Less than a week to the May 13 elections, the ground for an administration’s sweep of the Senate polls has been deeply eroded by shifts of “block support” from organizations controlling huge chunks of votes, such as the Iglesia ni Cristo and El Shaddai, the latter a religious group associated with the Roman Catholic Church.
The reported shifts have put under serious doubt a Pulse Asia survey in April showing that if the polls were held at the time, 11 candidates from administration’s’ Team PNoy and five from the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) would be among the probable winners. At that time, only a quarter of Filipino voters had a complete list of their preferences for 12 Senate seats, indicating a late volatility in the voters’ mood—a dangerous sign of public opinion backlash against the administration.
On Tuesday, the Inquirer reported that the INC had decided to vote 7-5 in favor of Team PNoy—an outcome way below the exuberant 12-0 goal set by President Aquino’s Liberal Party. According to congressional sources, the INC has historically delivered 3 million votes for candidates that it supported. Census data estimate that it has 1.37 million members of voting age—the largest disciplined voting bloc in the country. A candidate is believed to need at least 16 million votes to win a Senate seat.
The El Shaddai had earlier indicated it would spread out its preferences, without naming them and will not be bound by the Team PNoy lineup, although El Shaddai’s preferences are likely to be influenced by the Catholic Church on such issues as the RH bill, which is backed by the administration and strenuously opposed by the Church. El Shaddai, however, unlike INC, does not have a bloc of disciplined votes it can command.
The Senate race is especially tight among candidates in the eighth and 17th places, as the number of undecided voters in the Social Weather Stations surveys on March 15-17 range from 2 percent to 7.7 percent.
Despite enjoying the advantages of incumbency, such as a political machine led by the LP and a deep campaign chest, Team PNoy is far from certain of winning half of the 12 seats in contention. The team is plagued by internal squabbles among its leading candidates (for example, between senators Loren Legarda and Alan Peter Cayetano). The team, composed of a coalition (LP, Nacionalista Party and Nationalist People’s Coalition), is threatened by a breakup stemming from tensions among the partners at the national (Senate and House of Representatives) and at local (governors and mayors) levels. These conflicts are opening the way for the election of more UNA candidates into the Senate.
Last week, the coalition nearly broke up in a mutiny, when Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, LP provincial chair, defied orders to work for a 12-0 sweep by dropping six candidates from the team in favor of five opposition candidates and one independent. This 6-5-1 formula was unacceptable heresy running counter against the party line of President Aquino. Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda cracked the whip. “We expect LP people to endorse LP candidates. You are a sworn member of the LP and we expect you to endorse the national candidates of the Liberal Party,” Lacierda reminded Salceda, the governor of a province with 720,000 votes. Later on, Salceda made it clear that he was not shifting allegiance to the opposition following reports that he met last week with Vice President Jejomar Binay and five senatorial candidates of UNA.
On May 1, Labor Day, just a week before the elections, President Aquino did his own bit of alienating the labor sector. Breaking international tradition of celebrating Labor Day on May 1, he called a “pre-Labor dialogue” with labor leaders. But the dialogue turned out to be a disappointment for the union leaders who made demands that were rejected by the President. He had announced that he would meet with them in a breakfast dialogue in Malacañang on May 1, but told them they should not expect any wage hikes.
Before the Palace unveiled the package of non-wage benefits, Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) described the minimum wage in the country as “starvation wages.” The minimum wage cannot buy a working-class family its daily bread. The Constitution mandates a living wage for workers. Instead, the regional wage boards prescribed a libing (burial) wage, PM said.
The group said that based on its own study, the cost of living for a family of six in Metro Manila has already reached P1,217 a day. “The estimate shows that the gap between the P456 minimum wage in Metro Manila and the present cost of living is a yawning P761 or 167 percent of the ordinary wage.”
Even if the parents work, their combined income will not be enough to feed the entire family, PM said. The group’s estimate of the cost of living did not provide for savings and social security, which in the government’s basket of goods and services constitute 10 percent of the cost of living.
Officials of the moderate Trade Union Congress of the Philippines said it would raise unmet labor issues and “jobless growth” issues with the President on Tuesday. But after a brief meeting at which the President said he would subject their demands to further study, he left hurriedly for his hometown in Tarlac, where he spent Labor Day campaigning for Team PNoy.
This is the backlash from labor that could inflict damage on the administration’s campaign.