Aquino takes 7-pt. lead; Villar’s dip may be due to rumored Arroyo ties
By TJ Burgonio, Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines — The drop in Sen. Manuel “Manny” Villar’s rating in Pulse Asia’s February survey may be an indication of public backlash over his reported ties with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a political analyst said Friday.
Villar has so far skirted issues against the administration, and is thus perceived to be Ms Arroyo’s “secret candidate,” observed Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.
Casiple said this perception became more pronounced if the presidential race were reduced to Villar and his closest rival, Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
“This is clearly an effect of the insidious rumor that Villar is the secret candidate of Gloria (Ms Arroyo). That’s his Achilles’ heel. In a one-on-one with Noynoy, who would people think is Gloria’s candidate?” Casiple said on the phone.
In the Pulse Asia survey conducted on Feb. 21-25, Villar rated 29 percent, down by six percentage points from the Jan. 10 survey. In contrast, Aquino held on to 36 percent, down by one percentage point from the previous survey.
At a press conference in Digos City, Villar said he was pleased with the survey results considering that in last year’s polls, he had to contend with Aquino’s double-digit lead.
“I am quite happy with it. As I’ve said before, as long as it’s a single-digit [lead], we’ll be happy,” Villar said.
He said it was “OK” as long as one was “improving,” and that it was still “a long fight.”
But he also pointed out that the survey was conducted around the time of the 24th anniversary of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, which most Filipinos associated with Aquino’s late mother, former President Corazon Aquino.
Reached for comment, Noynoy Aquino said his continued top ranking in the major presidential surveys showed that he was “connecting” with the people, especially with the spike in the number of his public appearances.
“I expect to pull away in the surveys as the campaign season goes deeper. The more the people see me in my campaign rallies, the more they get to know the lies being hurled at me,” the Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer told the Inquirer on the phone.
Aquino also said he was not surprised by his continued dominance in the surveys because he was feeling “genuine affection” from the people in the provinces.
Business, poor ‘nervous’
“We’re just in the first phase of our campaign strategy. We expect to get even better as we near Election Day,” he said.
Public perception that Villar is the administration candidate has been bolstered by the Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer’s expensive TV and radio “infomercials” and celebrity endorsements, according to Casiple.
“This is making business nervous, more so the poor. There is perception that he will pay his way [to the presidency],” Casiple said, adding:
“I don’t believe he has all the personal money to spend. It’s not only the administration that is bankrolling his campaign, but also the Marcoses.”
Among the NP’s senatorial candidates is Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the late strongman’s son and namesake.
On the other hand, Casiple said, the son of the late People Power icon Corazon Aquino and the martyred Benigno Aquino Jr. had a problem connecting with the poor.
“Noynoy has to reach out to the poor. He has not spelled out any concrete action on poverty. People are expecting him to rebut Villar. You can’t do that with [just referring to] Edsa I,” Casiple said.
“He has an image problem. There’s a disconnect between people who place significance on People Power and the majority who don’t prioritize it in their choice of candidate,” the analyst said.
The ‘real survey’
In Digos City, Villar and his running mate Sen. Loren Legarda faced the media at a press conference confident that the crowd turnout in their barnstorming across the country was a more reliable indicator of voters’ preference than the survey showing them trailing the LP’s Aquino and Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas.
Said Legarda: “Let your videos and photos speak for themselves. That’s the real survey. The 1,800 respondents [of Pulse Asia], I respect that. That’s a guide. That’s OK. But if you look at [Aquino and Roxas’] figures, [you will see that] they’ve dropped 20 percent [since 2009]. They’ve got a big problem.
“We can see Noynoy and Mar’s free fall.”
Villar predicted a close fight for the presidency and vice presidency, but boasted of a united team that, he said, was getting stronger.
He said that in such a close fight, his party was gaining ground over the LP.
Not weak in Mindanao
Villar took issue with Pulse Asia’s observation that his following in Mindanao had weakened based on the survey results. He said he and his team received a warm welcome in southern Mindanao, where they barnstormed for a week.
Legarda said it was important that people see members of Team Villar during their campaign sorties.
“We’re aiming for 100-percent conversion. With less than 70 days to go before Election Day, we’ll be seeing more yellow turn to orange,” she said of the campaign colors of the LP and NP, respectively.
Villar also said his team would travel to more parts of the country in order to get more people to see its candidates on the campaign trail.
While Aquino and Villar are the front-runners, deposed President Joseph “Erap” Estrada (18 percent) and administration candidate Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro (7 percent) should not be counted out, according to Casiple.
“There could be swings. It can happen to Erap [or] to Gibo. As long as Gloria is in the limelight, Gibo has a handicap. But then again, there’s the machinery of his party [Lakas-Kampi-CMD],” Casiple said.
“They’re still in contention, but the two front-runners have a shot at winning,” he added.
Bro. Eddie Villanueva, another presidential candidate, scored 2 percent in the Pulse Asia survey.
But his party, Bangon Pilipinas, said this was “quite improbable” because he already had that rating before the official start of the campaign.
In a statement, Bangon Pilipinas said: “After visiting key cities and provinces, even Hong Kong where [it] gathered the biggest crowd for a political rally at Chater Road in February, the party just cannot believe that the rating would remain at 2 percent.
“Moreover, at least six social networking sites, including Facebook, point to Villanueva as the No. 1 or No. 2 contender in the presidential election.”
The party said its position on surveys remained the same: “While surveys can be helpful references in determining the public pulse, surveys can also be internally influenced. Hence, paid and commissioned surveys during the election season do not necessarily help in giving our public informed and wise decisions.”
It cited as examples former President Fidel Ramos and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who were “both lagging in surveys when [they] ran for public office,” but came out winners.
“The only way to find out the people’s truthful pulse is [through] a credible election, not … commissioned surveys,” Bangon Pilipinas said.
In its media release Friday, Pulse Asia said it was undertaking preelection surveys “on its own, without any party singularly commissioning the research effort.” With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.