IF THE results of the latest Pulse Asia survey are to be believed, it’s an open race for the presidency.
But as the official campaign period kicks off today, you may say there’s a frontrunner: Sen. Grace Poe, the survey says, has regained her lead over Vice President
Jejomar Binay, with 30 percent of the electorate saying they’d vote for her if the election were held now. Binay’s rating declined by 10 points—to 23 percent—from the last Pulse Asia survey in December, relegating him to second place in a statistical tie with Liberal Party candidate Mar Roxas and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. In that December survey, Poe slid to second place behind Binay, but apparently the numerous motions for disqualification filed against her have only enhanced her visibility as a presidential candidate or strengthened her standing among voters, allowing her to surge again to first place. If her lead holds until the May polls, Poe might yet see herself installed in Malacañang in June, fulfilling the destiny her father had, from all indications, won in 2004, but for the “Hello, Garci” thievery.
And yet, if the Supreme Court rules adversely on her disqualification case, Poe might not even make it beyond halfway point of the campaign. The oral arguments currently being conducted by the high court have revealed deep legal and philosophical fault lines among the jurists on the issue of Poe’s foundling status, and the implication any ruling on it would have on other Filipinos of similar provenance.
Poe’s other problem, the question of her residency, has a more legal, technical ring to it, with the justices’ inquiry leaning to specific facts and dates on when and how she reacquired her Filipino citizenship. But the issue of her being a foundling strikes a highly emotional chord among a highly emotional people; at this point, the attacks against her for something she was completely helpless about appear to have boomeranged, boosting her stature further rather than diminishing it.
Still, despite her remaining a formidable force in the race, her fate hinges on the Supreme Court, and at this point who knows how the justices would vote? If the majority of them do rule against Poe, it would be a game-changing decision, possibly handing the presidency, in effect, to Binay, the one consistent frontrunner from the get-go but for the upstart entry of Poe into the race, which has forced the Vice President to sweat some more on what his camp had thought all along—given Binay’s famed years-long groundwork— would be a cakewalk to the presidency.
But, wait—the Pulse Asia survey says that, in fact, the vaunted Binay lead may now be gone. Statistically tied with Roxas and Duterte? How did that happen? The VP’s lawyerly tack all this time of dodging, stalling, evading the slew of charges that have been filed against him for plunder and corruption has been predicated on the political cushion provided by his comfortable lead among his rivals and a seemingly impregnable core of supporters among the electorate. Binay could ride out the heat because he’s had a huge headstart, so the wisdom went. And, for a while, it seemed to be working. By seemingly staying above the fray even as Roxas and Duterte entered into an ugly period of taunts and threats, Binay came out in the December polls smelling fresh as a daisy, back on top again. Apparently, the unseemly Roxas-Duterte feud did its job of distracting people from the VP’s own unseemly, and wholly unanswered, problems, even as Poe herself was mired in legal limbo.
If another survey or two confirm the Pulse Asia finding—that Binay, Roxas and Duterte are now in a dead heat—then conventional wisdom has to be thrown out.
Binay is no longer the presumptive frontrunner, Duterte is fast catching up, and Roxas, most startling of all, appears to be clawing his way up and is no longer the “kulelat” Duterte taunted him to be. Throw in the monkey wrench of a possible Poe disqualification by the Supreme Court and, from now to May, the country may be witness to a wide-open, no-holds-barred presidential brawl not seen for a while. With no definitive frontrunner in sight on the order of Joseph Estrada in 1998 or Benigno Aquino III in 2010, there will be hustling for every last available vote, and the historic sins of Philippine elections—cheating, vote-buying, violence, harassment, the works—may be out again in full force.
Stay alert—now more than ever. Make your vote count.
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