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Analysis

Why is the President vacillating?

/ 12:17 AM December 26, 2014

A yearend survey shows that the 2016 presidential election has narrowed down to three contenders led by two opposition figures, with the administration’s probable candidate, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, making third place.

The results of the latest Social Weather Stations survey, conducted from Nov. 17 to Dec. 1, showed that 37 percent of the 1,800 respondents picked Vice President Jejomar Binay as the best leader to succeed President Aquino, followed by Sen. Grace Poe with 21 percent, and Roxas breathing down her neck with 19 percent. The rest of the first 10 include Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, 10 percent; Sen. Francis Escudero, 9 percent; and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, 9 percent.

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SWS asked the respondents who they believed were the best leaders to be elected to succeed Mr. Aquino. Given the narrow margins among the first 10 and with the 2016 presidential election still more than a year away, the placements of the first 10 are likely to change. Binay cannot be certain that he will continue to lead the pack as Election Day approaches.

That Binay continues to be the front-runner in voters’ preference even in previous recent surveys has raised questions over the effect of the plunder charges filed against him at the Office of the Ombudsman for alleged overpricing in the construction of the P2.28-billion Makati City Hall Building II. The case is the subject of an inquiry by a Senate blue ribbon subcommittee that has heard the testimony of former officials of the Makati city government accusing Binay of corruption and amassing ill-gotten wealth when he was mayor.

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The charges have deeply eroded Binay’s trust ratings, which fell to 31 percent in September from 41 percent in July in the latest Pulse Asia survey. The results of the latest SWS survey jibed with the Pulse Asia survey that found Poe second to Binay in voter preference for president. Poe’s rating surged to 18 percent from 10 percent, overtaking Roxas, who is being considered by the ruling Liberal Party as its presidential candidate to go against Binay, the head of the opposition’s lineup.

President Aquino has yet to endorse Roxas as the LP’s standard-bearer, effectively undermining his chances to lead the administration’s lineup in 2016. The President’s hesitation to give Roxas his blessing has started to fuel talk in political circles that LP leaders are now considering drafting Poe as Roxas’ running mate. The move is purportedly seen to boost not only Roxas’ chances but also the administration’s supposed campaign to block Binay’s bid for Malacañang, to ensure the continuity of its good governance reforms.

Even LP leaders doubt whether Roxas, despite his vast experience in government and his reputation for integrity (his service record in previous Cabinets has remained unblemished by any corruption scandal), can match Binay’s electoral appeal, as reflected in the surveys. Questions persist: Is the administration’s reported demolition campaign working against Binay? What’s the antidote against Binay, who still tops the voters’ preference surveys? What does it need to enhance the electoral “winnability” of Roxas?

The interior secretary is not disposed to play second fiddle to Poe just to ensure the capture of Malacañang, after he gave way to Mr. Aquino in 2010. And although Roxas is lagging behind Binay and Poe, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad is not about to give up on his chances of election. The SWS survey results have given heart to Abad, prompting him to declare that Roxas is in a “good” place to overcome his marginal deficit. Abad has expressed confidence that Roxas would experience a “bump upwards” once he declares that he is in the running for president.

What’s holding back Roxas’ declaration? His party mates and the hesitation of the titular party leader, the President, to endorse him. We forget that the Liberal Party was founded by Senate President Manuel Roxas in his split with President Sergio Osmeña in the Nacionalista Party in 1945; he challenged Osmeña in the 1946 election after the grant of independence. The LP has the machinery to back its official candidate in 2016.

Abad has pointed out that, mathematically, the difference between No. 2 and No. 3 in the survey falls within the margin of error of plus/minus two percentage points. According to Abad, who was the campaign manager of Mr. Aquino in the 2010 election, the survey results showed a silver lining: that Binay’s standing with 37 percent meant that “those who may not vote for him is about 63 percent.”

Eventually, “this thing will simplify into two or three candidates, so in that sense [Roxas’ standing] at this stage is good,” Abad said. He continued that the number would definitely be better if eventually Roxas decides to run and the party selects him because there is always a “bump upwards” when candidates declare themselves available and even more so if they are endorsed by the sitting president.

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So why is Mr. Aquino vacillating? Perhaps his record as president might drag Roxas down.

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TAGS: 2016 presidential election, Benigno Aquino III, florencio abad, Francis Escudero, Grace Poe, ill-gotten wealth, Jejomar Binay, Joseph Estrada, Makati City Hall Building II, manuel roxas, Mar Roxas, Miriam Defensor Santiago, overpricing, plunder charges, Sergio Osmeña
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