by Raïssa Robles
Well, think of it as political spring-cleaning. As if someone upended a drawer full of stuff and Filipinos are in the process of looking through, deciding what to throw, or keep and whatnot.
Love it or hate it, President Benigno Aquino changed the rules of the political game. At no other time in our country’s history do you find so many top officials detained and undergoing trial for corruption. At the latest count, we have one president-turned-congresswoman, one ex-presidential spouse, three senators, one retired national police chief, one former Supreme Court chief Justice, one governor, and at least two congressmen, all undergoing trial for corruption.
Frankly, I’ve lost count. The point is, with all these people suddenly detained, charged and awaiting trial, you can expect them to team up and do their very best to get out of detention and have their cases thrown out.
And they’re all hoping the next Philippine president might do that for them. It is in this context that I see why there is so much more political mud-throwing right now. Because so much is at stake.
Before I continue, let’s pull back a little and examine the 2016 election from a purely historical context.
Since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown, we’ve had four presidential elections. Studying these elections, I have found three noticeable trends which we can use, more or less, to predict what could happen in 2016:
One – There will probably be from five to ten candidates in 2016.
Since democracy was restored in 1986, the Philippines has seen from five to 10 candidates running in every presidential election.
Below is the list with the names arranged from the most to the fewest number of votes:
1992 which Ramos won had seven candidates:
Fidel V. Ramos
Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr.
Ramon Mitra, Jr.
1998 won by Joseph Estrada had 10 candidates:
Jose de Venecia
Renato de Villa
Miriam Defensor Santiago
Juan Ponce Enrile
2004 which Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won had the least number of candidates. Only FIVE.
Fernando Poe, Jr.
And 2010 which President Aquino won had NINE candidates:
Benigno Aquino III
John Carlos de los Reyes
Two – Because of so many candidates, Philippine presidential elections always produced “minority victors” – or candidates who win less than 50% of the votes.
Some political analysts have warned that this is bad for political stability because “minority” presidents lack the mandate of the people and as a result, they have a hard time pushing forward their reform agendas.
Don’t listen to them.
The Philippine experience runs counter to their opinion. In 1992, Fidel Ramos won in a seven-way fight with just 23.58% of the votes – the lowest percentage win for an elected president since 1986:
Fidel Ramos – 23.58%
Miriam Santiago – 19.72%
Cojuangco – 18.17%
Ramon Mitra – 14.64%
Imelda Marcos – 10.32%
Jovito Salonga – 10.16%
Salvador Laurel – 3.40%
The difference in votes between Ramos and runner-up Miriam Santiago – now a senator – was only 874,348 – also the narrowest margin.
The narrow gap prompted Santiago to denounce the count, say she was cheated and to stage a brief hunger strike.
But Ramos overcame the disadvantage of being a “minority” president by making the right political moves to mend fences with the other political parties. What Ramos did somehow made it more acceptable to have “minority” presidents elected.
Now contrast this with Estrada. He is the president who won by the biggest vote margin despite having to battle against the most number of candidates. Ten in all.
The gap between the winner (Joseph Estrada) and the second placer (Jose de Venecia) was of 6,453,812 votes -the biggest since 1986 despite there being ten candidates. Even if Estrada was the runaway winner, he still obtained only 39.86% of all the votes.
And he found himself ousted from office 31 months later.
This brings us to Number Three – In Philippine elections, it is not necessarily true to say that a horde of candidates means the eventual victor will have a hair-thin winning margin.
Because the opposite is true historically.
In the two elections we’ve had with nine to ten candidates, the two winners both had clear and decisive majorities.
But in one election with only five candidates, the winner had a down-the-wire victory. I’m talking of 2004, where the gap between the winner (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) and the runner-up (Fernando Poe Jr.) was only 1,123,576 votes. Accusations surfaced a year later that the winner had massaged the number of votes upwards.
This is actually one of the charges for which Mrs Arroyo is now detained and facing trial.
Now contrast this with 1998 which Estrada won, and 2010 which Benigno Aquino Jr. won.
In 2010, there were nine candidates (because a tenth one was disqualified). And just like in the 1998 race, the gap between the winner (Benigno Aquino III) and second-placer (Joseph Estrada) was 5,720,841 votes.
Aquino had 42.08% of the votes – actually the biggest vote margin since 1986.
What all these figures simply mean is this – don’t be concerned that there are too many candidates in the race. As election day nears, two or three will pull away from the rest.
In the Philippines, anyone can run for president. But to have a serious shot at the post, a decent, expensive, nationwide political machinery is essential. However, while it is essential, having a formidable, well-funded political machine is still no guarantee of victory.
In short, if you don’t have the machinery you won’t win. But even if you have it, you might still lose.
Estrada is an example of why even a highly popular candidate needs a nationwide machinery. Estrada first tried to run for president in 1992, but he had to slide down to the vice-presidency due to lack of machinery.
In 1998, he tried again for the presidency. But this time, his small party (Partido ng Masang Pilipino) entered into a coalition with three other small parties – the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) of Edgardo Angara (who agreed to abandon his presidential bid and become Estrada’s vice-presidential running mate); the PDP-Laban of Aquilino Pimentel Jr.; and the Nationalist People’s Coalition of businessman Eduardo Cojuangco. The coalition was called LAMMP and it won for Estrada the presidency.
While Estrada is an example of a popular candidate still needing a nationwide political machinery, we have two examples of presidential candidates who still lost despite a formidable machinery: House Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. who ran in 1992 against Ramos; and Senator Manuel Villar who ran in 2010 against Aquino.
On top of that, Villar had the money to flood the airwaves with his ads and to field political operators country-wide. Despite these advantages, both Mitra and Villar lost disastrously, interestingly, due to the same “Cory Aquino” factor.
Mitra failed to be anointed by Mrs Aquino. While Mrs Aquino’s death prompted voters to push her son to the presidency.
And this brings us to the question of anointment for the 2016 presidential race. Who are the political leaders, dead or alive, who would still have the power to anoint?
Ex-President Fidel Ramos? The late Cory Aquino? Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada? Fernando Poe Jr.? President Benigno Aquino Jr.?
The way I see it, both Ramos and Cory Aquino have already spent their political capital – Ramos in anointing Joe de Venecia in 1998 and Mrs Aquino’s political mantle being turned over to her son by voters in 2010.
Will an Estrada anointment mean much? It depends. Remember, Estrada himself ran and lost to Aquino in 2010. Sure, he enabled his son JV Ejercito to win one of the 12 seats in the Senate. But a Senate victory has never been an indicator of a presidential victory.
Now, if Estrada runs for president, you can be sure it will divide the votes of Vice-President Jejomar Binay.
Can Estrada still win if he runs for president since Aquino is no longer in the running? He might, but being not in the best of health he may not finish his term.
Which makes the vice-presidency race a sweet spot to be because of two geriatrics – Biay and possibly Estrada – running for the presidency.
How about the Fernando Poe Jr factor?
If Senator Grace Poe revives her late actor-father’s political party or forms her very own, that would be a sure sign that she is serious about running for the presidency. That should happen between July and September this year.
Can she be anointed by the people like the late President Cory?
She can be, especially by the movie industry, but something seems to be holding her back from seizing the moment. Is it fear of success? Fear of dirty politics and betrayal? Let’s wait to find out.
As for President Aquino, it is still too early to tell whether his anointment will mean a lot because of the Mamasapano incident.
Besides Senator Poe, let’s look at the eight other politicians who might run for president in 2016:
Of course Vice-President Jejomar Binay – it’s his last chance and he needs to protect himself from the corruption cases with the immunity from suit that comes with the presidency. Binay is the most qualified presidential candidate when it comes to administrative capability and implementing poverty reduction measures.
But now he has a large overhang that could derail his ambition. His own wife has already been arraigned for corruption. His only son may soon be facing corruption charges in court. Binay himself is also in danger of being suspended by the Ombudsman from his other offices.
I don’t think he can run for the president effectively while under detention.
Secretary Mar Roxas – he wants to, his wife and mother want him to. But something about him grates with the public. He has failed to fire up the public imagination. He keeps wearing blue when his political color is yellow, which confuses the public so.
Manny Pacquiao – If he wins over Floyd Mayweather, who is to tell whether voters would clamor for a constitutional amendment just to let the underage boxer run for president in 2016? And if he does, I’ll bet he’ll win.
Senator Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr. – his mother wants him to and he appears to have the money for a full-blown campaign. His running will test the nation’s collective memory of what his parents did during the dictatorship.
Ex-Senator Richard Gordon – he wants to but he doesn’t have the money.
Senator Antonio Trillanes – it doesn’t hurt him to run for president or vice-president just to test the waters since he won’t lose his Senate seat if he runs.
Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. – he just might run as the surrogate candidate of ex-President Arroyo and to vindicate himself.
Ex-Senator Panfilo Lacson – his problem is, he doesn’t have a political party.
Besides these names, there will be others who might run simply to make a statement that not only politicians should run.
Plus there are those who really believe they would make a great president.
Why do so many want to run for president? Because some can actually earn millions through unspent campaign funds. Since no law requires candidates to give back money to donors or turn it over to state treasury, they can literally pocket the money provided they declare it as income.
Only two issues will matter in the 2016 elections – corruption and the unresolved poverty. Binay – and Poe if she runs – will mainly hammer on poverty. Roxas will hammer on corruption.
We need a candidate who can hammer on both.
Some quarters have suggested that the Philippines needs an experienced and tested leader since, anyway, all presidencies have been corrupt. Interestingly, only one winnable candidate fits that bill – Vice-President Jejomar Binay.
Personally, I still dream of the day when corruption scandals no longer hog the headlines during the campaign period. I still dream of the day when the candidates’ promises and how they intend to achieve these will become the banner stories.
Running for president needs 3 “M”s – Machinery, Money and Masa-power otherwise known as popularity. Whoever can harness all three can win in 2016.
Before I discuss this, let me explain what I mean by political machinery this way. When a candidate goes to a certain area, particularly remote provinces, are there people who have made prior arrangements for him to be welcomed and accompanied by supporters; placed adequate sound systems for his rallies; made sure he meets the right political kingpins of the area to ensure his support; and who campaign for him tirelessly even if he is not there?
On the eve of election, the election day itself and the days after, does a candidate have the people down to the grassroots level who would ensure he is not cheated; who would squash any rumors that he has dropped out of the race; who would encourage voters in various communities to turn out and vote for him; who would make sure he has enough volunteers guarding the poll precincts; and who would complain at the merest hint of cheating?
Binay has the money for now but is being forced to spend it to defend himself, his son and wife from criminal lawsuits. He has Masa power, thanks to his endless giving away of free public housing and patronage through the sister cities of Makati City.
But Binay has no political machinery. He and his best friend forever, former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., parted ways when PDP-Laban broke up last year. Binay had then announced he would launch his own political party by June 12 Independence Day last year. To this day, he hasn’t launched a new party or coalition. And his 2013 coalition partners – Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada – are all in detention.
As for Mar Roxas, he does have the machinery and the money, but not yet the Masa-power. I said “not yet” because slowly, and quietly, Roxas is party-building among the masa, with the help of his other party mates who are in key government posts.
Looking at the emerging presidential poll line-up my journo-hubby told me this morning:
“At this point, the presidential candidate line-up is like the bears’ porridge scene in Goldilocks: Mar is too weak, Binay is too strong, Poe is made of hidden ingredients and Duterte will shoot everyone in the dining room.”
Before I close, let me give this advice when you pick your presidential candidate. Look at the people around him. They are the people whom he will bring to the presidential palace to occupy positions of power. Will you be comfortable with them having a big say in how to spend the taxes you pay with your hard-earned money?
And another thing, please do not neglect to educate yourself on who are running for congressman, mayor, governor and councilors in the district, town, city or province you live in. Because a lot of corruption happens down there. It’s time to try to also plug the holes there.
And don’t be worried and let your blood pressure soar. Treat this as an adventure in learning democracy.