Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Shape of things to come
A friend who is currently a graduate student in Bangkok has been asking for news on the early presidential intramurals here in the Philippines. So here it is:

The five leading candidates who have declared their intention to run for the presidency are President Arroyo, Raul Roco, FPJ, Brother Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus is Lord Movement, and Panfilo Lacson. The front runner in some of the surveys Noli de Castro has announced today, ending months of vicious speculation, that he would be sliding down to run as the vice president of Arroyo's. There were many people who were hoping De Castro would decide to contest the presidency, give FPJ a run for his money and secure the presidency for Roco.

But such things are not meant to be. Questions of the motivations of Kabayan Noli are now moot and academic, but it would be quite interesting to find out: Was he simply too lily-livered to stomach a presidential joust or was he heeding an ABS-CBN memo ordering him to run as GMA's partner? (incidentally, Noli de Castro would be running against another ABS-CBN talent Loren Legarda)

The latest polls show that FPJ, Roco and GMA are in an statistical dead heat; nobody has a clear command of the field. Arguably, FPJ, having been late in announcing his candidacy, is still gathering momentum and can significantly increase his lead in the polls. But just how much moss FPJ's rolling stone can gather in the coming months is not yet clear. (Felipe Miranda of Pulse Asia though says it would probably not exceed +10%.)

There is much talk of the popular invincibility of FPJ, but the polls do not show that invincibility just yet. FPJ, in short, does not lead the pack of presidential candidates the way Estrada led it in 1998, that is, with a tight hold at the top spot. FPJ, contrary to what Estrada and Tito Sotto would have us believed, can be defeated.

Most of the media though are selling the story that FPJ is a virtual shoo-in to the presidency, and some people who are supposed to be in the political know seem to believe so. The media understandably subconsciously wants FPJ to win, because he makes for good copy and good copy means revenues. President FPJ will surely be more exciting than, say, President Roco, and probably we would have more of Estrada's kangkungan talk.

Because there is no clear candidate leading, the coming election in 2004 would most likely resemble the 1992, rather than the 1998, election, with machinery and money gaining hyper-critical importance and potentially spelling the winning edge. This is why people from the opposite camps want to see Roco lose his momentum in the pre-election polls so that businessmen supporting his campaign war chest would shift sides and look for more hopeful pastures. Although rumors circulate that Lucio Tan is backing Roco, the time is still too early for businessment to make irrevocable commitments. And Roco, without money and machinery, would probably be running again come 2010.

Lacson, even without the support of Estrada but running under the LDP banner, is adamant in taking a shot at the presidency, but his poll numbers simply do not add up. While quite a sizable number of Filipinos, especially taxi drivers, ardently support his candidacy, they are simply not enough to propel him to Malacañang. Unfortunately for Lacson, only the number of votes count in democratic elections, not the intensity of the voters’ sentiments.

Villanueva though is a bit of a downer for GMA. He has been a supporter of GMA until he suddenly announced his own candidancy. Although impossible to win the presidency himself, he is widely expected to draw out voters away from the president.

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