Column No. 357. Published on August 11, 2015.
We should ask the same questions of the first declared candidate for president that we asked of the second. Thus: Can Jojo Binay win in 2016? Despite the recent loss of his frontrunner status, the objective answer must still be yes. Will he win? We should have a better idea by March next year.
Again, these answers are a belaboring of the obvious—except that President Aquino’s endorsement of Mar Roxas as his preferred successor has colored partisan analysis by sharpening the contrast between the two political rivals. There is now a palpable sense of excitement among Roxas’ supporters, especially among the true believers, that because the endorsement was announced at the right time and in exactly the right way, momentum is on Roxas’ side.
That remains to be seen. The plans of Sen. Grace Poe, the popular political newcomer who topped the Senate elections in 2013, are very much a factor; indeed, Roxas and his chief lieutenants are still busy wooing Poe to join his ticket as vice presidential candidate. (I think even the seating arrangement at the head table in the so-called show of force by Roxas’ political allies in Greenhills, San Juan, last week was designed with Poe in mind: Roxas was seated between Mr. Aquino on his left and two prospective running mates on his right, the popular actress and accomplished politician Vilma Santos-Recto, governor of Batangas, and civil society favorite Rep. Leni Robredo.)
And Binay is not exactly standing still. A week after the President’s State of the Nation Address, he offered his own “true” take on the national situation; he used the occasion to deepen his criticism of the administration he used to serve.
Can he win? The necessary conditions are there.
He retains the aura of a winner. In his last election (his first for national office), he won the vice presidential contest in storybook fashion: a come-from-behind victory against the prohibitive favorite. In the December 2009 Social Weather Stations survey, Roxas was at 43 percent; Binay was only at 10. The next two months must have been truly suspenseful for his campaign. In January he was up to 16 percent but remained stuck at 17 percent in February. In contrast, Roxas was up to 49 percent in January (in other words, Binay’s gain that month was offset by Roxas’ own rise in the polls) and was still at a commanding 45 percent in February. On hindsight, however, we can see that the erosion in Roxas’ support started that month. By the last pre-election survey in early May, the two were tied at 37 percent. Binay eventually won with 14.6 million votes; votes for Roxas stood at 13.9 million.
His network of alliances remains largely in place. By now, it has become conventional wisdom that through his long involvement with both the Boy Scouts and his fraternity and with the strategic use of Makati City’s sister-city program, he was able to generate the support on the ground that he needed to edge Roxas in the final weeks of the campaign. That network was put to the test again in 2013, when his daughter Nancy, despite being a complete beginner, won a Senate seat on her first try.
Not least, he continues to enjoy the halo effect of having served as mayor of the central business district and, for many years, the country’s richest city. This is an asset that cannot be underestimated.
But—after the controversial hearings of the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee on the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building II; the preventive suspension of his son, Mayor Junjun Binay, by the Ombudsman; and his contentious resignation from the Cabinet—isn’t the Vice President damaged goods?
The allegations of corruption have taken a toll on his satisfaction ratings; since the Senate hearings started, his net numbers have fallen from +67 in June 2014 to +31 in March 2015; they have since recovered, but only to the lower 40s. In the last year, his net satisfaction ratings have all been lower than those of his first few months in office.
I think the younger Binay’s truculence in the face of the Ombudsman’s order was a mistake, costing the Vice President precious support. But the problem is not insoluble. If Binay’s children (three of whom serve in public office) demonstrate a humility more in keeping with their embrace of masa politics, perhaps they can reassure those who have graduated from “undecided” to “dissatisfied” that their father’s pursuit of the presidency does not in fact come from a sense of easy entitlement.
The allegations of corruption have found a focus: The inexplicable disappearance of two close aides who could help shed light on the sensational accusations of former Makati City vice mayor Ernesto Mercado. It is possible that Ebeng Baloloy and Gerry Limlingan will surface at the opportune time—perhaps a few weeks before Election Day, to help dispel any cloud of doubt still untreated by massive campaign advertising. This is a possibility I cannot discount.
It may be that the greatest risk for Binay (the first vice president since 1986 to poll fewer votes than the winning president) is turning against the President he served for five loyal years. If history is any gauge, many Filipinos will see this as a form of betrayal. When Doy Laurel openly broke away from Cory Aquino, for instance, he was punished in the public opinion polls. In the year between October 1986 and October 1987, his net satisfaction rating fell from +44 to -5.
Binay’s winning strategy may lie in looking less in the direction of Manila, and more toward the city that made his name.