The challenges in her campaign snatch from her the most coveted top rank in the Senate race By Aika Rey | May 19, 2019
GRACE POE AT NO. 2
Where fading FPJ magic and being independent brought her
The challenges in her campaign snatch from her the most coveted top rank in the Senate race
By Aika Rey | May 19, 2019
Grace Poe at No. 2: Where fading FPJ magic, being independent brought her
AT A GLANCE
- When Grace Poe first ran for an elective post, it was a surprise win backed by a record-breaking number of votes. Two elections later, only a number of provinces support her all the way.
- Running a campaign independent from political parties proved to be challenging for Poe, with some officials refusing to host her in their localities.
- Competing against fellow reelectionist Cynthia Villar was a tough game, with Poe not having deep pockets.
MANILA, Philippines – Independent candidate Grace Poe started with a commanding lead in the Senate race, but challenges in her campaign snatched that away from her.
Talk of Poe being number 1 in the senatorial race was not new, as she enjoyed being the front-runner in the preelection surveys until the later months of the campaign period.
According to partial and unofficial results from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) transparency server, Poe has about 21.87 million votes as of 6:20 pm on Friday, May 17. This figure represents 97.91% of total precincts nationwide.
She finished number 2 in the polls, with her fellow reelectionist senator Cynthia Villar having a wide lead with 25.04 million votes.
But what caused her to lose the top spot?
2013 vs 2016 vs 2019
When Poe topped the senatorial race in 2013, she got a "record-breaking" number of votes with over 20.15 million Filipinos including her in their Senate slate at that time.
Poe topped in 34 provinces in 2013, sweeping 7 regions: Metro Manila, Ilocos Region, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Eastern Visayas, Davao Region, and Soccsksargen.
But these provinces did not deliver when she ran for the presidency in 2016. From the original 34 provinces where she topped the Senate polls, only 4 continued to support her: Camarines Norte, Oriental Mindoro, Pangasinan, and Quezon.
She topped in 13 other provinces not part of her 2013 list: Aurora, Benguet, Catanduanes, Ifugao, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Marinduque, Mountain Province, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Sorsogon, Zambales, and Zamboanga del Sur.
But the playing field was different in 2013 and 2016.
The question is: did any of these provinces continue to back Poe in 2019? Barely.
This round, Poe topped in 11 provinces only – a lot less than the 2013 and 2016 races.
Among regions, Poe got the most number of votes in Bicol. She topped in 4 out of the 6 provinces in the region.
In the other Bicol provinces where Poe did not make the top rank, it was her fellow reelectionist senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV who was number 1 in Camarines Sur, while Villar got Masbate. (READ: The rise of Cynthia Villar: How politics, money, networks made her No. 1)
Meanwhile, only Camarines Norte, Oriental Mindoro, and Quezon were the provinces that have continously backed Poe since 2013. In this midterm election, Poe was not able to court new provinces to fully support her bid.
To rub salt to the wound, Poe did not even rank number 1 in Pangasinan, the home province of her late father Fernando Poe Jr (FPJ). It was Villar who got the most number of votes for senator in the said province.
Poe was unintentionally "adopted" into the entertainment scene because of her parents, and she used this to her advantage.
In 2013 and 2016, Poe's staple lines in her campaign speeches almost always included FPJ's ties to the provinces where she was campaigning, on top of movie lines in his films.
This year, Poe still stuck to mentioning her father during sorties. But not all the time.
Instead, Poe talked about the lessons she learned from her mother, actress Susan Roces, whom she called "Lola Flora" – the role Susan was playing in ABS-CBN's long-running series, FPJ's Ang Probinsyano.
Among the lessons that she learned, Poe said, was "not to be afraid" to ask for the truth. "'Wag mahihiyang magtanong." (Don't be afraid to ask questions) The crowd would erupt in laughter and respond with Susan's hit TV ad line, "May RiteMed ba nito?" (Is there a RiteMed generic medicine counterpart of this?)
In areas where there were sorties, the show would not end until famous actor Coco Martin sang on stage with fellow actors from Ang Probinsyano, Brian "Smugglaz" Lao and Lordivino "Bassilyo" Ignacio.
Coco publicly endorsed her halfway into the campaign period.
The presence of Coco, the "FPJ incarnate," brought all sorts of people from different walks of life to attend political rallies hosted for Poe.
The culmination of the steady star power lent to Poe was evident her star-studded miting de avance in Tondo, Manila, where the Megastar Sharon Cuneta-Pangilinan announced her support for Poe. Sharon, however, did not endorse the Otso Diretso slate that her husband, Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, was managing.
Fading 'FPJ' magic
University of the Philippines political science professor Gene Pilapil attributed the fewer provinces backing her bid to fading "FPJ magic."
In an interview with Rappler, Pilapil said that Poe's popularity as the daughter of the "King of Philippine cinema" could only go so far.
"The FPJ magic, 'Da King' factor, is fading. Somehow, Poe's win in 2013 [was] sympathy votes [for] this daughter of a candidate who may have been cheated," Pilapil said.
Poe seemed to be aware of this, as she shifted her messaging in her speeches.
Apart from star power, Poe already deviated from the narrative in her previous speeches that "she's inexperienced." She began to dwell on her track record in the Senate, having passed the laws that she co-authored:
Her promises to voters were also targetted, depending on the livelihood in a specific area:
- Pantawid Bangka program or fuel subsidy for fishermen
- Fast-track legalization of motorcycle taxis
- Improved support for the agricultural sector
In one media interview, Poe even said that her performance in the Senate, apart from FPJ's legacy, is her "edge" among other candidates.
Lacks political machinery?
Poe enjoyed being the front-runner in preelection surveys, peaking at 75.6% voter preference in December 2018. But towards the end of the campaign period, the odds turned against her.
By the end of February, two weeks into the campaign, Poe dropped with a 67.5% voter preference, according to a Pulse Asia survey.
Poe led Villar, who ranked second in the surveys. Poe even improved her score at 72.6% in March.
But towards the end of campaign, only 50.5% of the voters said they would vote for Poe if the polls were held in April. As she shared her lead with Villar, who had a voter preference of 51.7% at that time, Poe said "it's good" that there are more women senators.
"Marami rin naman tayong nais isulong na makakatulong rin sa ating mga pamilya, ating mga pangangailangan sa trabaho, pagdating na rin sa pag-alaga ng pangangailangan ng ating mga kababayan," Poe told reporters.
(We want to push for more policies that will help our families, our needs at work, and take care of our fellow Filipinos.)
By the time Pulse Asia conducted their final survey just before Election Day, Poe slid further with a 47.7% voter preference. Villar raced ahead of Poe at 55.9%
Pilapil said that Villar dislodging Poe from number 1 is not so much because of her, but "because of the strength of Villar."
"You must have the element of machinery, as proven by Villar. When locals carry your bid, or even host you at all," Pilapil told Rappler.
Poe, in several speeches during her campaign, maintained her independence from political parties. This is a staple line in sorties:
"Alam naman ninyo. Hindi ako pula. Hindi rin ako dilaw. Tayo ay independent. Kaya kayo ang partido ko. Kayo ang ipinaglalaban ko. (You know that I am not red. I am not yellow. We are independent. You are my political party. You are the reason why I'm fighting.)
Her independence, in Poe's view, is important to prevent the Senate from being a "puppet" of the administration.
"Importante ang pagiging independent dahil ayaw 'nyo ng isang Senado na sunud-sunuran lang. Gusto natin ng isang Senado na magdi-dipensa ng mga pangangailangan natin, hindi lamang dahil sa isang pulitika," Poe told voters in a Bulacan sortie.
(It’s important to be an independent because you don’t want a rubber-stamp Senate. We want a Senate that will defend our needs, [and not just be because] of politics.)
Being an independent worked for Poe in 2013, Pilapil said. But not this time around.
"In 2013, Grace Poe was not expected to top the senatorial race as it was not picked up by the surveys but she was doing well. She clearly benefitted from being part of coalitions, with both opposition UNA and administration slate Daang Matuwid endorsing her as a common candidate," Pilapil said.
"In the sense that she still wanted to be an independent candidate, she's trying to duplicate that strategy," he added.
But being an independent during the 2019 elections proved to be challenging for Poe. She admitted that some local leaders refused to host her.
In media interviews, Poe said that more than topping the Senate race or attending debates, she preferred being "on the ground" and meeting the people she serves.
But Poe was only able to visit 34 provinces during her campaign. In some instances, her campaign schedule was freed up because some areas like Legazpi, Albay, and Ilocos Norte where she was supposed to go, had to be cancelled, .
In the places where Poe went, not all political leaders hosted a sortie to welcome her in their area.
At least 14 of the 34 provinces she went to hosted a sortie for her or invited her to speak at their own political rallies, such as in Cebu City during the proclamation rally of local party BOPK headed by reelectionist mayor Tomas Osmeña, and the Santos-Recto miting de avance in Lipa City, Batangas.
Other than that, Poe would either attend a forum hosted by a school or a motorcade around the province with side visits to public markets. She did motorcades in 12 provinces.
Apart from the fact that Poe was not allied with the administration nor the opposition, Pilapil said that President Rodrigo Duterte attacking Poe in his recent speeches was a big factor in her losing votes.
"She was also attacked by Duterte. I suspect it's a big factor. And it's really because the officials are afraid of the President. So unlike the time of Noynoy [Benigno Aquino III], the tables have been turned," Pilapil said.
Apart from physical campaigning, Pilapil also noted that TV advertisements can pull a candidate forward. But Poe did not beat Villar in ad spend during the campaign season.
"One year before the campaign itself, she outspent Villar on ad placement. But during the campaign period, she could not. She ranked lower among other bets," Pilapil said.
When the campaign started, Poe lagged behind in terms of ad placements. She only spent P162.11 million or P81.05 million from February 12 to April 30, ranking 11th among candidates.
Villar, on the other hand, showed how deep her pocket was by spending P400.24 million on ads alone or P200.12 million on average.
"With the billions of Villar and being endorsed by Duterte, Poe [didn't] stand a chance," Pilapil said.
What's up next?
Despite the challenges, Poe landing in the number 2 rank is still "impressive," said Pilapil.
"But being number 2 weakens the prospect of a presidential ambition, assuming that still is a consideration," he added.
Poe has consistently dismissed the possibility of running again for president in 2022, saying that she already "had her chance."
"Alam mo siguro nakalipas na ‘yon sapagkat nabigyan na ako ng pagkakataon. Marami naman diyang puwede na maaaring i-konsidera ng ating mga kababayan," Poe said during a market visit on February 18.
(I had my chance because I was already given the chance. There are others whom the public can consider anyway.)
But what will Poe do in the next 3 or 6 years when she ends her Senate term? We will wait and see. – Rappler.com