Mar Roxas is swimming against the tide of history

Dean Julio C. Teehankee
Roxas needs to get his mojo back. He should not rely solely on President Aquino's endorsement or the narrative of continuity.

As I have elaborated in my previous post, presidential anointment or endorsement is a relatively new phenomenon in post-Marcos electoral politics. However, recent history will show that the endorsement of an incumbent of a potential successor might be a necessary but insufficient key to electoral victory.

There were three presidential candidates who were endorsed by incumbent presidents: Fidel Ramos in 1992, Jose de Venecia Jr in 1998, and Gilbert Teodoro in 2009.

Of the three who were endorsed by the incumbent, only Ramos won the presidency. Ramos was popular but lacked the party machinery. Both De Venecia and Teodoro boasted of monolithic party machineries when they were anointed but  were eventually decimated as their members started jumping to the more popular candidate. (READ: Rage against the (party) machine)

FVR was popular to begin with

Fidel V. Ramos (FVR), a non-politician, entered and lost the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) primaries to House Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. He then organized his own political party, the Lakas NUCD, and won the endorsement of President Cory Aquino in January 25, 1992.

The endorsement was given at a time when President Cory’s net satisfaction rating in the SWS surveys was hovering between +10 in November 1991 and +13 in February 1992. The impact of her “anointment,” however, was negligible since Ramos has consistently been topping the SWS surveys from July to November 1991.

By the tailend of her presidency, the much vaunted “Cory Magic” has already dissipated.

The so-called “Cory Magic” was coined during the 1987 legislative elections when 22 out of 24 senatorial candidates that Cory endorsed won seats in the upper chamber. This was born out of the +69 net satisfaction rating (the second highest in the post-Marcos era) she enjoyed at that time. The magic will again be unleashed upon her death in August 2009, catapulting her son Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III from nowhere to the top of the public’s presidential preference.

Her endorsement, nonetheless, translated into access to government resources. 

According to the late American political scientist Carl Lande, the extra-legal pre-election release of between P600 million to P1.5 billion National Aid to Local Government Units (NALGU) funds was meant for localities whose leaders campaigned for Ramos. In addition, the LDP charged that portions of an estimated P100-million fund for the Rebel Returnee Program were distributed to local officials supportive of the Ramos campaign.

From FVR to JDV: Non-transferability of popularity

When it was FVR’s turn to endorse his successor, he was torn between his chief political operator De Venecia, then Speaker of the House, and his protegé and political clone Defense Secretary Renato de Villa. (READ: When a president betrays a friend)

De Venecia was struggling between 5% in April 1997 and 3% in September 1997. His closest rival, De Villa, was also struggling between 3% in April 1997 and 4% in September 1997.

FVR eventually endorsed De Venecia on December 9, 1997. FVR’s endorsement gave him an 8% boost in the next round of survey in January 1998 – to score 11%. At that time, FVR’s net satisfaction rating was +40.

But FVR’s endorsement and the Lakas machinery were not enough to face the populist surge of then Vice President Joseph Estrada who averaged 29.4% in the SWS presidential prefernce survey between January and May 1998. 

De Venecia, on the other hand, grappled with an average 12.8% for the same period. 

Another takeaway from the 1998 presidential election is the splintering of the LORDS’s reformist votes.

“LORDS” refers to an acronym derived from the first letters of the surnames of the perceived “reformist” candidates: Alfredo Lim of the Liberal Party, Emilio Osmeña of PROMDI, Raul Roco of Aksyon Demokratiko, Renato de Villa of Reporma, and Miriam Defensor Santiago of the People’s Reform Party.

There were efforts on the part of Makati businessmen to unite the LORDS with the misguided belief that their votes can be consolidated behind a common unity candidate. The cumulative average number for the LORDS was 9.4%. It was not even close to mounting a credible “Third Force” challenge to Estrada and De Venecia. Popularity can hardly be transferred from an incumbent to an anointed, from one candidate to another.

From GMA to Gibo: Kiss of death

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) was the only incumbent to be elected in the post-Marcos era (then Vice President Arroyo assumed the presidency after Estrada was ousted from power in 2001, and ran for president in 2004).

This was achieved through the massive legal and extra-legal mobilization of money, machinery, and government resources and offices (i.e. the Commission on Elections).

But Arroyo was also the most unpopular president since Marcos. Her presidency faced  a major legitimacy crisis in the wake of the “Hello, Garci” scandal. She consistently scored negative numbers every quarter for her entire six-year term in the SWS Survey of Presidential Performance Satisfaction. 

Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro was a promising and brilliant three-term congressman who was plucked by GMA to be her defense secretary. Gibo, the primus inter pares in the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), was considered the political protegé of his uncle and NPC founder Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco. He left the NPC and his uncle to actively seek GMA’s presidential anointment. 

But Gibo was a new face in national politics and largely not known to the public. Gibo was proclaimed Lakas-Kampi-CMD official candidate and GMA’s anointed one on November 19, 2009. 

GMA’s net satisfaction rating from September to December 2009 was -38. Meanwhile, Gibo’s survey score in September 2009 was 4%. GMA’s endorsement was neglible as Teodoro only managed to gain 0.8% in the SWS survey of December 2009. He averaged 6.8% from September 2009 to May 2010. 

From PNoy to Mar: Betting on continuity

As expected, President Benigno Aquino III (PNoy) anointed his party mate and political ally, DILG Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II as potential successor in 2016. 

Previously, PNoy attempted but failed to forge a united ticket with independent senator and current survey front runner Grace Poe. Liberal Party (LP) loyalists are hoping that the presidential endorsement would provide the necessary boost for Roxas’s lackluster performance in the surveys. 

LP stalwart and Albay Governor Joey Salceda told Rappler, “Internally, he has 13 percentage points … this launch has a kick. There will be a nomination bounce – the certainty of running, the certainty of the appointment. So we’re competitive.” 

By taking up the yellow mantle of “Matuwid na Daan,” Mar is hoping that the narrative of continuity and PNoy’s satisfaction rating of +30% would further boost his numbers.

But hope springs eternal.

A cursory view of the Pulse Asia Presidential Preference Survey (the SWS results are in embargo) from the last four quarters from September 2014 to June 2015 would illustrate the tremendous hump Roxas has to hurdle.

Mar began with a decent 13% in  September 2014, then drastically dropped to 6% in November 2014 and 4% by March 2015. His number improved to 10% by June 2015 for an average of 8.25%. During the same period Vice President averaged 27% while Grace Poe averaged 18%. Binay was the consistent survey front runner until Poe overtook him in June 2015 by breaching the 30% line.  

Thus, Mar needs to exponentially grow his numbers in the succeeding survey rounds in order to remain competitive. (READ: Roxas to allies: ‘I know your doubts… baka matalo itong si Mar’)

Going against the tide of history

At this juncture, Mar has to swim against the tide of history. 

For as recent presidential elections have shown, popularity cannot be transferred from an incumbent to a candidate, endorsements have minimal or no effect on the final outcome of an election, and it sometimes can also be a kiss of death.

It is time for Mar to get his mojo back. He should restore the fire in his belly. He once proved that he can run a brilliant campaign in 2004 with “Mr. Palengke,” where he managed to catapult himself from the cellar to the top of the senatorial race. 

He should not rely solely on PNoy’s endorsement or the narrative of continuity. He should weave his own narrative. He should heed the advise of pundits, operators, and his own party mates to just be himself.

The only way to beat a populist is not by trying hard to be pro-poor but to propose better ideas that will genuinely uplift them from poverty. 

Finally, he should heed the wise counsel of the late Jessie M. Robredo that what this country needs are not only decent leaders but competent ones as well. (“Hindi lang matino, kailangan magaling”). 

And if by chance Fortuna smiles at him, he should smile back. –


Julio C. Teehankee is Full Professor of Comparative Politics and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at De La Salle University. He is a veteran of presidential campaigns since the 1986 snap election. He is also the Executive Secretary of the Asian Political and International Studies Association (APISA).


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