Aquino vs Marcos looms in 2019 Senate race

Carmela Fonbuena
Aquino vs Marcos looms in 2019 Senate race
How is the Senate race shaping up a year into the polls? Results of the June 2018 Pulse Asia survey present interesting movements.

MANILA, Philippines – Two scions of political families that have bitterly divided the Philippines for decades are finding it difficult to get to the “Magic 12” in polls for next year’s senatorial race.

Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV and Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos placed 13th and 14th in two consecutive Pulse Asia surveys, hanging close but outside the winning circle. 

For now both Aquino and Marcos are fighting to get to the “Magic 12.” But both camps are expected to throw their political might into the race next year, threatening to amplify an already feverish debate, especially on social media, over the legacies of their families.

Pulse Asia June 2018 survey
at a glance

  • Bam Aquino and Imee Marcos are both out of the ‘Magic 12’
  • Grace Poe keeps the top spot, followed by Pia Cayetano 
  • Nancy Binay, Cynthia Villar suffer declines but remain in ‘Magic 12’ 
  • Erap sons Jinggoy and JV could both run and win 
  • Sara Duterte and ‘Bato’ dela Rosa lead newbies 
  • Erwin Tulfo is out. Mon Tulfo is just outside ‘Magic 12’

The nephew and namesake of martyred Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr placed 13th spot in the June 2018 survey with a voting preference of 32.1%. It showed no significant improvement from his 30.5% in the March survey.

With 54.4 million registered voters in 2016, his numbers could mean about 17.5 million votes if elections were held in June. He lags behind other senators seeking re-election, whose numbers ranged from 35.6% to 67.4% (19 million to 37 million votes).

Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is in the same tight spot. Her voting preference was at 29.9% in the June survey, about 16 million votes, placing her behind Aquino at 14th spot.

They swapped ranks from the March survey, where Marcos was 13th and Aquino was 14th, although their numbers in both surveys overlap given error margins.

Pulse Asia research director Ana Tabunda said President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against the former Aquino administration is affecting Bam’s numbers. “Many of the people have come to believe that the past administration had accomplished little, if any,” said Tabunda.

Meanwhile, Duterte allowed a hero’s burial for former President Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. (TIMELINE: The Marcos burial controversy)

Aquino vs Marcos legacies

A year into the polls, a lot of things could still change in the political climate. The official list of candidates for the 2019 polls won’t also be known until after the filing of certificates of candidacies in October.

Imee’s brother, former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, performed better than her in an earlier survey. She teased her candidacy in a gathering in Ilocos Norte in March, saying her brother may not be able to run in 2019 because he will have to pursue his election protest case against Vice President Leni Robredo. (READ: Imee rallies support for a ‘Marcos in the Senate’ in 2019)

Allies have also nudged former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and her sister celebrity Kris Aquino to run for the Senate. Both have rejected suggestions. (READ: Noynoy Aquino not running for Senate ‘at this time’)

Ninoy’s wife Corazon Aquino assumed the presidency in 1986 in a historic “People Power” revolt that ousted Marcos after a two-decade rule marked by human rights violations. Cory’s son Noynoy became president in 2010, in the wake of national mourning over her death, but his administration would see escalated moves by supporters of the Marcoses to demonize his family.

The narrow victory of Aquino ally Robredo over Marcos in 2016 showed a nation still divided between the two families.

Antonio La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said the numbers of Bam Aquino and Imee Marcos reflect how they have been “targeted by partisans.” He expects both potential candidates to recover from those numbers.

“Bam will recover from that because he is a good campaigner, national-tested already, and he has the Train (tax reform) as a potent issue. Imee is untested nationally, but the Marcos brand name is also powerful. However, her local enemies are formidable,” La Viña said. 

2 Erap sons in the Senate?

Old family names have otherwise dominated the polls so far. Poe kept her hold on the top spot, registering a voter preference of 67.4% or nearly 12-percentage-point-lead over the 55.7% of second-placer senator-turned-representative Pia Cayetano.

The two sons of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada – Jinggoy and JV – are both inside the “Magic 12.” Tabunda said their numbers have “improved considerably.”

Former Senator Jinggoy Estrada – who is facing plunder charges but out on bail – saw a slight improvement on his numbers too. His 32.8% in March rose to 37.9% in June.

Senator JV Ejercito jumped from 15th in the March survey at 29% voting preference – below Aquino – to 12th in the June survey at 35.6% voting preference.

In 2010, JV gave way to his brother and waited to run for the Senate in 2013 to become the 4th in the family to become senator. Erap himself and Jinggoy’s mother, Loi Ejercito, were former senators.

Senator Cynthia Villar’s numbers dropped slightly from 55.6% in March to 50.1% in June, but still enjoyed high ranking at 3rd spot, said Tabunda.

But it’s Senator Nancy Binay who suffered a more significant decline from 45.8% in March to 37.1% in June, said Tabunda. She remains in the winning circle, from 4th to 9th.

“Villar’s ranking slid just one notch. Nancy slid several notches,” said Tabunda.

The other old names in the “Magic” 12 are Senator Edgardo “Sonny” Angara Jr, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, and former senators Serge Osmeña and Lito Lapid.

Erwin Tulfo is out; Sara Duterte, Bato Dela Rosa stay strong

The newbies in the Senate race are led by Davao City Mayor and presidential daughter Sara Duterte and Bureau of Corrections chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, both closely  associated with President Duterte. (READ: Duterte magic to be tested in 2019 Senate race)

Neither have declared bids for the Senate, but their numbers were proving to be steady. Sara’s 43.8% in March hardly moved given her 46.2% in June. It’s the same for Dela Rosa’s 33.1% in March and 37.7% in June.

Media personality Erwin Tulfo’s name was removed from the survey options, replaced by his elder brother Ramon Tulfo. The latter’s numbers were not enough to spring him into the ‘Magic 12,’ however, ranking 16th with 27.1% voter preference.

“It’s interesting that Erwin Tulfo made it to Top 12 in March but Mon Tulfo is outside the magic circle. We don’t know what the impact of the DOT (Department of Tourism) deal with the Tulfo brothers had on voter preference for Mon Tulfo is, though,” said Tabunda.

Erwin was a surprise in the March survey of Pulse Asia, where he ranked 9th with 36.7% voter preference. He would later find himself in hot water, however, following an exposé that his program Kilos Pronto received P60 million in advertising funds from the office of his sister, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo.

The controversy led to the resignation of Wanda. She was replaced by Berna Romulo Puyat, who discovered other questionable transactions in Wanda’s department.

In a column on the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Ramon Tulfo blamed Erwin’s co-host Ben Tulfo for the controversy. “Ben, who suffers from the ‘middle child’ syndrome – he’s the fifth child after me, Wanda is the fourth – should have known better than to touch the multi-million peso advertising contract with PTV 4 since that would constitute conflict of interest on his sister’s part,” Ramon Tulfo wrote.

The Top 20 in the June survey is completed by Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, actor Robin Padilla, former Senator Manuel Roxas II, former Senator Ramon Revilla Jr, and broadcaster Ted Failon.

Carmela Fonbuena obtained her MA Political Communication degree from Cardiff University in the UK. She took a course on polling and public opinion.

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