Analysis

The administration should heed the signs

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The latest Pulse Asia Survey, conducted on March 16-20, showed the political-dynasty issue taking a toll on senatorial candidates closely identified with politically influential families. Overall, the survey found that from a total of 33 candidates for the Senate, at least 15—nine from the administration’s Team PNoy and six from the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA)—have statistical chances of winning one of the 12 seats up for grabs.

The administration’s alliance seeks a 12-0 sweep, but with the Pulse Asia survey results showing volatility vis-à-vis certain emerging issues, there is no basis for the administration to achieve its goal or to win a clear majority to dominate the highly fractured Senate.

It should pay attention to the survey’s startling results and trim its exuberant ambitions accordingly. It should heed the signs.

The most noteworthy result of the Pulse Asia poll is that political neophyte Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino (Liberal Party) dramatically slipped from last February’s results by 4.6 points. Bam Aquino has the audacity to launch a bid for a Senate seat with nothing more substantial political capital than that he bears the family name. He is a nephew of the late former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., the father of President Aquino, who had no qualms about endorsing him in the Team PNoy ticket.

Bam looks and acts like Ninoy Aquino, and sports the same black-rimmed eyeglasses used by the latter. In his campaign sorties, he has not yet echoed the “daang  matuwid” (virtuous path) slogan of the Aquino administration as his political platform.

The slide of the poll ratings of certain candidates tells us that the political-dynasty issue, severely criticized and highlighted by the Catholic hierarchy as a central issue in the May elections, is taking a toll on the Senate lineups of the administration and the opposition. The survey results seem to show that dynastic pedigree or connections can cut both ways—either as an asset or as a political albatross.

Bam Aquino’s ratings dropped (4.6 percentage points) alongside those of other candidates connected to political families, including San Juan Rep. JV Estrada (UNA), son of former President Joseph Estrada (5.2 percentage points); Cagayan Rep. Juan Ponce Enrile Jr. (NPC/UNA), son of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (4.2 percentage points); and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, (NP, Team PNoy), son of the late Sen. Rene Cayetano (4.1 percentage points). Former Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar (NP/Team PNoy), wife of Sen. Manny Villar, lost 3.2 percentage points.

According to Pulse Asia, at the time of the survey the issues dominating the headlines were the hostilities in Sabah involving the followers of the Sultan of Sulu and Malaysian security forces, and the Supreme Court decision suspending the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law.

These are understood to have influenced public opinion in assessing the importance of issues that most directly affected the people’s lives in the run-up to the elections, which are only five weeks from today.

During the next few weeks, the issues that are likely to gain salience are the Sabah conflict and the interventions of dynastic families in their effort to use their economic resources and advantages of incumbency to elect their members into public offices from congressional levels down to provincial and municipal positions.

Looming overhead is the worsening electricity shortage in Mindanao. Public unrest is rising each day the power shortage is unrelieved. The impact of the power shortage, among all the issues that have been raised, is likely to determine the outcome of the senatorial elections—the main election battleground. The administration has acknowledged that the midterm polls are a referendum on its achievements in its three years in office.

The people are not going to vote on the basis of the individual platforms of the senatorial candidates. They are more concerned about the Mindanao electricity shortage that is inflicting enormous havoc on the island’s economy than on the controversy over the squabble between Sen. Chiz Escudero and his girlfriend’s family. That’s none of our business.

The Mindanao power crisis is the issue of primary concern to the Filipino people today. How the administration manages it will determine whether it will receive another vote of confidence from the people in the form of a sweep by Team PNoy or become a lameduck administration for the rest of its term. The people are not going to hold the senators responsible for the recurring power crisis in Mindanao. They are now holding the administration responsible for the daily power outages that run for six to 12 hours in some areas.

The President told the nation last March 26 that Mindanao residents would not only have to bear with rotating brownouts every day, but would also eventually have to pay more for their electricity consumption.

He said that as a “stopgap” measure, the government might tap diesel-powered generating plants to increase power supply in Mindanao to address the power deficiency between now and 2015. And the mix of hydro and diesel will inevitably increase power rates.

The President has left Mindanao no choice. “The power rates will go up in Mindanao because the choice is higher power rate or no power,” he said. This is the solution a do-nothing administration can only offer. Why does he not quit office?

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