2022 Philippine Elections

[OPINION] The May elections are near

Joel Rocamora

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[OPINION] The May elections are near

Guia Abogado

If I were a Marcos Junior strategist, I would worry instead that Marcos Junior has peaked so early and has nowhere to go but down

The campaign for national positions, most importantly the presidency, will begin on February 8, about a month from now. All the preliminary maneuvering will make way for the real race, a scant three months after. 

A lot can happen in four months, but there are three developments that will have a major impact on outcomes. Unprecedented in all presidential elections I can think of, the incumbent president does not have a candidate. Just as surprising, a candidate with nothing to recommend him, no achievement to speak of, except his discredited name, is topping the surveys. Way behind in the surveys but clearly the only alternative to Marcos Junior, my fearless forecast is that Leni Robredo will be our next president.

All forecasts of the 2022 elections gave primacy to Rodrigo Duterte. He is president and has the financial and organizational resources of the government behind him. His approval ratings were astronomical but declining rapidly. In SWS surveys, Duterte’s approval rating declined from +79 in November 2020 to +52 in September 2021, a steep 27 point decline. 

The ruling party, the PDP Laban, had the most number of elected officials. At this point, one month before the official campaign, Duterte is not supporting a presidential candidate. He can still support someone in the next few months, but his mishandling of the process of selecting a candidate has pulled his endorsement credentials close to zero. By criticizing Marcos Junior albeit obliquely, he has made it near impossible for him to support his daughter’s running mate.

The fate of Duterte’s ruling party, the PDP-Laban, is even more pitiful. It is not even clear if the Cusi wing of the party, which Duterte supports, will be allowed by the Comelec to issue certificates of nomination. The PDP-Laban mandate is being contested by the Pimentel wing of the party. The Cusi PDP’s latest move, asking the Comelec to extend the period for submission of certificates of candidacy, has about as much chance of success as a snowball in hell. The Comelec would have to postpone the election to agree to the proposal.

Duterte’s predicament is going to impact the presidential election in a number of ways. Imee Marcos’ “dream team,” a Marcos-Duterte team-up is not happening. Sara Duterte can draw on Duterte supporters for Marcos, but nowhere near as much without her father’s endorsement. Manny Pacquiao is going to eat up a lot of Mindanao and Cebuano votes. Local politicians who might have waited for Duterte’s presidential endorsement are going to make their choices based on who they think will win without fear that their choices will result in their budgets being cut. They can support Sara Duterte for vice president and pick a presidential candidate other than Marcos and still say they are loyal to Duterte.

The second development, Marcos Junior’s phenomenal survey numbers, has sent shivers down Leni supporters’ spines. They have to work at pulling Marcos’ numbers down, a necessary and doable project. Marcos’ numbers are “soft”, based on social media algorithms and lots of money. Marcos Junior is not “buying votes” with one-time payments, he has “bought” thousands of local officials down to barangay tanods with monthly payments. 

While it may be difficult to counteract a social media machinery with several expensive troll farms built over a number of years, the phenomenal Leni volunteer movement (separate from the official machinery) can neutralize it with painstaking ground work. Although not conclusive because survey numbers are done by different groups using different survey technologies, Marcos’ numbers have begun to slowly slide.

Marcos Junior’s campaign line is based on the myth of a “golden age” during his father’s rule and by genetic extension, his qualifications for the presidency. In the course of the campaign his opponents, most importantly Leni’s volunteers, will hammer on his lying about his education, his lack of achievement as governor and senator, and the source of the money he is lavishly spending on his campaign from his parents’ corruption. He has, thus far, avoided having to answer these issues by avoiding interviews except those scripted by supportive media. But he cannot continue to remain silent in the course of the remaining campaign. His incompetence will be exposed in scheduled presidential debates. Avoiding them will come at a considerable political cost. 

Marcos Junior’s candidacy may not make it past January. One of the cases calling for the nullification of Marcos Junior’s COC, that filed by Akbayan, was heard by the Comelec Division headed by Rowena Guanzon who is independent-minded, one of the last appointees of President Noynoy Aquino. After the January 7 hearing, the Comelec refused a request by Marcos lawyers for 15 days to submit their memorandum, and instead imposed a 48-hour deadline. This indicates that a decision could be made by mid-January. 

If Marcos Junior’s COC is nullified he will immediately appeal to the Supreme Court. Even if the Supreme Court, in the end, supports Marcos Junior, a large segment of the campaign will be conducted with doubts about Marcos Junior’s candidacy – a serious disadvantage. 

Sources of a Leni victory

I believe Leni will win not just because I want her to, but because an objective analysis points to that conclusion. Leni’s survey numbers have slowly gone up. In the most reliable survey, that of the Pulse Asia December survey, Leni gained 12 points going from 8 to 20%, still quite distant from Marcos Junior but clearly establishing that the presidential race has narrowed down to a Marcos-Leni fight. 

To win, Marcos’ numbers have to be pulled down to 30-35%, Leni’s pushed up to 35-40%. In the 2016 vice presidential race, Marcos Junior had double the 12% preference for Leni in November 2015. As late as April 2, Marcos Junior still had 7 points more than Leni’s 19%. It was only in the April 20 survey, a couple of weeks before the election that Leni overtook Marcos Junior 26% to 25%.

Political professionals underestimate how significant the pink revolution is. There has been nothing like it in presidential politics that I know of. EDSA was only in Manila and only for a few days. The number of places nationally – and more impressive, abroad, where there have also been caravans and marches – has been amazing. Many of the places abroad where people have mobilized are deep in winter, people go out in pink T-shirts amidst the snow and ice. None of this has been centrally organized, it’s all spontaneous. Marcos has tried to replicate it but has not gone beyond his bailiwick Ilocos and a couple of other places with reliable reports of people being paid to join.

The kinds of people who have been active in kakampink – civil society types, professionals, and academics are upper-middle class, but there are also a lot of small entrepreneurs, government and business employees, and workers and students. While derided as “middle class,” not the politically correct lower class, these sections of the voting population in fact constitute more than two-thirds of the large “D” voters category. The poorest segment, “E” is only 13%, the same size as the upper class “AB and C.” The 700,000 volunteers in more than 200 separate organizations in the Leni campaign constitute a massive organizational base right in the middle of the main electoral demographic.

While underestimating the importance of the surge of volunteerism in the Leni campaign, political professionals always look at what the role is of centers of power in Philippine politics: the Catholic Church, police and military, business, and the US.

Church people have many reasons for disliking Duterte. He not only attacks them, but he has also insulted the Pope. He makes fun of key doctrines, including the Holy Trinity and on occasion, God Himself. Bishops with few exceptions will be circumspect despite the fact that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president, Bishop Ambo David is progressive. Bishops are firmly implanted in local power structures. Religious orders, if only because they live together, tend to be more progressive. We should expect organizations such as the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) to be more active. These religious orders of men and women are the ones who run schools and colleges. All indications are that most of this religious activism will be in support of Leni whose personality and demeanor is already being linked to Mama Mary.

Without Duterte’s endorsement, neither Marcos Junior nor any other presidential candidate for that matter, can generate significant support from the police and military. Since local police are often dependent on financial subsidies from local mayors, soliciting the support of local politicians coincides with support from local police. Through most of Duterte’s term, the AFP leadership under Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has maintained correct, at times warm, relations with the Vice President, providing monthly security briefings and inviting her to ceremonial events. 

The AFP has often taken positions independent of Duterte. Against Duterte’s statements, the AFP leadership has charted a course in Philippine-China relations to defend Philippine interests in the West Philippine Sea. This direction has been supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs. The US, under Biden’s leadership, is likely to use its considerable influence on the AFP to prevent the election of a pro-China post-Duterte regime. Marcos Junior has come out supporting Duterte’s pro-China policies. Unlike Trump, the Biden administration has been critical of the human rights situation under Duterte. 

There are recent indications that the business sector is not likely to support Marcos Junior and is leaning towards Leni. In late December, United Kingdom-based think tank Pantheon Macroeconomics came out with a report that “a win of leading presidential aspirant Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. in the May 2022 elections [is] a risk to the Philippines’ economic and investment recovery from its pandemic-induced slump.” (“UK think tank: Marcos win in 2022 a ‘risk’ to PH recovery, investment,” Philippine Daily Inquirer

Two weeks later, a report by Japanese global financial services group Nomura Global Research said, “An administration led by incumbent Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo will be more ‘market-friendly’ than that by Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr…[Mr.] Marcos Jr., in our view, will likely be regarded as less market-friendly than [Ms. Robredo], particularly when it comes to experience at the national level and in articulating a strategy for the country to recover from the pandemic.” (“Robredo win ‘more market-friendly,’” Business World)

Some supporters of Leni have expressed concern that Marcos Junior has been more successful in projecting change with him as an alternative. They worry that Marcos Junior’s survey numbers are so far ahead of Leni’s. If I were a Marcos Junior strategist, I would worry instead that Marcos Junior has peaked so early and has nowhere to go but down. 

The “pacing” of Leni’s survey numbers is consistent with a campaign strategy that started with a “Getting to know Leni” thrust, to be followed soon by “Why vote for Leni,” and finally in the weeks before the election with “Vote for Leni.” I would still bet on a Leni victory. But we should assist Marcos Junior as he climbs down from his survey perch. – Rappler.com

Joel Rocamora is a political analyst and a seasoned civil society leader. An activist-scholar, he finished his PhD in Politics, Asian Studies, and International Relations in Cornell University, and had been the head of the Institute for Popular Democracy, the Transnational Institute, and the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party. He worked in government under the late former president Benigno Aquino III as the Lead Convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

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