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President Benigno S. C. Aquino III made a last-ditch effort to unite pro-democracy forces against a looming dictatorship, as he portrayed the imminent ascendance of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte to the presidency.

But this proved futile as Vice-President Jejomar C. Binay and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago rejected it outright while Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Manuel A. Roxas II’s call for unity talks with Senator Grace S. Poe came too late.

Surveys have become a dime a dozen in the run-up to the most hotly contested polls since the snap election of 1986. New polling firms with obscure names have suddenly surfaced, and some have published surveys with unexplained surges in voter preference for certain candidates. Even the major ones, Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia, have lately been criticized for allegedly questionable results.

The only one that has not drawn flak so far is Laylo Research Service, which conducts a regular poll for a national broadsheet. It has been around since 2001 when Pedro “Junie” R. Laylo, Jr. retired from SWS to go on his own. He has gained credibility over the years and his credentials include a master’s degree in political science from the University of Connecticut, USA, with concentration in public opinion research.

Results the final “Laylo Report” covering the period between April 27 and May 1 reveal that Mr. Duterte garnered 32.4% among 3,000 likely voters nationwide. Next in rankings were Ms. Poe at 24.6%, and Mr. Roxas at 21.7%.

This despite Mr. Duterte’s rape joke and Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV’s accusations of corrupt practices against the front-running candidate from the south. Mr. Trillanes also produced an anti-Duterte political ad aired during primetime on May 5 by leading broadcast network ABS-CBN.

Regarding the vice-presidential sweepstakes, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. and Congresswoman Ma. Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo are statistically tied at 30% and 29%, respectively. According to Mr. Laylo, Ms. Robredo is likely to benefit from the consolidation of the Bicolano and Southern Tagalog votes. Over the last few weeks, she has also been endorsed by the Aksyon Demokratiko party and several cause-oriented groups.

On the other hand, Mr. Marcos dominates Metro Manila and the Ilocano regions of northern Luzon. He has obtained the eleventh-hour endorsements of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino party, the Catholic evangelical group El Shaddai, and the homegrown Christian sect Iglesia ni Cristo (INC). The latter two are known for their bloc-voting practices. Mr. Aquino himself recently broke protocol and showed up at the INC headquarters in Quezon City seeking the nod of the religious leaders for the LP’s candidates, to no avail.

Apparently the administration is in a state of panic due to the rising numbers of Mr. Duterte. A plan has reportedly been hatched pushing for a Robredo vice-presidency as an alternative. The growing popularity of Ms. Robredo toward the tailend of the campaign may provide the foil to a Duterte regime, since Mr. Marcos is perceived to be the Davao Mayor’s secret candidate.

Senator Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero, who is trailing behind at third place in the veep race, expressed doubts about mind conditioning being employed in the last two minutes of this political circus. “That’s what we fear the most and it’s alarming how these surveys are coming out from various groups left and right. They could be conditioning the minds in relation to the kind of results they want for the elections.”

All we can do at this stage is to pray for clean and peaceful voting. At the end of the day, as Mr. Aquino is wont to say, we are first and foremost Filipinos who are competing with other natrions in a drastically different 21st century.

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