POSTSCRIPT / April 16, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap is more popular? JdV will win anyway

SUDDENLY, it’s just three weeks to the May 11 presidential elections. Who is likely to win?

Everything considered, I’d say Speaker Jose de Venecia would win. Not that JdV is the most popular among the frontrunners; it is Vice President Joseph “Erap” Estrada who is. Erap is immensely popular with the masa all right, topping the last polls at 28 percent vs. the 14 percent of the second placers Mayor Alfredo Lim and De Venecia.

Under normal circumstances, that 2 to 1 lead should be enough to propel Erap to victory. But Erap, sorry for him, is not acceptable to the ruling elite and most of the middle class, not to Big Business, the Church, to Cardinal Sin, not to Cory Aquino, and – this is very important – not to outgoing President Ramos.

The Establishment will not allow this bumbling movie idol sit in Malacañang and rule their lives — and their businesses.

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WOULD the administration unleash “dagdag-bawas” squads to ensure the defeat of Erap? Every politician is assumed to try cheating if he has the means and the opportunity. All is fair in war and ward politics, Philippine-style.

But De Venecia, meaning the administration Lakas-NUCD party, may not have to cheat so blatantly and massively as to spark rioting among Erap’s screaming fans. Despite his supposed “popularity,” Erap is not invincible.

Erap’s party, whose name I cannot recall at the moment, is not organized to the precinct level in all the 79 provinces, 79 cities, 1,538 towns and 41,925 barangays throughout the archipelago.

The network of his running mate, Sen. Edgardo Angara, is even better organized. But in the kanya-kanya frenzy of the closing days of the campaign, Angara cannot be expected to also look after Estrada.

The Estrada-Angara coalition has no local candidates in many districts. In many places, Lakas (De Venecia) candidates are running unopposed.

The same organizational failure is hobbling the Liberal party, which has imported Lim as standard bearer. The rickety LP is just now being cranked up. Actually, the excitement around Lim is generally media-driven and Manila-centered.

A national party without a Senate lineup and local candidates may initially feel buoyant as it travels light on the campaign trail. But when the realities of ward politics begin to be felt, especially in the homestretch, the presidential candidate reels from the heavy baggage of having no local boys carrying the ball.

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IN contrast, De Venecia has presence in each of the 250,000 precincts nationwide. Lakas has a complete and party-supported lineup down to the last councilor.

Although local candidates are usually expected to give priority to their own political survival, Lakas has installed mechanisms to make sure they also work for the party’s standard bearer.

Despite the financial crunch that has hit everyone, De Venecia and his party have money, that essential oil that keeps the machinery humming smoothly. Add to this the supportive activities of government agencies that inevitably move whenever officials move.

In many places, there is no serious opposition or effective watchdog for Lakas to worry about. Where it moves unchallenged, it is very easy for Lakas to control the delivery of votes.

After all, elections are more than popularity contests decided by acclamation. They are about getting people to vote, counting and canvassing the ballots, and having a winner proclaimed in a costly, complicated process that confounds those who have no imagination and logistics.

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DON’T be misled by the supposed popularity of Erap. Such popularity still has to be converted into votes on May 11. Then the votes have to be counted, canvassed and written out in official forms that are delivered to Manila, tallied and made the basis for proclaiming the winner.

There is a yawning chasm between votes and victory.

And then, the paid surveys that show Erap leading the pack may actually be exposing his vulnerability.

Consider this: For the past three months, Erap has been marking time at 28 percent in the surveys. For the same long period, Lim has been nailed to 14 percent. During the same three months, however, De Venecia had been steadily climbing until he caught up with Lim at 14 percent last month.

This indicates, to many observers, that Erap and Lim may have peaked, while De Venecia is surging and possibly catching up on Erap.

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A BIG factor for victory is President Ramos, who campaigns like he were the candidate himself. He has so dominated the stage that he, instead of De Venecia, has become the target of opposition sniping.

I cannot imagine General Ramos allowing his Anointed One to go down in defeat. More so after opposition leaders warned that if they win they would file charges against Mr. Ramos as soon as he steps down. They also threatened to review, and possibly revoke, big contracts entered into by the Ramos administration.

Pushed to the wall, the President will have to fight back. This is good for De Venecia.

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