A week after the start of the election campaign on Feb. 12 and barely eight weeks before the balloting, the Social Weather Stations survey showed that nine senatorial candidates of the administration-backed Team PNoy have taken nine of the 12 seats up for grabs. Only three candidates of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance made it to the top dozen—Nancy Binay (seventh place), San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito (ninth to 10th place) and Miguel Zubiri (11th to 12th place).
The three frontrunners—Senators Loren Legarda, Francis “Chiz” Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano of Team PNoy—maintained their rankings of first, second and third, respectively, in the January survey. Legarda and Escudero maintained their rankings despite their being junked by the UNA as “common” candidates with Team PNoy. Sen. Franklin Drilon, Team PNoy campaign manager, claimed that the survey has made the administration coalition—made up of the Liberal Party, Nacionalista Party and Nationalist People’s Coalition—confident that it can make a 12-0 sweep of the polls.
But Drilon can’t be too complacent. The voters have shown a certain amount of volatility as the elections near. Rankings have changed. Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara managed to break into the “Magic 12” after having been edged out in the past two surveys (he placed 13th).
His gain was attributed to his high-profile role as prosecutor in the impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona, and to name recall, being a son of Sen. Edgardo Angara. Legarda, however, showed some vulnerability after she was dropped from the UNA along with two other common candidates for their opportunistic straddling of two horses in the elections. She went down one percentage point in the February survey from 65 in January. Nonetheless, she and Escudero have been identified as the stalking horses of the administration, whose credibility as opposition candidates has been eroded by their dual affiliation. The volatility appears to have been more pronounced on candidates with rankings from fifth to 12th places.
The UNA appeared to have suffered more from the fallout of controversial events surrounding some of its leaders. Cagayan Rep. Jack Enrile and Sen. Gringo Honasan, both closely identified with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, experienced the biggest drop. Jack Enrile, son of the Senate President, slipped to 13th place from eighth to ninth place in the previous survey. Honasan dropped to 15th place from fifth to seventh place. Senate President Enrile had come under heavy criticism over his unequal distribution of savings on Senate funds as Christmas cash gifts to members of the Senate.
Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, first cousin of President Aquino, broke into the winning list for the first time in four surveys, taking ninth to 10th place and rising from 15th place in the January survey. Obviously, he has been benefiting from his being a member of the Aquino clan even if he has no previous record in public office. His close resemblance to the late Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., whose mannerisms he has sedulously mimicked, seems to have worked in his favor. However, this mimicry has its downside. His campaign has highlighted the issue of domination of political power by dynastic families, who have nearly monopolized the opportunities for access to elected offices, blocking the entry of candidates with more modest electoral resources.
Nancy Binay, a daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay, is in seventh place. Not favored by inclusion in the administration ticket, she is also a political neophyte and had to overcome this handicap by running under the UNA banner.
The Vice President is one of the UNA’s three leaders, the others being Senate President Enrile and former President Joseph Estrada. All are with political dynasties. Nancy Binay is a beneficiary of the national constituency of her father, who trounced Manuel “Mar” Roxas, now the interior secretary and an LP stalwart, in the 2010 vice-presidential election. Dynastic links cut both ways. They did not work for Roxas, and are not working for Jack Enrile. Obviously, these links are helping JV Ejercito, a son of Estrada, who ranks ninth to 10th place along with Bam Aquino. Whether his name will help Estrada in his quest for the mayoralty of Manila remains to be seen.
Name identification has helped former Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar (Team PNoy), the wife of outgoing Sen. Manny Villar. She ranks fourth in the survey. Grace Poe, daughter of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr., is in fifth to sixth place, along with Sen. Koko Pimentel (PDP Laban), son of former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. Both are with Team PNoy.
The administration team is the biggest carrier of dynastic baggage, which does not surprise us. Its leader belongs to the biggest dynasty of the land.
Dynastic recruitment is not the best way of drafting political talents for public service. It also leads to undemocratic outcomes, as well as political sterility.