Survey a heads-up for the frontrunner

Marvin Tort

Posted on October 01, 2014

ARE CORRUPTION allegations to date enough to effectively derail Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s presidential ambition? It all depends on how his camp manages the situation. At present, he seems to be taking a major beating, as evidenced by the Pulse Asia survey conducted on Sept. 8-15. Luck is currently not on his side.

Based on Pulse’s survey on Filipinos’ presidential preferences for 2016, Binay is still the top contender for the presidency, with a plurality at 31%. Although, this 31% is down by a significant 10 points from his 41% in the June 24-July 2 survey. And that drop came in just about 10 weeks between surveys.

But then, the drop may be expected considering that the Sept. 8-15 survey was conducted at the height of the media frenzy on allegations of corruption and hidden or undeclared wealth against Binay and his family (wife Elenita as former Makati mayor; and, son Jejomar Jr as Makati mayor).

The allegations are now under investigation by a Senate subcommittee led by Senators Antonio Trillanes and Alan Peter Cayetano. It was at their Senate hearings where former Makati vice-mayor and Binay political ally Ernesto Mercado first appeared in August to speak against Binay. Trillanes, Cayetano and Mercado are all aligned with the Nacionalista Party.

And it was on Sept. 11, while the Pulse Asia survey was ongoing, when Mercardo testified at the Senate on Binay’s alleged kickback of 13% from each public works project in the city. Mercado 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.

One surmises that Binay is now concerned by the 10-point rating drop in the September, even as some political analysts dismiss it as not-so-significant. Binay still keeps the lead, they claim. At present, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas is still a far second with 13% (although, up six points from 7%). Roxas is the presumed Liberal Party standard-bearer in 2016.

The same survey showed Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares is the top choice for the vice-presidency in 2016 with 31% (from 26%) of the votes, followed by Senator Chiz Escudero with 19% (from 22%), Senator Alan Peter S. Cayetano with 9% (from 14%), and Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV with 7% (from 6%).

Pulse Asia had reported that the highest drop of support for Binay in September was in Metro Manila -- 33% from 44% -- and the Visayas (27% from 37%). His rating among those in Class ABC also dropped to 23% from 36%. He also lost 10 points and seven points, respectively, among those in Class D or the “masa” and in Class E.

Metro Manila, of course, is the main consumer of media reports on Binay’s alleged corruption activities. It is where the Senate is based, which is the main venue and source of news on the corruption allegations. Metro Manila reportedly accounts for about six million voters or about 12% of the total number of registered voters in the 2013 elections.

Binay is also reportedly losing support in the Visayas, which include the provinces of Cebu and Negros Occidental, two of the top 10 vote-rich provinces. Cebu alone reportedly accounts for 2.5 million voters and Negros Occidental another 1.5 million. These two provinces, along with Metro Manila, already account for about 10 million votes.

At his present rating of 31%, Binay still seemingly commands about 10 million votes. He also appears to be just as popular now as Grace Poe. But come 2016, those 10 million votes may be enough. His daughter Nancy needed over 16 million votes to land fifth in the Senate race. Incidentally, Grace Poe was No. 1 with over 20 million or almost 51% of the votes.

Binay needs a major hat-trick, and quick. Improving on his present 31% is crucial to a Binay win in 2016. Sustaining the 31% in the next 20 months, despite the corruption allegations and insinuations and possible filing of charges, is the daunting challenge. An incentive is the fact that 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.

The fact that Binay can lose 10 points in ratings in just 10 weeks is proof enough of his vulnerability. Another major allegation or scandal, or a major legal loss, in the coming months and he may be done for.

Just before the May 2010 presidential elections, a late-April Pulse Asia survey placed then presidential contender Noynoy Aquino at the lead with 39% support, and aspirants Manny Villar and Joseph Estrada tied at second place with 20% support. Aquino eventually won with 42% of the votes, with Estrada coming in second with 26%, and Villar third with 15%.

For vice-president, the late-April survey placed Mar Roxas at the lead with 37%, Binay second with 28%, and then senator Loren Legarda third with 20%. Binay eventually won the contest with almost 42% of the votes, followed by Roxas with almost 40% and then Legarda with over 12%. Roxas has since filed an election protest, which remains unresolved.

Six months before the election, in October 2009, Aquino was already at 44%, while Villar was at 19% and Estrada was just at 11%. But Estrada surged to eventually finish at second with 26%. During the same period Roxas was already at 37%, while Binay was only at 13%, coming in third after Legarda’s 23%. But Binay also surged to eventually win with almost 42% of the votes.

There are lessons to be learned from the Estrada and Binay surges, more so from Binay’s 29 percentage points climb from 13% to 42%.

Any further drop in ratings in the coming months will just put Malacanang farther and farther from Binay’s reach. But one cannot easily discount the same man who surged 29 points in six months to win the vice-presidency in 2010 with 42% of the votes.

A Binay hat-trick in 20 months is very possible, just as possible as a major scandal or falter or faux pas by Roxas or even by Cayetano and Trillanes. Binay can still go up or down, but so can his political opponents. And as everybody knows, in politics, 20 months is a long time.

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