POSTSCRIPT / April 27, 2004 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Trend more important than slim lead in surveys

SURVEYS RELIABLE?: The lead scored by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the latest surveys leading to the May 10 elections is not as important as the trend that the polls have revealed — assuming the surveys are reliable.

The lead of 6 to 10 percentage points of Ms Arroyo over actor Fernando Poe Jr. in the last survey could be swamped in a tidal wave of fickle public opinion. In that survey, she scored 36.9 percent to Poe’s 26.4 percent, allowing for a margin of error of 2.9 percent.

Nobody should be complacent or dejected over the reported poll results. With two weeks to the May 10 elections, any dramatic development can turn the tide for either Ms Arroyo or her closest rival. It is still anybody’s game.

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WATCH THE TREND: What is more significant is the trend, although not firm, that the successive surveys have revealed.

In the last three Pulse Asia surveys from January to April, Poe started with a high of 35 percent in the Jan. 23-Feb. 8 survey, dropped to 32 percent in the Feb. 16-20 period, then settled at 31 percent in the March 27-April 4 polling.

During the same period, from 33 percent in February, the rating of Ms Arroyo climbed to 34 percent in the survey ending April 4. While Poe’s line was going down, that of Ms Arroyo was going up. The two lines crossed each other early this month.

It was the same up-and-down scenario with the Social Weather Stations surveys. From 31.8 percent in February, Ms Arroyo’s standing went up steadily till it reached 35.3 percent just last week

While she was climbing, Poe was just bobbing up and down, starting at 32.5 percent in February and settling at 30.8 percent last week.

Poe started strong but failed to keep it up. In contrast, Ms Arroyo kept gaining little by little.

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GMA LEAD WIDENS: The momentary clincher appeared to have been the findings of the NFO Trends, the polling service outfit that does considerable field work for Pulse Asia and the Social Weather Stations.

The firm headed by pollster Mercy Abad conducts field interviews. Its raw data are turned over to its clients Pulse Asia and SWS, which then interpret them.

Despite the margin of error of 2.9 percent, the maximum lead of 10 percentage points scored by Ms Arroyo in the NFO Trends survey cannot but strike fear into the hearts of the most ardent opposition workers.

Protestations that the surveys were rigged or were not reliable anyway only betrayed the consternation that has hit the opposition camps that used to embrace the surveys when they were in their favor.

The word in administration ranks is to hold the line and move resolutely forward while the wind of public opinion generated by favorable surveys was blowing their way.

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DRAMATIC TWISTS: Among the possible dramatic twists in the tortuous campaign trail is the withdrawal of some of the leading candidates. Such developments would realign forces and affect voters’ preference.

Keenly being watched is the possible unification of the opposition forces of Poe and those of Sen. Panfilo Lacson. Each of them has said time and again that he would not slide down to run as vice president of the other. That makes unification prospects rather dim.

In the administration camp, former Sen. Raul Roco is being watched for possibly withdrawing from what is generally held as a hopeless bid for the presidency.

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ABOITIZ INVITATION: The mv Superferry 14 owned by the Aboitiz conglomerate caught fire and floundered last Feb. 27 near El Fraile island in the mouth of Manila Bay, an incident that the Maritime Industry Authority is investigating to pinpoint responsibility.

The Aboitizes then invited the Marina board to hold its meeting in the luxury of one of its best superferries to discuss the fire incident and other problems. And the Marina board secretary proceeded to coordinate preparation for the seaborne meeting.

Imagine Marina officials getting the VIP treatment aboard an Aboitiz superferry and consorting with persons who could be the subject of its investigation and regulatory actions.

Where has delicadeza gone?

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FIRE ON AGENDA: In a memo dated April 13, 2004, the Marina board secretary informed the board members that Endika Aboitiz, president of Aboitiz Transport System, had invited them to a lunch-dialogue and tour aboard one of their new generation superferries.

On the agenda is the Superferry 14 fire, the entry of 30-year-old passenger ships, the delayed phaseout of wooden vessels, the waiving of fees and penalties for companies that are in difficult times, the charging of fees for rereoutings, and the interference of Marina in commercial decisions such as the fixing of promotional rates.

In her memo, board secretary Gloria J. Victoria-Banas, who happens to be also the deputy Marina administrator, asked the board members for the date of their availability for the meeting.

Vicente F. Gambito, a maritime expert and close industry observer, told us that the invitation was accepted and approved for April 22 by the board chairman, Undersecretary Agustin Romulo Bengzon, but that there was a sudden change of plan.

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PAINT STOCK EYED: The Marina had formed a technical team, headed by Arnie F. Santiago, MSC, chief, complaints and investigation, to look into the fire that took scores of lives and left several others missing.

The formal findings were submitted last March to the Marina, but insiders told us that the report is now kept under lock and key. It does not jibe with the explosion theory on the fire of some influential individuals.

Among other things, the Marina report traced the fire to a big stock of paint stuffed in a room. The fire reportedly generated superheated gasses that built up and exploded. If true, the implied existence of a fire hazard will have to be explained by the ship operator.

The Board of Marine Inquiry that is also looking into the fire has not inputted the Marina report into its own fact-finding.

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U.S. TOLL IN IRAQ: While Manila officials are debating the question of whether or not to bring home the Filipino soldiers and policemen on peacekeeping assignment in Iraq, Washington disclosed Friday the toll on its forces in that war-torn country.

The number of wounded GIs soared in the past two weeks as intense fighting flared in south-central Iraq and in the Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad.

The Pentagon announced that 3,864 US soldiers have been wounded in action since the war began in March 2003, an increase of 595 from two weeks earlier.

The US military death toll stood at 707. At least 100 were killed this month, the highest total for any month since the US-led invasion began. Most deaths were in early April; with about 25 having died in the past two weeks.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 27, 2004)

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