POSTSCRIPT / March 13, 2007 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Comelec fire ignites talk of sinister plots

COMELEC BURNS: I was at the PhilSTAR office in Intramuros when the Commission on Elections building burned before dawn the other day. The wild flames leaping in the dark sky immediately told me it was not a bonfire gone awry but a conflagration.

At about 2 a.m., with the fire spreading, I texted the bad news to several friends and associates. I was surprised that the fire was not immediately put under control when the fire station was just across the street from the Comelec.

As if to illustrate the tattered image of Comelec as guarantor of clean and orderly elections, 99 percent of those whom I texted (and who happened to be awake at that ungodly hour) replied with alarm or resignation.

Samples: Good grief!; Ano na naman ang sinunog nila?; Tapos na ang election!; Naloko na!; Isn’t that special ops too early?; Grabe talaga! They’ll do everything to win.; Like d burning of d reichstag dat ushered in hitler’s consolidation of power. (This text from Bong Lacson); Oh my! Baka NOEL na!

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TABLE SURVEYS: Of course No-El (No Election scenario) is out of the question at this advanced stage of preparation for the May 14 polls.

But it is too early to say how the senatorial race will go. At this point, nobody, including your favorite fearless forecaster, can guess with a 10-percent margin of error who will win the top 12 senatorial slots.

Most of the scorecards you see being bandied about in media are table surveys possibly put together for clients. By “table” I mean an astute observer simply sits down with a preconceived list of frontrunners and then works backwards with figures to manufacture the regional and sectoral breakdowns to prop up the desired total scores.

A smart candidate can pay a fat fee to the pollster. He is not buying himself a good rating, but he pays for a rider or an extra question to be insertedkunwari into the survey. Such a paying client will end up faring well in the survey results.

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‘GUIDELINES’: In the May elections, the designs of local kingmakers and the candidates (for congressman, governor, mayor or councilor) will have considerable bearing on the final results. In many places, their clout can decide, more or less, what winning combinations will be carried in their areas.

With the deadline being March 29, many local candidates have not filed their certificates of candidacy. This is another reason why it is too early to say how the senatorial race will go in the rural countryside – except in places where the political equation is written on the basis of past electoral exercises.

Still another reason is that many local political lords have not yet received their marching orders, plus their all-important “guidelines,” from above.

The confusing landscape in the provinces will start clearing up only after the March 29 deadline and the delivery of the first wave of “guidelines,” if you know what I mean.

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TEAM TO BEAT: It is best, in the meantime, not to take seriously those table surveys for senatorial wannabes.

The senatorial picture will start to take shape up only by mid-April, after the governors, mayors and councilors have taken their positions at the starting gate.

By that time, the awful truth is likely to hit the opposition in the face that they have only a handful of candidates in the 1,500 towns and 81 provinces, and that in many places local candidates allied with the administration Team Unity will be running virtually unopposed.

Most of the prospective candidates for governors, mayors and councilors that I have talked with so far have expressed confidence that the administration’s Senate slate will be able — at least in the areas where they wield influence — to muster an 8-4 score or better.

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RUNNING SCARED: These local politicians said that at the grass roots, voters do not pay much attention to the table surveys being circulated in Manila.

But they welcomed the lopsided surveys favoring the opposition, reasoning out that it is always best to be running scared. Anyway, they said, the election will not be held tomorrow but on May 14 or some nine weeks from now.

In the countryside, they added, the more relevant issues revolve around livelihood, economic developments as they affect plain folk, and not so much the older questions over presidential legitimacy, impeachment and tired topics that do not register in their guts.

Local officials said that voters in their areas generally prefer candidates ready to help fulfill the administration’s agenda of job creation, a strong peso, lower living costs, pro-poor programs on education, healthcare and housing, more investments, hunger mitigation, a strong anti-terrorism drive and a green Philippines.

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SOCIAL PAYBACK: Another factor buoying their optimism is the huge chunk of undecided voters cropping up in surveys. In terms of hard-core supporters, the opposition and the administration are about even at 22 and 21 percent respectively.

The undecided voters, according to one survey firm, comprise 49 percent of the total. This is where the political organizations and vote delivery systems are most crucial.

Note that in the countryside, Team Unity has 98 percent of all functioning political organizations. The opposition has not shown or discussed any strategy for overcoming this disadvantage.

Just last week, the League of Provinces of the Philippines, comprising the country’s governors, declared that it would work for the 12-0 victory of the administration coalition. The Philippine Councilors League followed suit with a statement voicing its full support for Team Unity.

That might be too high a target, so let us see how they go about hitting it.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 13, 2007)

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