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Nancy vs Bam: Proxy fight for 2016

Look at the winners in the senatorial contest and it would be foolish to say that it was a successful referendum for ON President’s Aquino’s leadership.
Three of the top-notchers (Grace Poe, Loren Legarda, and Chiz Escudero) were actually initially “guest candidates” of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, and were dropped only for convenience—or the realization that they couldn’t be in two rallies at the same time, and after all, they’d be able to use Team PNoy’s and government resources.

Mr. Aquino certainly can’t take credit for Poe’s being the top-notcher, or her late father Ang Panday would rise from the grave and whack his head. She even implied recently that she had to leave UNA because of the “almost daily threats” against her being in that group.

It was former president Joseph Estrada, one of the UNA’s three top leaders, who in fact had politically and financially supported Grace’s candidacy, as he did in her father Fernando’s bid for the presidency in 2004.

Only one Liberal Party candidate, Bam Aquino, won but this was hardly due to his cousin President Aquino’s endorsement and resources but to his success in fooling people he was the incarnation of his martyred uncle. The two other Liberals, Jun Magsaysay and Jamby Madrigal, as well Aquino’s creation and attack dog Risa Hontiveros didn’t make it.

If the elections reflected the political dynamics for the future, it tested the strengths—or maybe call it “brands”—of Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay, whom UNA has announced as its presidential candidate in 2016. This was in the form of a proxy fight: Between Binay’s daughter Nancy and Aquino’s cousin Bam, in terms of who would have more votes.

They were, to use boxing lingo, pound-for-pound even. Both are basically nobodies in a senatorial contest if not for their names. Nancy is Binay’s trusted executive assistant but has little else to claim as her qualifications. While trying to look as best as he can like his uncle, Bam led a sheltered life, but has been trying to portray his chairmanship of the National Youth Commission during President Arroyo’s term as his accomplishment.

Bam had a headstart in the contest, obvious in his change of haircut and eyeglasses early last year to look like his uncle. Nancy actually was only a replacement candidate when Joey de Venecia was taken out of the UNA ticket late last year. The Vice President initially had been opposed to Nancy’s candidacy as he didn’t want to be distracted in making sure UNA had a fighting chance. It was former president Estrada in fact, who proved he hasn’t lost his feel for the masa sentiment, who urged Binay to let Nancy run and he agreed.

Judge for yourself how much the Nancy vs. Bam proxy fight is an indication of what could happen in the 2016 elections:

Aquino actually spent most of his time and his clan’s financial resources for Bam’s campaign. Going by the Social Weather Stations, this proved effective, increasing the percentage of respondents choosing him from 24 percent in November last year to a high of 44 percent last month. His rating though fell to 41 percent just before the elections. The “actual” results – i.e., based on 76 percent of ballots tallied –showed 39 percent of voters chose him.

On the other hand, even when Nancy had not yet been declared to be a candidate for senator, i.e., in November, the SWS’ survey showed 41 percent would vote for her at that time. This increased to 47 percent in March to peak at 48 percent just before the elections, with elections results so far showing Nancy to have garnered 42 percent of votes.

What is interesting in Nancy’s case is that there was a well-funded and intense demolition job launched against her starting March until election day. This is obvious in the sudden run of negative articles against her in the yellow papers. It was in social media – in which the Aquino troops have proven to have competence in manipulating – where the demolition job against Nancy was most intense and venomous.

There was a concerted attempt in social media for instance to call her “None-see,” actually a racist joke among Filipinos that one can’t see dark-skinned people. Facebook accounts were flooded with racist jokes against her, ridiculing her dark skin. Dutifully playing her role as Aquino’s attack dog, Risa Hontiveros led the charge against her in television interviews and in social media, a blunder for her own candidacy as voters despise mud-slinging candidates.

The attack hardly dented Nancy’s support, with SWS tracking her March support at 47 even rising to 49 percent in April. Will this also be case when the Aquinos’ yellow army unleashes corruption allegations against Binay which it has been compiling?

The SWS surveys show (see chart) show that Bam never managed to overtake Nancy, with the actual results (76 percent of votes tallied) showing Binay having 42 percent while Bam 39 percent. That’s a 934,000 difference. Fidel Ramos won the presidency in 1992 with 875,000 votes over Miriam Defensor Santiago, while Gloria Arroyo had an 816,000 lead over Fernando Poe in the 2004 elections.

But Bam’s strength wasn’t really in his uncle’s endorsement and support. He tried hard to be Ninoy’s look-alike, to exploit Filipinos’ superstitious belief that the qualities of leadership and honesty runs in the blood.

Aquino’s candidate in 2016, unless he fields Bam, would be someone—e.g. Mar Roxas—who wouldn’t have the built-in advantage of being confused by the masses as being someone great. He’d rely on Aquino’s resources and endorsement, which in Madrigal, Magasaysay, and Hontiveros’ cases proved to be grossly inadequate.

What would make it harder for Aquino’s proxy in 2016 is that, it seems so far, UNA has won more posts for provincial governors as well as municipal and city mayors. Out of eight vote-rich provinces, the Liberal Party won the gubernatorial posts in Cebu and Zamboanga del Norte, with UNA wining in Pangasinan, Pampanga, Cavite, Laguna, Quezon, and Negros Oriental.

Although I will present data on this next week, one glaring case is Cavite, which has been a big humiliation for Aquino. He led three major rallies there, and boasted that his candidates there would win by a landslide. The province’s local cable TV shamelessly even ran continuously since March Aquino’s rallies in the province with his candidates by his side. However, UNA’s Jonvic Remulla decisively won the governorship over Aquino’s Ayong Maliksi while his brother Ramon Jolo won as vice governor beating pro-Aquino Senator Panfilo Lacson’s son.

And in a presidential contest, what’s crucial is the support of the governors and mayors, who are always on the ground in their fiefdoms, with the congressmen busy in faraway Manila making sure they get their pork barrel.