POSTSCRIPT / April 17, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who's afraid of Sonny? All his rivals, it seems

UNBEATABLE SONNY: Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte is running for reelection — for his third and last term — virtually unopposed. Four other supposed candidates do not register in the public mind.

All the political bigwigs in this city of 1.1 million voters must have concluded that there is no sense in challenging Belmonte and his sterling record as QC executive.

Inheriting a cash-strapped, deeply-indebted treasury, Belmonte pulled Quezon City from the red in less than one year of his taking over in 2001. He paid over P2 billion in debts and outstanding loans, finally making it the richest city in the country.

As of last week, Quezon City has over P7.2 billion in cash and deposits. The city has been enjoying an unprecedented surplus budget for the past four years. In fact, its internal revenue allotment from the national government is pure gravy.

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CLEAN SWEEP: After trouncing Mel Mathay in 2004, with an eye-popping margin of 500,000 and whipping the veteran politico in his own district and precinct, the conclusion firmed up that Belmonte is unbeatable.

It is not just him in the victory run. Belmonte is confident that his congressional candidates will make a clean sweep: Bingbong Crisologo, first district; Annie Rosa Susano, second district; Mat Defensor, third district; and Nennete Castelo Daza, fourth district.

The reelection of Vice Mayor Herbert Bautista is also a foregone conclusion. He is running unopposed.

Belmonte’s avowed mission is to make Quezon City a modern and world-class community. Having started to lay the foundation for this, he hopes to give residents a clear view of this vision by the time he steps down three years from now.

It is no wonder that Belmonte is always prominently mentioned in every search for a progressive manager for the country. But he disclaims any ambition for a higher office. The more sedate world of diplomacy seems to be more appealing to him.

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POLLSTERS ON THE SPOT: It is now a reversal of roles for the Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia. Instead of posing the questions and soliciting answers, the two polling firms now have to answer tough queries, and not answering is not an option.

In an en banc order, the Commission on Elections has required SWS and Pulse Asia to explain by today:

* How they undertake their surveys and what methods they use.

* How they arrive at all those (sometimes questioned) poll results.

* For what party or parties they undertake the surveys, and who pays them for what.

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ABAKADA BID: Over the years, the SWS and Pulse Asia have kept secret their methods and means, plus the important point of who pays for their surveys.

They just present their findings to the public with the take-it-or-leave-it air of a Delphic oracle.

Even when their conclusions run counter to convention wisdom, the polling firms never deign to explain in detail how they arrive at them. Not this time, the Comelec said in its order dated April 13.

Acting on a petition of ABAKADA GURO, a party-list group, the Comelec told the two firms that their so-called trade secrets are subject to public scrutiny.

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TABLE SURVEYS: Among their recent conclusions that was widely questioned was their report that Genuine Opposition candidates in the local elections are preferred by voters.

How could this be when some 70 percent of the contests for governors, vice governors, city and town mayors are just among the candidates of the six parties in the pro-administration coalition?

In Quezon City, to cite an example, how can the purported survey claim that QC voters prefer opposition candidates? What opposition are they talking about?

In an overwhelming number of places, there are no opposition candidates. How then could voters have chosen non-existent bets? Did somebody again concoct data in what we in media call “table surveys.”

In a table survey, whoever is doing it — usually for a fat fee — merely sits down and shuffles supporting breakdown figures to justify the overall conclusions that the paying client wants.

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CONDITIONING: The research group Vox Populi, not just the Comelec, has started to raise questions about the methods, results and funding sources of the SWS and Pulse Asia.

Prof. Mansin Sarmiento, head of Vox Populi, has expressed reservations about the 300-respondent base of the two firms in surveying voters’ sentiment in Metro Manila. This is too small a sample for an area as big as Metro Manila, says Sarmiento.

But what he finds “too idealistic to be true” is the claim of the two firms that they do not solicit payments for conducting surveys.

Real surveys require money, and both the SWS and Pulse Asia cannot undertake surveys without collecting fees or payments, says the Vox Populi founder and head.

A sinister implication of false surveys is that they may condition the mind of an unsuspecting public, so that when the actual results do not tally with the survey claims, there will be cries of cheating and fraud.

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CHAVIT ROLE: Perceptions lie, too. Take the case of senatorial candidate Luis “Chavit” Singson. So successful had mindbenders been that when it was reported that the Ilocos Sur governor went down with his helicopter recently, not a few said that was just a gimmick.

You must have seen the wreckage of the chopper and the bruises of Singson and his co-passengers. That was a Hollywood shooting?

This near-fatal accident brings to mind the earlier hostage-taking of a bus-load of pupils of a day care center.

Singson’s role in the surrender of hostage-taker Jun Ducat and accomplice Cesar Carbonell was pounced upon by his detractors who speculated that the incident was stage-managed to boost his senatorial bid.

Actually Singson’s staff saw that possible negative twist and advised him not to heed Carbonell’s call to help, but the hard-headed Singson went on to do what he could for the children’s safety.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 17, 2007)

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