Is it the end of Binay?

Marvin A. Tort

Posted on June 25, 2015

With his resignation from the Cabinet last Monday, it appears to be the beginning of the end for Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s presidential ambition. Amid corruption allegations and ongoing investigations, his poll numbers are down. Based on the latest Pulse Asia Survey, he is now at second place in the 2016 presidential race with 22%.

Senator Grace Poe, who was elected to national office for the first time in 2013, has snatched the lead from him with 30%. Following Binay at third is Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte with 15%. And tied at fourth place are Interior Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II and former President and incumbent Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada, both with 10%.

Also on the list are Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Alan Peter Cayetano, and former Senator Panfilo Lacson. Note that in Pulse Asia’s June 2015 poll, a relatively high 87% of those polled expressed a clear preference for a particular or specific presidential contender. Only 2.5% did not have a clear choice or had refused to reply.

Does this now mean that the Binay presidential bid is dead in the water? Not necessarily so. With 11 months to go to the May 2016 election, a lot can still happen. This can turn just as quickly as they did for Binay in the last three months. Just last March, he was still in the lead with 29%, and Poe was second with 14%. Estrada and Duterte shared third with 12% each. Since then, Binay and Estrada went down, while Poe, Duterte and Roxas climbed.

Pulse Asia had noted that during the survey period, the voting public was exposed to various news reports. Of these, in my opinion four items had the most significant impact on the survey result:

• Binay’s investigation by the Ombudsman and the continuing hearings at the Senate of his alleged corruption, including the freezing of his bank accounts by the Court of Appeals as requested by the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

• A Commission on Audit (CoA) report which claims that P670 million from 49 lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund and the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program, which were released through the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, ended up in the hands of several questionable nongovernment organizations (NGOs).

• A meeting between President Benigno S. C. Aquino III and Senator Grace Poe in connection with the possibility of the latter running as President or Vice-President in May 2016 under the Liberal Party and the disqualification issue based on her alleged lack of residency.

• The exchange of words between Vice-President Binay and Senator Poe, with the former saying that the next Philippine president should have experience and the latter replying that quality of service and honesty are more important than length of service or experience.

Of these four, three had a negative impact on Binay, directly or indirectly, while the same three had a positive impact on Poe. Moreover, there was no significant pickup, either by the public or politicians, of the CoA report on more pork barrel funds going to questionable NGOs. This particular issue “died” a natural death, it seems.

Crucial here is timing, obviously. A seven-point drop for Binay from March to June is big but not unexpected. The timing of the CA order to freeze his bank accounts (which tend to prejudge his guilt) was significant. And so was the timing of the meeting between the President and Poe (which tend to indicate his possible endorsement of her candidacy.)

In the September 2014 survey, Binay fell 10 points in just about 10 weeks. Timing was also crucial, as the poll was held at the height of the media frenzy on allegations of corruption and hidden or undeclared wealth against him and his family (wife Elenita as former Makati mayor; and son Jejomar, Jr. as Makati mayor).

In particular, it was on Sept. 11, while the Pulse Asia survey was ongoing, when former Makati Vice-Mayor Ernesto Mercado testified at the Senate on Binay’s alleged kickback of 13% from each public works project in the city. He also claimed that bags of money were being delivered regularly to the Binay household, and that money would occasionally be received by Binay’s daughter Nancy, now a senator. The same September Pulse survey already showed Senator Grace Poe as the top choice for Vice-President in 2016 with 31% (up from 26% in June 2014).

Despite her 30% at present, I am not putting my money on Poe just yet. I sense that a lot of “research” is now going on, with her detractors looking hard for things or issues -- no matter how small -- that may be used against her in the “appropriate” time. Again, timing is the main consideration here.

In 2013, Poe and another Binay ran for a Senate seat at the same time. Poe got over 20 million (51%) to land at No. 1 in the Senate race, while Binay (Nancy) got 16 million votes to land at No. 5. Was this a prelude to 2016? Can we expect the same results when Poe goes up against Nancy’s dad in May?

In 1992, Fidel Ramos needed just 23.58% or 5.3 million votes to become President. In 1998, Estrada needed just 10.7 million votes. I believe that Binay has better chances of winning in a three- or four-cornered fight in 2016. Poe is likely to get the upper hand in a one-on-one with the Vice-President.

In October 2009, President Aquino polled at 44%, while Senator Manny Villar 19% and former President Estrada 11%. By May 2010, Aquino won with 42% of the votes. Estrada came in second with 26%, and Villar third with 15%. Also that October, Roxas polled at 37%, while Binay at 13%, coming in third after Senator Loren Legarda’s 23%. Binay eventually won with almost 42% of the votes, followed by Roxas with almost 40%, and then Legarda with over 12%.

Both Estrada and Binay surged from October 2009 to May 2010, by 15 and 29 percentage points, respectively. Estrada came in second partly because Aquino was a strong contender to begin with. But had Aquino opted out of the 2010 poll, Estrada would have been the likely winner. But Binay managed a win even against a stronger contender like Roxas, although he had no major “baggage” at the time. Also, in May 2010, Aquino got just 600,000 more votes than Binay.

Despite everything that has been hurled at Binay since last year, and while his poll numbers have dropped, his trust rating still went up. In the latest poll, Binay reportedly recorded “the only majority trust rating” in the quarter with 57%, up by 15 points from 42% in March. Aquino’s latest trust rating was 50%, up from his record-low 36%.

Binay’s approval rating is at 58% while Aquino is at 54%. The Senate as an institution, and where Senator Grace Poe belongs, recorded an approval rating of only 40%. This is higher than the House of Representatives’ 35%, but lower than the Supreme Court’s 44%.

Does this mean then that despite the corruption allegations against him as a former city mayor, people still trust the Vice-President? That people still perceive him as performing better than the President and other officials? That at this point, he is even more trustworthy than the President? If so, can he keep or improve on that trust, and can he turn it into votes?

Marvin A. Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council.