Polls ain’t over yet for tailenders–analysts
By Vincent Cabreza, TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
BAGUIO CITY—FILIPINO VOTERS’ UNFAMILIARITY WITH automated elections may benefit the survey low-performers and tailenders in the presidential race, political scientists said on Friday.
The odds are high that voters favoring the survey front-runners Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and Manuel Villar Jr. could end up with spoiled ballots on May 10, thus giving a boost to the unseeded candidates, said Ma. Lourdes Tiquia, founder and general manager of the political consultancy group Publicus Asia Inc.
Even administration candidate Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro, a constant fourth in the surveys, has a fighting chance because of anticipated voters’ errors, Tiquia said.
And campaign “operators” or troubleshooters can further swing votes in favor of the tailenders, said Tiquia, who was one of 40 political scientists from Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Mindanao who took part in a plenary discussion on the May 10 automated polls at the University of the Philippines Baguio.
The political scientists said that in a monthlong simulation of automated elections in Bulacan, the number of ballots deemed spoiled because of errors amounted to 55 percent of all the votes cast. No details of the simulated polls were provided.
The group, including Dr. Steve Rood, country representative of the Asia Foundation, and UP professor Athena Lydia Casambre, held the discussion on Friday, the second day of the Philippine Political Science Association’s international conference.
Most powerful people
According to Tiquia, the members of the board of election inspectors (BEIs) are the most powerful people in the automated polls and can contribute to cheating.
She said that because voters only needed to mark the ballots instead of writing the names of their preferred candidates, the BEIs could quickly complete unmarked ballots and direct the outcome of the polls.
The vote-counting machines will not accept ballots that are torn, wrinkled, smeared or improperly marked, the Commission on Elections has warned.
Tiquia said that because a voter is entitled to only one ballot, the chance of the voter making mistakes on Election Day was extremely high.
She said operators and saboteurs could take advantage of the ballots’ sensitivity by plying voters with suman and espasol (rice cakes) that could stain the ballots.
Or the operators could use hidden pins to puncture the ballots of unsuspecting voters, she said.
Too many irritants
“There are just too many irritants that could affect [the election results],” Tiquia said.
She said the prevailing heat could discourage voters from going to the precincts and standing in line, or from even trying to locate their precincts.
This could impact on the outcome of the polls, she said.
The political scientists said the analysts commissioned by various parties to conduct surveys also saw a problem with the mandatory exit polls because of the way poll automation was structured.
And Tiquia said the possible low turnout of voters and inability to validate disenfranchised ballots meant that exit surveys should be redesigned to suit the new election system.
A month to go
The assessment of political analysts that the presidential race was shaping up into a three-cornered fight among Aquino, Villar and Joseph “Erap” Estrada has elicited a retort from Malacañang.
“There is still a whole month to go,” Gary Olivar, President Macapagal-Arroyo’s deputy spokesperson, said yesterday over government radio station dzRB. “I think it is too early to dismiss this or that candidate, whether from the administration or anyone else.”
Olivar said all the candidates, especially Teodoro, would press ahead with aggressive campaigning in the last 30 days, “because the fight isn’t finished until the people cast their votes.”
Citing the recent Pulse Asia survey and with 30 days left in the campaign, Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms said the presidential race was now down to Aquino of the Liberal Party, Villar of the Nacionalista Party and Estrada of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino.
Casiple said Teodoro was “out of the running.”
Bobby Tuazon of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance made an identical analysis of a three-cornered fight, saying Teodoro and Richard Gordon of the Bagumbayan Party had 30 days left to catch up.
The other candidates seeking the presidency are independent candidates Jamby Madrigal and Nicanor Perlas, Bro. Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas and JC de los Reyes of Ang Kapatiran Party.
Administration senatorial candidate Raul Lambino disputed Casiple’s analysis and said surveys did not reflect the true sentiments of the electorate.
“In fairness to Mon Casiple, he does not know what is happening on the ground. He has not been going around like us. He bases his analysis on surveys, and we completely dispute all this. It does not reflect what we’re seeing on the ground,” Lambino said by phone.
“In the final analysis, what’s going to matter is the results of the election” he said.
Lambino said that in formal debates, university forums, motorcades or rallies, the 45-year-old Teodoro was “being mobbed like an actor.”
“It isn’t over. Gibo is going to win in the elections,” Lambino said.
“Whatever small cracks that [Lakas-Kampi-CMD] has experienced, those were already filled in and properly repaired. The machinery is now working and moving fast for Gibo,” he said, citing the political rallies being mounted by local officials for Teodoro outside Metro Manila.
Lambino recalled that in the 1998 presidential election, then Speaker Jose de Venecia was rating 6 percent in the surveys but eventually got more than 15 percent of the votes in the race won by Estrada. He credited the party machinery for this.
Besides, he said, the endorsement of religious groups and prominent personalities like former President Fidel Ramos could drastically change the complexion of the race.
“That could shift the tide. This is going to shift the mind-set of the voters,” Lambino said. “My sense is that Gibo is [Ramos’] candidate.”
Ramos is abroad and could not be reached for comment.
In Barili, Cebu, Senator Gordon cried foul over the assessment that it was now a three-way fight for the presidency.
Speaking with reporters as he prepared to barnstorm Cebu, Gordon described the assessment as “a ridiculous and indecent effort at trending.”
“Who gave them the franchise to condition the minds of our people? This will annihilate the ability of our people to think,” he said, adding:
“That is very disappointing. We are not even in the homestretch yet!”
Gordon, fifth in the surveys after Teodoro, said media coverage remained focused on who would win instead of the candidates’ knowledge and positions on vital issues.
“God knows I have tried to raise legitimate issues,” he said.
He claimed that the “ruling elite” was behind the purported effort to condition voters into thinking that they were limited to only three choices for the presidency.
He speculated that those behind the surveys had purposely projected Estrada, who was forced out of Malacañang in 2001 and convicted of plunder in 2007, as a strong third force.
“This is why I believe it is orchestrated to project Noynoy as a crusader, because Erap has been proven evil,” he said.
Gordon also took a swipe at Casiple and Tuazon, saying they were “jukeboxes.”
“He who pays the piper plays the tune,” he said.
‘Anything can happen’
In Olongapo City, De los Reyes said he disagreed with the assessment of Casiple and Tuazon.
“In Philippine politics, anything can happen,” he said.
De los Reyes attributed Aquino’s standing in the surveys to the public sympathy that surged after the death of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino, in August 2009.
“Just as fast as the rise of Senator Aquino will be his fall,” said De los Reyes, who once quipped that Aquino had the best chance of winning the presidency among the nine candidates.
He added: “We still want to believe that people will actively participate in the coming elections. I pray that they do not base their votes on popularity or big-money politics, but on principles and platforms.”
De los Reyes said his party was building a church-based constituency.
“The bishops have expressed support for us, and there will be more support from different sectors in the coming days. And I believe that this will culminate just in time for the May 10 elections,” he said.
“[The race has] already entered crunch time. We only have 30 days left [to turn things around],” he said. With reports from Edson C. Tandoc Jr. and Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon