Do Filipinos lack the capacity for basic discernment? Can’t they distinguish between honest leaders and the tainted ones? Can’t they see what is dross and what is pure gold? Can’t they separate the paragon of virtue from the public face of sleaze?
If the recent Pulse Asia survey on the trust and approval rating of top Filipino leaders were to be used as basis, the answer to all the questions is a big No. They can’t. They do not have the capacity for basic and elementary discernment.
Proof? The ultimate proof? The approval and trust ratings of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who, judging by news headlines is the newly crowned King of Sleaze, were higher than those of President Aquino, the Sultan of Integrity. Binay, with all the mud thrown at him, is more credible than the fount of all integrity.
You really have to ask this question. Why oh why?
In the real world, Mr. Binay was not supposed to be the most trusted public official. Or, one with the highest approval rating. Day in and day out, the mainstream media scream with banner headline stories on his alleged untold and undeclared wealth, his supposed acts of corruption and how he turned Makati’s munisipyo into a cash register for his family’s political enterprise. The stories of Tammany Hall were peanuts compared to what had been alleged against Mr. Binay and his political family.
And then we have this contrast. President Aquino, the spear carrier of personal integrity and daang matuwid, the tireless and indefatigable advocate of honest deals, transparent bidding, discreet use of government funds. That fact that no money trail, no fat bank account, no Swiss deposit, no real estate holdings of substantial value have been appended to his name just shore up the image of a president with genuine personal integrity.
In the real world, Mr. Binay’s proper place in trust and approval surveys should be at the bottom, even below Manong Johnny, Bong and Jinggoy. The condemned rank, a place where one would have no chance of attaining political redemption. Hacienda Binay and Parkinggate alone are enough to sink Mr. Binay into the bottom of the polls and into permanent political oblivion.
Yet, Mr. Binay is not only more trusted than Mr. Aquino. The way Filipinos see it, he is even better at his job than the president. Not only that. Mr. Binay has been consistently besting the president on these two survey areas. The recent Pulse Asia survey was not a statistical fluke that favored Mr. Binay in a one-time, big-time manner.
In the battle for the hearts and minds of Filipinos, which surveys on politicians and public leaders are all about, Mr. Binay, newly crowned by the media as the King of Sleaze, is closer to the hearts of the people than the supposed paragon of virtue.
Students of politics get their heightened puzzlement once they realize the broader context in which the surveys are being taken. It is a context in which Mr. Binay has all the handicaps.
Filipinos have dynastic impulses in their political DNA. They are closet royalists like most newspaper editors. Mr. Binay may have his own political dynasty, but it is a recent one with no impressive pedigree. Mr. Aquino, in contrast, is the son of two of the most revered figures in Philippine politics, whose lineage dates back to the Commonwealth period. Mr. Binay is viewed as an upstart, an arriviste. Mr. Aquino is viewed as a true blue blood.
Yet, despite the predisposition of most Filipinos to favor the old-line political family over the arriviste, Mr. Binay has defied this trend to poll better than Mr. Aquino.
The media plays a disproportionate role in shaping public opinion. Here, Mr. Binay has the severest of handicaps. There is no section in the mainstream media that is truly devoted to the proposition of a President Binay. In contrast, the existence of a “Yellow Brigade” in media is an urban legend.
There is a section in the media out to get Mr. Binay. Meanwhile, there is a section in the media out to protect Mr. Aquino and portray him as an honest, dedicated reformer.
Yet, Mr. Binay is still getting better numbers than Mr. Aquino.
The screaming headlines determined to doom Mr. Binay’s presidential dreams have to finish off the vice president by early December. After that, it would be the season of good tidings and forgiveness and no amount of bad publicity would get traction.
If the mid-December polls would place Mr. Binay on top, then he can coast to the presidency in 2016 with relative ease.
On Mr. Aquino, this is my genuine fear. The polls of early 2016 may place Mrs. Arroyo in a better light than Mr. Aquino. That would be Mr. Aquino’s greatest tragedy.