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How VPs become presidents

/ 12:05 AM April 18, 2015

This piece is about what has happened in the past, of which I know a few numbers, and not about what will happen in the future, which I cannot know.

Of the past 12 Filipino presidents, counting after Manuel L. Quezon, six had previously been vice presidents (VPs). In four cases, it was because the president had died in office or left it. Sergio Osmeña succeeded the late Quezon in 1944. Elpidio Quirino succeeded the late Manuel Roxas (whose 67th death anniversary was last Wednesday, April 15). Carlos P. Garcia succeeded the late Ramon Magsaysay in 1957. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over when Joseph Estrada effectively resigned in 2001. Quirino, Garcia and Arroyo were incumbents when they won their own presidential elections.


There have been two cases of vice presidents who won the presidency despite not being the incumbent. These were Diosdado Macapagal in 1961 and Joseph “Erap” Estrada in 1998. At present, VP Jejomar Binay is aiming to become the third case.

The case of Diosdado Macapagal. Opinion polling was present in the Philippines as early as 1953, since the pioneering firm Robot Statistics predicted the election victory of Magsaysay over Quirino that year, as well as that of Macapagal over Garcia in 1961. Since Macapagal was its client, Robot presumably polled his popularity during his vice presidency; good numbers would have encouraged him to run against Garcia the incumbent.

Robot did not publicly predict the 1965 election, perhaps because unfavorable to Macapagal the incumbent, who lost against challenger Ferdinand Marcos. Fearing the hostility of Marcos, Robot’s owner George Cohen (a stateless person of Russian origin) emigrated to the United States, and closed shop without leaving any of its reports in a public library. [See “The Philippines” by L. L. B. Guerrero and M. Mangahas, in “Public Opinion and Polling Around the World: A Historical Encyclopedia,” vol. 2, 2004, edited by John G. Geer; available as an e-book from]

The case of Salvador Laurel. Public records of surveys about vice presidents have been kept only since 1986. Corazon Aquino’s VP, Salvador Laurel, started out with a Very Good net satisfaction rating of +44 in October 1986.

However, Laurel’s popularity tumbled severely to Neutral, floating between +5 and -5 in the next six surveys, between October 1987 and February 1992. I think it was because he appeared eager for a military coup to succeed, so that he could take over the presidency. Laurel submerged to a Poor net -10 in April 1992, a month before finishing seventh, and last, in the May presidential election won by Fidel V. Ramos (FVR), who had stood fast with Cory against the military rebels.

The case of Erap Estrada. To date, the Philippines’ most popular VP has been Erap, with Excellent scores in 10 rounds up to late 1994, topped by +87 in July 1993. His scores were Very Good, between +52 and +62, in six rounds in 1995-1997. In eight other rounds they were Good, at no less than +38 (February 1998).

Though from a different party than Ramos, Erap was, I think, never seen as anti-FVR. His victory over FVR’s partymate Jose de Venecia in the 1998 presidential election was quite expected.

The case of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA). Gloria Arroyo also started out very well in 1998. In 10 surveys up to September 2000, she was Excellent six times (reaching +81 in November 1998 and March 1999), and Very Good three times (between +60 and +68). Then she fell from +53 in September 2000 to a mere Neutral -4 in December 2000, after Erap had been impeached over “juetenggate.”

I think GMA’s abrupt fall was because she had openly broken away from Erap, quit the Cabinet and joined the anti-Erap mass movement. I think the sight of a vice president clashing with a president fills the public with anxiety. It was lucky for GMA that Erap was forced out by People Power II.


The cases of Teofisto Guingona Jr. and Noli de Castro. As president, GMA appointed the 72-year-old Guingona as VP for the remainder of Erap’s term. Guingona’s honeymoon score in March 2001, a Moderate +19, was already his best.   In 13 surveys up to June 2004 his score was Moderate nine times, and Neutral four times.

Noli de Castro, the topnotcher in the 2001 senatorial elections, had been the top favorite in surveys about contenders for the presidency in 2004, until GMA got him out of the way by making him her VP candidate instead. As VP, he scored 18 Goods (at most +47) and 6 Moderates (at least +14) in 24 surveys, i.e., much better than Guingona.

In 11 SWS open-ended surveys in 2007-2009 asking for “three best successors to GMA in 2010,” he was on top eight times, until June 2009. I think that’s normal, since the one thing voters surely know of a VP is that he is fit to be president. But Noynoy Aquino took the lead starting September 2009. Noli didn’t seem interested in becoming president.

The survey numbers of Jejomar Binay. VP Binay’s Good net +31 in March 2015 is his first time to be overshadowed by Erap’s record as VP. It is still very far above the records of Laurel and GMA when they were VPs and already aiming for the presidency. The main lesson from the past is that he should appear as loyal to P-Noy as Erap was loyal to FVR.

It is also as normal for him to top the present “three best successors” list as it was for VP Noli to steadily top it six years ago. But anything can still happen. The way not to be surprised by the future is to be as familiar as possible with the past.

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TAGS: Carlos P. Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, Elpidio Quirino, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Jejomar Binay, Joseph Estrada, manuel roxas, Noli de Castro, Philippines, Ramon Magsaysay, Salvador laurel, Sergio Osmeña, Teofisto Guingona Jr., vice presidents
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