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MANILA, Philippines - It's crunch time.
With most Filipinos still unable to complete their list of 12 senatorial choices 12 days before the elections, candidates are going all out to reach out to voters.
The coalition of President Benigno Aquino III, Team PNoy, has 11 of its candidates as probable winners according to Pulse Asia. The opposition, United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), has 5. If the elections were to be held today, the winners would be 9-3 in favor of the administration ticket, based on surveys.
The push for 12-0 for Aquino's coalition continues, with added focus on the 3 trailing in surveys. The latest Pulse Asia survey showed former Akbayan Rep Risa Hontiveros and former Sen Jun Magsaysay on the 12-17 spot. It was the first time Hontiveros made it within striking distance. Former Sen Jamby Madrigal was ranked 17-18. All 3 have yet to make the so-called Magic 12.
Team PNoy is bringing out the big guns.
Sen Franklin Drilon, Team PNoy campaign manager, refused to delve into details but conceded "media will play a critical role." He also said Team PNoy would "touch base with political blocks around the country" and appeal for their support. President Benigno Aquino III himself has said he will reach out to local government officials to support the 3 bets struggling to enter the top 12.
And the sorties with none other than the President will continue.
Aquino said he urges candidates not to "relax at this point in time," and to "increase your efforts." He said he would continue attending rallies to endorse his candidates. "I think I am also leading by example. We believe we are espousing a certain ideology. I will endeavor to maximize delivering the message to our people," he told reporters on Tuesday, April 30.
Osmeña to the rescue
Sen Serge Osmeña, who has served as a campaign consultant for certain candidates of the coalition, is also exerting extra effort in helping Hontiveros and Magsaysay on the final stretch, according to fellow Liberal Party stalwart Francis Pangilinan. Osmeña's strength lies in his interpretation of surveys and numbers. He was one of Aquino's campaign advisers in the 2010 presidential race.
Coalition leaders have repeatedly emphasized how crucial the midterm elections are in continuing the reforms of Aquino, a referendum on his presidency. Thus the aim for a 12-0 sweep, and the all-out push to make it as close to reality as possible.
Drilon has defended the reliability of surveys. But he also acknowledged their fluidity.
"What we are seeing so far is there is still volatility in the surveys especially those, probably in the last two or 4 slots. We see a lot of movements, although by and large, the surveys show 9-3 in favor of the administration," he told Rappler in a recent interview.
Hontiveros, Madrigal and Magsaysay will heed the President's advice on not letting up especially in the crucial closing days of what surveys have painted as a tight Senate race.
All 3 plan to join the remaining Team PNoy sorties with the President.
Madrigal, who has constantly said Aquino is the best endorser, has attended the most number of coalition sorties throughout, which largely served as the basis of her campaign and will continue to do so until election day. On the field, she says direct interaction is powerful -- and that it's different from surveys.
"I feel that I'm even more popular than I was in 2007, " she said, referring to the final year she was a senator. "When they see me they don't say, 'Ma'am kilala ka namin,' they say 'Ma'am iboboto ka namin!' That's the real vote conversion not the survey."
Aside from coalition sorties, Hontiveros said she would also use the free days to go on individual sorties -- and attend concerts organized by the People Power for Voter's Reform (PPVR) and the Yellow Ribbon Movement for Hontiveros and fellow candidate Bam Aquino. The groups will be hosting concerts in vote-rich Batangas, Dagupan, Cebu and Davao, wherein various artists will play for free. The concerts are similar to Sen Kiko Pangilinan's string of Rock the Vote events during his 2007 senatorial bid. (Editor's note: We earlier reported that one of the organizers of the concert is PPCRV. We regret the error.)
In the past weeks, Hontiveros has also targeted areas where she is weak, where she needs to have more direct contact with voters through motorcades and house-to-house visits.
Magsaysay told Rappler he would join "one huge motorcade, one large presscon [and] at least 5 big rallies more." Aside from joining Team PNoy sorties, a small group led by his wife will continue to hold mini-sorties in areas he cannot reach.
Magsaysay, who has received much backing from a number of NGOs, will also rely heavily on local support from networks and volunteers.
"We're strengthening our grassroots support, in local government units. And getting the full assurance of national professional organizations to monitor and protect my votes," he said. "Our volunteers have gone local too," he added.
Hontiveros also said she has more volunteers now.
But she knows the value of a huge media play in the final stretch. Hontiveros, who is running her campaign on a tight budget, said she is working hard to raise funds for both radio and television ads.
"I've been off-air since today. My last ad aired last night," she said Tuesday, April 30. "These are two weeks that are critical especially after the last break in the survey. I need it to sustain the information about me so enough can be aware."
Hontiveros, who just missed a Senate seat in 2010 when she finished 13th, recalled that she was ranked 19th in the last survey before the 2010 elections -- lower than her recent 15th ranking with Pulse Asia.
"I intend to firmly hold those chances and really maximize them… I hope not everything is bought out yet, [I need] even just a few," she said of advertising spots. "I still need more exposure."
Hontiveros, whose awareness levels remain relatively low, said she also hopes to have more media interviews to get her message across. She acknowledged a "need to campaign harder and make my message more sharp and more focused," citing in a press release that her tightened message helped her resonate with voters better.
Magsaysay, who has recently been endorsed by popular actors Dingdong Dantes and Richard Yap or "Ser Chief," said he will also have "additional media exposure in all forms" to ramp up his exposure in the final weeks.
But Madrigal said she doesn't believe "it's the frequency of ads that will make you win." She is convinced if voters have already made up their minds, "no amount of ads can convince them to change their votes." This is coming from a candidate who maximized TV ads with actress Judy Ann Santos in a successful 2004 senatorial bid.
Aside from the spots she bought earlier for the final stretch, Madrigal said she does not plan to add any more ads although she has the financial resources to do so.
"Even if I spend P100-M in the next two weeks with ads, those who will vote for me will vote for me and those won't vote for me won't," she said.
"At the end of the day, I'll respect the [120 minute airtime] limits… if you're not a winner in [voters'] hearts, you won't win. A lot of people who are bombarding the airways are those who want to be number one."
Madrigal, who described herself as "not survey obsessed," expressed doubts in preference polls which she said "are important as directional guides but by no means infallible." She expressed disapproval in surveys being used as "a mind conditioning tool," especially in Metro Manila.
She pointed out that in her 2004 senatorial bid, she was ranked 14 in the final survey, but finished 4th.
Madrigal said she trusts her track record is enough to convince voters to elect her, and showed little concern about a possible loss -- saying politics is not her end all, be all.
Because of this, Madrigal does not plan to execute any special changes in the final weeks, nor do anything different from what she has been doing throughout. She will continue handing out plastic bracelets to her constituents, her trademark giveaway in sorties. Bracelets, she said, "give me a link to them."
"I'm going to continue my campaign, go to provinces and have some TV spots and radio spots," she said. "If God wants me to win, I will win." - Rappler.com
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