Senator Panfilo Lacson, a declared candidate for president in the 2022 presidential election, proposed to Vice-President Leni Robredo, the presumed standard bearer of the Liberal Party in next year’s election, that all opposition candidates for president should agree to withdraw from the race at a certain point and throw their support behind the one among them who leads in the surveys. He says that is the practical way of unifying the opposition forces against President Rodrigo Duterte’s anointed successor and thus prevent the extension of the Rodrigo Duterte brand of government beyond 2022.
The Vice-President rejected the proposal outright. She said, “For me, if I file my candidacy, I have to finish the fight. I can’t just withdraw from the race, no matter how difficult it may be, because I already presented myself to the public.”
She should have also rejected the proposal because it is based on many flawed assumptions. The first is that the campaign managers, financial backers, the local warlord allies, and the field volunteers of the candidates who withdrew will also throw their support behind the opposition candidate with the highest survey rating.
The second is that the leader in the surveys among the opposition candidates will be ahead by a significant margin. What if Opposition Candidate 1 leads Opposition Candidate 2 by only 2% and the margin of error of the survey is 2 or 3%, as is usual? How will the final candidate be chosen?
Before the pandemic, interviews were done face-to-face. Now they are conducted by telecommunication. The sample (respondents) may not include voters from the socio-economic class DE and from those areas not reached by telecommunication. The sample may not be representative of the voting population. The margin of error would be bigger than the usual 2 to 3%.
Another assumption is that at a certain point in the race, the ratings will stabilize. Because the actual interviews, their verification, processing of the raw data, and printing of final reports take time, results of surveys become known about three to four weeks after the actual survey was conducted. A lot can happen between the time of the interviews and the time the results become known that can influence the preference of voters.
The changing preference of voters is to a large extent influenced by the events preceding the conduct of the surveys. The survey results reflected the sentiments of the people at the time the survey was conducted. SWS asks its respondents the question: “If the elections were held today, who would you likely vote as president?” Pulse Asia asks “If the May 2016 elections were held today, who would you vote as president of the Philippines?”
It was not long after he was sworn in as vice-president that Jejomar Binay made known his intention to run for president. He promised to do for the country what he as mayor did for Makati. “Ganito kami sa Makati” was a video clip occasionally shown on TV for years to imply life in Makati had become better during the mayoralty of Binay. When he declared his candidacy for president in 2016, he ran under the slogan “Gaganda ang buhay kay Binay.” The slogan worked as Binay topped the polls for a long time.
But detractors of Binay twisted the slogan into something like “Gumanda ang buhay ng mga Binay nung namuno sila sa Makati.” Perturbed by the prospect of a Binay presidency, some politicians floated the name of Grace Poe as the alternative to Binay. When she launched her candidacy, she promised to continue what her adopted father, Fernando Poe, Jr., had started. She topped the polls after a few weeks on the campaign trail.
But then Binay’s camp questioned Poe’s eligibility for the presidency, claiming she was not a natural born Filipino citizen, that in fact she renounced the country of her birth. Not only that, she was dumbstruck when civil society groups asked what her father started that she would continue. The new surveys showed Binay in the lead again. Then came the Senate investigation of the alleged overpricing of the Makati City Hall Parking Building II. Binay’s survey ratings dipped, Poe emerging as the leading candidate.
Soon after, Rodrigo Duterte joined the fray. Promising to bring change in the governance of the country by making fearless decisions and fast action like he did as mayor of Davao City, in contrast to the laid-back style of then incumbent president Noynoy Aquino, Duterte became the frontrunner in the polls.
In interviews with television talk show hosts, Lacson said that by April 2022 the polls would indicate who among the opposition candidates has been the consistent leader. But, as pointed out above, results of surveys become known three to four weeks after the actual interviews. Therefore, survey results known in April are from the information gathered in March. What the candidates do and not do, what they say or not say in the 30 to 40 days preceding Election Day will determine to a large extent if their quest for the highest office of the land would be successful.
The candidates have little, if any, time to recover from a serious blunder like an act of arrogance or poor taste, an utterance of ineptitude or ignorance. How presidential candidates Jejomar Binay and Grace Poe comported themselves and what they said in the COMELEC-organized debates were close to a debacle for them.
Binay said that the charges of anomalies leveled against him were no more than gratuitous charges any detractor of his can make. When his political enemies claimed that the birthday cakes the City of Makati gave senior citizens were supplied by a company owned by his children, he quickly disproved the claim by presenting legal documents showing Erlinda and Kim Chong as owners of the company supplying the cakes. But when a surveyor, a property appraiser, an architect, and Commission on Audit (CoA) special auditors alleged that he and his son Jun Jun had overpriced the Makati City Hall Building II, he could not present incontrovertible evidence to belie the charges.
As regards Poe, she was very vague about her stand on the coco levy fund and flip-flopped on the issue of former president Ferdinand Marcos, principal sponsor at the wedding of her adoptive parents, being buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. She also had difficulty explaining her assertion of unwavering allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines because her husband and her children remained American citizens. She owned a house in California worth about $971,000 that she could always go back to if things did not work out here according to their plans.
Also, at that point the dirty tricks unit of some candidates would be busy preparing to drop the bomb on the target of demolition. In the past, bombs like the exposure of an illicit lover, a bastard child, or hidden ill-gotten wealth, were dropped just days before Election Day, too late for the bomb victim to refute, deflect, or extenuate the misdeeds and faults ascribed to him or her.
In 2010, the leading presidential candidates Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar were targets of such bombs — a psychiatrist report on his mental state in the case of Aquino and a magnificent palace in Salt Lake City, USA in the case of Villar. The bombs turned out to be duds well before Election Day. Still, they caused the two targets anxiety. Basing the choice of the united opposition’s candidate on who leads in the polls in April 2022, as proposed by Lacson, is not practical.
The Lacson proposal was ill-conceived. Vice-President Robredo had good reasons for rejecting it outright.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.