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Myths, misconceptions about 2019 vote

/ 05:07 AM May 21, 2019

The 2019 midterm elections have come but are not entirely gone; serious questions about possible fraud remain. We can all be sure of one thing. The Commission on Elections dropped the ball; the country’s fourth automated election should have been a cinch.

On the national level, the scale of defeat of the opposition is unprecedented in the post-Edsa era. But the results were foreshadowed by the surveys. On the local level, many surprises happened; they reveal a much more complicated picture than just simply that President Duterte had won an unquestioned vote of confidence.

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Consider just the most pointed example. Three-fourths of the politicians the President named in his controversial and unconstitutional “drug list” (that’s 27 out of 36) won their elections. But there were other myths and misconceptions.

Let’s start with a mistake that’s easy to correct.

The number of votes Cynthia Villar received is proof of cheating. This early take, which gained a little traction a day or so after the elections, charged that Villar’s 25 million votes could not be authentic because the leading Senate candidate of the last three elections averaged around 18 to 20 million votes. This mistake is based on a lack of knowledge about the number of registered voters (63.6 million), the actual voter turnout (43.9 million), or the nonlinear impact of population growth on Senate elections.

In 2010, Bong Revilla topped the Senate race with 19.5 million votes, becoming the first person since Mar Roxas in 2004 to cross the 19 million threshold; in 2013, Grace Poe became the first person in Philippine history to gain over 20 million votes; in 2016, Franklin Drilon became the first Senate president to win reelection by topping the Senate vote, with 18.6 million votes. The population was steadily increasing through these years; but population growth alone could not guarantee that the vote totals would also increase steadily. Conversely, it would be a mistake to think that the totals would not breach the 20 million threshold in 2019.

Villar’s first-place finish in the Senate race makes her the front-runner in the 2022 presidential election. Senate topnotchers have a history of heartbreak when it comes to ambitions for higher office. See Salonga (three-time topnotcher), Loren Legarda (twice), Poe (once). To be sure, there is the example of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who topped the Senate vote in 1995. But compared to her husband, the billionaire entrepreneur Manny Villar, Cynthia is lacking in the charisma department.

The Marcoses are making their last gasp. This was my mistake, committed to writing. I thought that with the savvy strategist Rudy Fariñas contesting the Ilocos Norte governorship, and Imee Marcos’ slippage in the polls, the country was headed to the first Marcos-free election since 1992. I was entirely wrong. It would be extremely difficult for the Supreme Court, as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, to rule in favor of Bongbong Marcos’ decrepit election protest. But the real politician in the family, Imee, now has a national platform. There’s no disguising that.

Hugpong ng Pagbabago is the party of the future. Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte was reportedly overjoyed when 12
of the 13 senatorial candidates endorsed by her regional-party-turned-political-alliance swept the city’s Senate polls. Only Jiggy Manicad failed to make the first 12 in Davao City; even more noteworthy, perennial survey favorite Grace Poe placed only 13th.

But other local results showed the severe limits of an alliance based mostly on borrowed charisma (the President’s, of course). Inday Sara’s bête noire Pantaleon Alvarez reclaimed his seat in the first district of Davao del Norte in a massive landslide against a key Hugpong personality, Davao del Norte Gov. Anthony del Rosario. Alvarez’s former ally, Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr., on whom he turned when he became speaker of the House, and whose fortune backed Hugpong, lost his race in the province’s second district.

If Hugpong could not elect their own two stalwarts, in the very center of the region they had staked as their own, what kind of influence can they be expected to bring to bear in other regions or in the nation as a whole?

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In fact, the national results of the Senate elections show that Hugpong’s clout is very much open to debate. Four of their 13 candidates failed to win; one of their winning candidates, Koko Pimentel, they even dropped from their sample ballot in Davao City. The ones who did win, such as Villar or Pia Cayetano or Sonny Angara, had their own considerable political capital to begin with.

Mr. Duterte’s “enduring popularity” spelled the difference. There is some truth to this, but again take a look at the results. The Duterte candidates who could have used his popularity fared badly: Rafael Alunan, Freddie Aguilar, Dong Mangudadatu, Manicad. The ones who won were already popular or moneyed to begin with. Only two were virtual nobodies in 2016: Bong Go and Bato dela Rosa. Only the purposely blind will not see that they were the beneficiaries of government spending well before the elections.

Perception is power in politics. But the truth is, the equity of the incumbent isn’t what it used to be.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]

See the bigger picture with the Inquirer's live in-depth coverage of the election here https://inq.ph/Election2019

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