Is Roxas a viable dark horse?
Since 2010 Vice President Jejomar Binay has had an unbroken run in the poll surveys as the front-runner in the 2016 presidential election, until his momentum was jolted by the results of the Pulse Asia survey showing that his presidential voter preference had plunged from 41 percent in June to 31 percent in September—an unprecedented 10-point drop.
The decline sent gloom to the Vice President’s supporters. But it cheered the cohorts of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas in the Liberal Party, whose preference ratings improved only marginally although the survey results showed him taking second place to Binay, who still topped the list of 15 presidential candidates in 2016. Roxas took 13 percent of the voters’ preference, up from 7 percent in July. The rest of the list took less than 11 percent each.
The survey respondents were asked: “Of the people in this list, whom would you vote for President?”
The results of the latest Pulse Asia survey indicate that: 1) the charges concerning the Makati City Hall parking building, which was built during Binay’s term as mayor, have taken a damaging toll on his planned run for the presidency; and
2) Roxas cannot be ruled out as a viable opponent of Binay in a face-off in 2016.
But the results raise questions on how Roxas would reinvigorate his presidential aspiration—that is, whether he would move out of the shadow of President Aquino, whose approval and trust ratings have also been declining. While Roxas is presumed to be the official LP candidate in 2016, Mr. Aquino has yet to make an endorsement concerning his heir to the presidency, and has admitted that he is open to a proposal by some of his allies to stand for a second term to ensure the continuity of his political reforms related to good governance.
The President’s openness—or ambivalence—to term extension has put Roxas in a bind as it raises the prospect that another Aquino term would undercut or kill a Roxas bid for the presidency. If Mr. Aquino eventually decides to run for reelection, Roxas would be pushed out on a limb. This is why the survey results opened the possibility of an Aquino-Binay, rather than a Binay-Roxas, encounter.
Binay faces more serious problems than Roxas as the Vice President is reeling from the charges of corruption now under investigation by a Senate blue ribbon subcommittee. The hearings are believed to have produced evidence responsible for the plunge in Binay’s voter preference ratings.
The Pulse Asia survey was conducted a few weeks after the Senate hearings started. In one hearing, on Sept. 11, former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado testified that Binay received standard 13-percent kickbacks from all infrastructure projects in the city, not just from the construction of the parking building. Other witnesses testified that Binay funneled illegal commissions through three channels, including his son Junjun, now the mayor of Makati.
Pulse Asia’s Ronald Holmes said the controversy over the Makati parking building was to blame for the 10-point fall in Binay’s ratings. “The biggest factor is the negative reports from the Senate investigation hearings,” Holmes said in a TV interview. But the figures can still change as the election is more than a year away. Still, with more Senate hearings scheduled, it appears problematic how Binay would overcome evidence already heard beyond dismissing them as “hearsay” and saying he would fight tooth and nail to prove his innocence. He is facing an uphill battle.
Binay, head of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, has declared himself as its presidential candidate, and its spokesperson said the allegations against him were part of a plot of the administration’s allies to discredit him and his family in a smear campaign. But a Malacañang official warned that Binay’s ratings would continue to unravel as long as he continues to dodge the allegation that he and his family received kickbacks, rigged public bidding, and used dummies in hiding their true wealth.
Still, the Liberal Party should be warned against cheering prematurely on the basis of the survey results that showed Roxas almost doubling his share to 13 percent from 7 percent. A party official claimed that Roxas’ gain in the survey without doing any campaign was remarkable and also suggested that the 2016 presidential election will be between Binay and Roxas—the old “trapo” ways vs. the “daang matuwid,” and “between black and white.”
According to another LP member, the survey results showed that Roxas’ numbers were improving while Binay’s ratings were declining significantly: “It only shows Mar is a viable candidate for president. The election is still far but I always see the endorsement by President Aquino as a strong support to whoever gets it.”
But that expectation rests on the uncertain assumption that the endorsement is an asset rather a liability, coming as it would from a President whose popularity has dipped precipitously over the past few months. The contrary view is that Roxas’ viability depends how much he can distance himself from Mr. Aquino—the sooner the better. Without being too clamorous and self-promoting, Roxas has a rich experience in government, and his honesty in public service has not been assailed. He does not need Mr. Aquino’s “daang matuwid” preaching as a crutch for running the country. He can be a contrast to Binay.
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