(Free Press editorial cartoon circa 1965)
While we had the two party system from 1935 to 1972, from our first national, presidential election, the tendency has been to have a three-way contest for the presidency. In particular, 1935, 1957, 1961 were real three-cornered fights; in our era, 1998 and 2004 were three-cornered fights, though it can also be argued that 2004 also saw the country inching back to the more familiar territory of the presidential contest being viewed as a two-way fight. But 2010, if it happens, shows signs of being a repeat of the 1992 contest.
I've written elsewhere that with the election of Garcia to the presidency in 1957, something else emerged: the problem of a plurality, and not majority, presidency, although people didn't get worried over this because each of his successors managed to garner majorities. But I contend that, as Leon Ma. Guerrero argued (in his case, arguing in defense of martial law), "Today began yesterday," and that the 1950's brought forward the trends of celebrity candidates and minority presidents we continue to discuss today.
Last February, colleague John Nery wrote a remarkable column titled The 2010 race is set. In it, he set out to discuss what the surveys on presidential contenders reveals about voter behavior -and preferences:
[T]he reality is: We already know who our next president will be. Or more precisely, who among a select five or six Filipinos will win the 2010 elections.
His basis for saying this is based on
...two fundamental assumptions about our voting patterns for national elective office. First, it takes us a considerable amount of time to warm to prospective presidents (in other words, we are not ready for “overnight” candidacies for the presidency). And second, the way we choose our senators is distinctly different from the way we choose our presidents.
Read the whole thing, which also refers to past surveys and elections (1992, 1998, and 2004), and his concluding that,
I obviously believe in electoral miracles. But experience tells me this sort of thing happens only in Senate elections, when a voter has 12 votes to deploy, and some decidedly surprising candidates to choose from. For the presidency, however, we limit our choices early. We don’t like surprises.
Nery believes the surveys indicate the public's views that there are only six real contenders for 2010: de Castro, Legarda, Villar, Escudero, Lacson and Roxas. He pointed out that regardless of their actual merits or demerits, prospective presidential candidates like Richard Gordon, Jejomar Binay, or Bayani Fernando might as well accept it was too late in the game for them to be taken seriously.
Lito Banayo, also in February, pretty much reached the same conclusion. Banayo added that the same might hold true for Gilbert Teodoro for the presidency or even reform candidates like Grace Padaca or Jesse Robredo or Ed Panlilio for the Senate. Banayo also pointed out that Feliciano Belmonte had publicly disavowed any interest in running for the presidency, knowing he'd have better chances seeking another position.
In recent weeks, trial balloons aplenty have been launched, to gauge the viability of various candidates. The rumor mill has been particularly active, too. So everyone from the Chief Justice, to businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan has been publicly floated or privately whispered about as being interested in the presidency. Most recently, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro expressed interest in the presidency, prompting a skeptical column by Amando Doronila: though I wonder why Doronila didn't point out what is, perhaps, the biggest obstacle to a Teodoro candidacy: talk that he has broken, politically, with his uncle, Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. because of Teodoro's wife wanting his vacated congressional seat, something Cojuangco didn't agree with.
The comes the reality check, the most recent one being Pulse Asia's February 2009 Nationwide Survey on the May 2010 Elections.
Now of course ahead of any talk of elections in 2010 is the question of whether it would be an actual presidential or a parliamentary, election.
I asked a congressman whether Charter Change was well and truly dead, and the congressman replied that yes, it was, because the Speaker had informed his colleagues that whatever constitutional amendments might be approved would, to soothe the public, not be applicable to them -at which point the enthusiasm of the congressmen for amending the Charter waned perceptibly.
Whether this is true or not, the Pulse Asia survey suggests that the public is convinced that we will have presidential elections in 2010, and that the percentage of those who believe elections will take place has risen slightly since last year. Though what Pulse Asia itself points out as the notable improvement in figures, is that the percentage of people undecided on the matter has dropped. The optimists far outnumber the pessimists and the fence-sitting portion of the public has shrunk.
Personally, looking at the above, this is what I find interesting. I consider the roughly 25% or a quarter of the public who disagree there would be trouble if the 2010 elections aren't held the hard-core constituency of the President, and the roughly equal percentage the ambivalent sectors who essentially go along, when push comes to shove, with the hard-core supporters of the President.
Now why do I find this interesting? The survey shows far from an overwhelming majority being worried about the consequences of not having elections. It may be a stretch to consider that this means they would welcome not having elections. But if I were looking at these numbers from the Palace's point of view, an argument could be made for pushing Charter Change a little bit further; because compared to the figures for the possible presidential candidates, there remain more who shrug off the implications of not having elections, and those who are unsure, than those who actually have a stake in pushing forward any individual candidate. There would be no one to galvanize opposition to the cancellation of elections.
Which brings us to what the media considers the juiciest part of this most recent survey: personal preferences, in elections had been held last February:
While from the very start, Nery considered a renewed Estrada bid for the presidency as legally preposterous, what may be more relevant is that Estrada is far from a runaway winner in the surveys, as his drumbeaters were predicting; Nery also points out that compared to his past survey ratings, Estrada's sheen has dulled, politically.
In fact, if you look at the comparative preferences of people, only four of the main contenders have improved their standings over the past year: Escudero and Roxas by the most, followed by de Castro. Villar went down, as did Estrada, Legarda, and Lacson:
Doronila points out that the latest survey actually presents a dead heat between the four leading contenders, de Castro, Escudero, Estrada and Villar (Nery of course immediately discounts Estrada as constitutionally-banned from seeking the presidency). Of these four, only two have access to the cash necessary to run a strong campaign: Escudero and Villar. Which is why there is talk that the Vice-President might be amenable to running for the vice-presidency, again, repeating the strategy pursued by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004 when she convinced de Castro to be her running mate.
Regarding the vice-presidency, what may surprise readers the most is that the survey gives an indication of those who are mulling over throwing their hat in the vice-presidential derby, or who are considered likely to do so, or who the various political forces are considering drafting:
More people, it seems, would be happy with de Castro running for Vice-President for the second time, and Escudero, if he decided, as Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did in 1998, to play it safe, would do twice as well running for the vice-presidency, too. Legarda would do much better, too. So all three have the luxury or choice, they can slide down if necessary.
I think this point is strengthened by the finding that only four potential vice-presidential candidates have shown improvement in their rankings over the past year:
With Escudero doing best, followed by de Castro and Legarda, who only made negligible gains. Binay went from infinitesimal to negligible.
What the survey doesn't take into account is the talk, quite recent, at that, that Joseph, not Jinggoy, Estrada might cut through the constitutional Gordian knot and run for the vice-presidency!
Concerning the Senate, the survey looked at the number of slots people fill up in their ballots (just as an aside, it's well to remember that prior to martial law, voters only voted for 8 senators at a time; if voters' behavior hasn't changed all that much, this suggests that fill-up rates back then must have been 100% most of the time). It's interesting to note that the National Capital Region has the lowest fill-out rate (9) and that demographically, it's class ABC that fills out the least number of names (also 9):
Now personally I think the 12 at a time system at present is crazy; the old 8 at a time was more reasonable, and also meant a periodic changing of 1/3 of the Senate, more accurately fulfilling its function, as compared to the House, of being a continuing body.
But anyway, here are the front-runners, for the Senate, and again, voters will be interested in getting a sneak peek at those who are angling to run, or who will run:
Now it's up to you at which point you'll consider a candidate to be facing such an uphill climb that a candidacy isn't worth it, but I'd draw it at 12-16, which means Dick Gordon is the last candidate with a ghost of a chance. Note the appearance in the list of media personalities Korina Sanchez, Mike Enriquez, Arnold Clavio and Anthony Taberna; of Speakers de Venecia and Nograles, businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, and Wowowee host Revillame. Also, just as Lito Banayo pointed out in February, only those with a very high Awareness Rating can be considered viable senatorial contenders (consider the contrast between the probable awareness among newspaper readers or those who regularly read political blogs, and the public awareness of figures often mentioned in the papers and blogs, such as Ed Panlilio (only 34% Awareness) or Jessie Robredo (only 14%).
I am surprised at the rankings of former senators like Butz Aquino or up-and-coming candidates like Adel Tamano.
An interesting table is the next one, showing how individual candidates have moved up or down, percentage-wise, since late last year. Now how much of the changes, do you think, can be directly connected with whatever the headlines have been in the interval between October '08 and February '09?
Look at the biggest gainer -Edu Manzano! And how, generally, the President's cabinet members are doing badly. Only Ralph Recto and Sotto are doing well: Durano, Yap, Duque, Syjuco, Teves, Romulo, Teodoro are all in the cellar (with Dinky Soliman). This suggests not even the administration machine can help them.
Nonetheless, the administration and everyone else has to attend to fine-tuning their political machinery in preparation for 2010. Here the old dictum that all politics is local comes to the fore. Even as national candidates mull over their chances, each has to consider who their local allies will be, while local allies jockey to ensure the succession or block rivals from presenting a strong alternative to their rule.
My column today, Vendettas, recounts the scuttlebutt I heard in Davao City when I was there over the weekend. Both Mayor Duterte and Speaker Nograles are third termers; both are trying to ensure their posts pass on to their successors, in Duterte's case, his daughter for the mayoralty, and in the case of Nograles, to his son for the House of Representative. The possibility that old scores have been merged with the concerns of other groups -say, Duterte's tolerance for the NPA and the obsession within certain circles of the AFP to liquidate the unarmed Left- points to the role warlordism in all its forms, will play in the coming months to enable permanent solutions to often intractable political problems.