POSTSCRIPT / February 23, 2010 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Aquino, Villar on path of mutual destruction?

MUTUAL ANNIHILATION: With the fight for the presidency becoming more vicious as Election Day draws near, the top two contenders might just mortally wound each other and create an opening for those trailing them.

The Liberal camp of survey leader Sen. Noynoy Aquino and his allies have been bombarding close rival Nacionalista Sen. Manny Villar with conflict of interest and money issues related to his business operations and the C-5 road scandal.

On the other hand, Villar’s army has been battering Aquino on competence and Hacienda Luisita issues, including his clan’s refusal to turn over the farm to the tenants under agrarian reform and their reaping a windfall with the hacienda’s inclusion in the Subic-Clark expressway project.

Either the two protagonists will be damaged beyond repair and their stocks drop, or — in case of overkill — the electorate’s credulity might be so taxed that further attacks will be dismissed as sheer political sniping.

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POWER-WEALTH CYCLE: At the moment, both sides are scoring valid points – resulting in both Aquino and Villar being exposed as no different from each other in that their families have taken advantage of their influence as power players.

The addictive mix of power and wealth is, if you follow the logic of the passing scene, one of the driving forces in this race for the most commanding position in the land.

Wielding clout, a political clan amasses more wealth; and with more wealth it consolidates more power and makes more money, et cetera, in a progressive cycle.

What is in it for us plain folk watching on the sidelines? Nothing.

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THEY’RE ALL THE SAME: Review what has been said, written and documented about the two frontrunners – Aquino and Villar – and you cannot help concluding that although some of the accusations are false and malicious, a lot of it rings true.

But while the main protagonists have set up corruption as a key issue in the May elections, that ploy is mainly to create a convenient backdrop using the corruption in the Arroyo administration against which they may be seen as comparatively clean.

No wonder many exasperated voters have remarked, “parepareho lang naman sila (they are all the same).” No wonder also that the elections have degenerated into a search for the lesser evil.

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CHECK THE OTHERS: While the dominant players are busy demolishing each other, voters may find it useful to examine also, and maybe consider, the other candidates trailing in the surveys.

One or two of the contenders eating the dust of the lead pack have shown themselves to have leadership qualities, management acumen, competence and integrity to eclipse the frontrunners.

The only problem of those not favored by the survey firms is that many voters have that gambler’s inclination to pick only those who they think are winners, never mind if there are others more qualified.

Like Lotto bettors, they loathe voting for somebody who they think will lose anyway.

This immaturity of the electorate, the disregarding of qualification and betting on the perceived winner as shown in the surveys, is a big problem for candidates who are eminently qualified but do not have the millions to buy surveys.

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SURVEYS FOR SALE: Past elections have shown that a number of presidential candidates consistently leading in the surveys had ended up losing the race to somebody trailing in the polls.

If proof is needed that surveys, also exit polls, in this country do not always reflect the true public pulse or voters’ preference, look at those surveys in the past that had failed to pick or predict the winner.

Why the discrepancy? There are many reasons, some of them technical, but one explanation we hear now and then is that some surveys can be bought. The going rate, we have been told, is P3-4 million, while a rider question will cost P300,000.

Even Aquino blurted out one time, when his poll ratings plunged ominously last December, that some surveys can be bought in Quiapo. He must know something the average voter/bettor does not know.

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PAG MAY ERAP…: Last Sunday, we chanced upon Puersa ng Masang Pilipino standard bearer Erap Estrada and asked him, among other things, how the campaign has been.

He conceded that the surveys show Aquino leading, but added that he and Villar are close on the heels of the LP standard bearer and will soon catch up. He added that there is a limit to what Villar’s billions can do in blinding the electorate.

Estrada is emboldened by the crowd’s reception in his sorties. It is not only the size of the multitude, he said, but the excited outpouring that tells him that the surveys do not reflect the true situation on the ground.

He said that the exalted and exacting post of president is not for a novice expecting on-the-job training. Once elected, he said, he will get to work immediately as he has everything figured out. In fact, he added, he already has a core (not shadow) Cabinet on the ready.

He takes pride in statistics showing that when he was once at the helm, he brought down criminality (the basic element of his governance is peace and order), tamed inflation to 3 percent, nixed sovereign guarantee for private loans, crushed the secessionist rebellion in the South, and boosted employment — but his term was suddenly cut in 2001.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 23, 2010)

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