Editorial

Educating voters

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The latest Social Weather Stations survey hints at an electoral landscape in a wild flux. Just last January, United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) candidate Jack Enrile, son of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, was riding high in the poll with a 46-percent rating, ranking 8-9 in the senatorial derby. Now he’s down to rank 13, with a 38-percent survey rating.

What happened? We can make some guesses. The ugly word war his father waged in the Senate against fellow senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Miriam Defensor-Santiago has all but dissipated whatever august glow of statesmanship and public approval Enrile had gained from his masterful handling of the Corona impeachment trial.

Recall that Enrile fils’ name began ascending in the poll only in the wake of his father’s deft performance in that avidly watched spectacle. The erudition displayed at the trial by the 88-year-old Senate President was apparently sufficient to ensure his son’s ersatz viability as senatorial material, never mind that the latter was hardly heard from throughout his stint in the House as representative of Cagayan. UNA appeared to have figured that voters would unthinkingly conflate the two names—voting for the father when in fact they would be voting for the son.

And for a while, that cynical strategy seemed to work. Jack Enrile rode high in the poll, and the father was dismissive of criticism that his son had nothing to offer beyond shared-name recall. But now, after the noise and fog of the Senate President’s inelegant squabble with his fellow senators, the casualty, it would seem, is not Cayetano or Defensor-Santiago, but the Enriles who had banked their political survival on the father seamlessly transferring his power and dominion, as if by royal heredity, to his heir-designate. After that all-too-brief moment of distinction at the impeachment trial, Enrile’s coin is back to its grubby, common shine and, increasingly along with it, the self-entitled aspirations of his son.

Is this proof that the electorate isn’t as easily fooled these days? Might we now conclude that voter education—however haphazard it is, but in truth alive, active and independently driven through the social media and other forms of communication—is slowly but surely doing its bit to help voters discern and eventually choose the substantive candidates?

Not quite. The SWS survey also finds that, while Jack Enrile’s name is on the slide, that of his partymate, Nancy Binay, a daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay, is still on the upswing, from 43 percent in January to 47 percent in February. That makes her the highest-ranking UNA candidate at present, and clear proof that if name recall may not be working so well with the Enriles, it’s working spectacularly with—for—the Binays.

We’ve noted this before, and it bears repeating: Nancy Binay has neither served in an elective or appointive office nor run a company or a nongovernment organization, and until very recently, has not championed a public-oriented advocacy or taken a stand on a political issue. When asked to identify her electoral advantage, the Vice President candidly replied: “She’s my daughter.”

So why is she scoring high in the surveys? Because her father does. Because, three years ago, her father pulled off possibly the most startling upset in Philippine electoral history—snatching the vice presidency from a smug Mar Roxas with a resonant campaign spin based on his thriving fiefdom (of which his son is now overlord).

Binay’s record of largesse in Makati—free medicines, movies and birthday cakes for senior citizens, free education for children, free health care for indigents, etc.—is a powerful attraction for many voters anxious only for the “gut issues” of food, shelter and family welfare. Binay could wantonly emblazon his initials on just about every public project in Makati, but the electorate didn’t mind; he dispensed bread and gifts, which were all that mattered to many. The promise was that what was done in Makati can be done nationwide. And now his (hitherto unheard-of) daughter is deployed as the reaffirmation of that promise, merely on the strength of the family name.

No, much remains to be done to continue to educate voters to separate substance from form, real issues from easy palliatives. There is still time, but barely. Everyone must get the word out on the deserving candidates, but especially on those who are not.

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