-formula-for-opposition-unity/239280/ ).
Let’s hope the forces needed to turn back the escalating lawlessness under Aquino can come together to win not just against rival presidentiables, but the crime, smuggling and graft syndicates threatening to take over the nation after six years of burgeoning political clout and illicit resources. That’s the real battle facing Filipinos.