It seems like it. Vice President Jejomar Binay is way ahead in the voter-preference polls with 69 percent, against Mar Roxas’ 29 percent, while his trust ratings —despite the all-out demolition drive against him by Senator Antonio Trillanes and the powerful Philippine Daily Inquirer—are still the highest among government officials.
I had been wondering why the propaganda campaign against Binay was undertaken this early, a year and a half before the May 2016 elections.
One reason obviously is that the campaign is a weapon of mass distraction. Since the attack on Binay started, the issues such as the accountability of the architects (Aquino and his budget secretary) of the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the corruption of the police chief, the horrendous crime rate, the reincarnation of pork barrel funds in the 2015 budget and the MRT-3 corruption have receded from public attention.
But why would President Benigno Aquino 3rd risk weakening the demolition campaign’s impact against Binay in the 2016 elections by launching it too early, just as a distraction?
The inescapable answer is that throwing Binay to jail at this time seems to be the only option left to stop Binay from being President in 2016. If he is detained in the next few months, it would be easier for Aquino to claim that it has nothing to do with the 2016 elections, while Binay’s resources for an election campaign, as I would explain, could weaken.
Stopping Binay from becoming President in 2016 is a matter of political and even personal survival for Aquino and his camp: their illegal DAP, the bribery of senators in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona, the MRT-3 gross anomalies, the pork-barrel thefts under this Administration, will surely land this president and his accomplices to jail unless they control the next administration. They have also wronged so many people with resources who are likely to demand justice – okay, call it vengeance – when Aquino and company are no longer in power.
Jailing Binay, of course, risks making him an underdog, a persecuted opposition figure just like this president’s father, Ninoy.
But Aquino’s camp knows that despite his father’s popularity in 1972, that there was consensus that he would be the next president – people hardly cared about Ninoy’s imprisonment. It would be the economic recession that started in 1983 and Ninoy’s assassination that roused the people to revolt, and that occurred more than a decade after he was imprisoned.
The jailing of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon “Bong” Revilla – once very popular figures – as well as of former President Gloria Arroyo, have been successful dry runs of sorts for Aquino’s plan to jail Binay. The three senators – who were, before, among the most trusted and most popular in the Senate – are fast receding from people’s sphere of attention. Even with the flimsiest of evidence against her, Arroyo is spending her fifth year in detention, her health deteriorating to life-threatening levels, yet there is no outrage over such injustice. If I could do that in Arroyo’s case, I can do it with Binay, too, Aquino must be thinking.
Enrile couldn’t mobilize the North, his RAM veterans, and Marcos loyalists; Jinggoy’s father Erap’s solid popular base of support obviously wasn’t transferable; and Revilla’s movie fans have proven useless in a political battle.
Aquino and his camp have concluded that as long as a personality is portrayed successfully as corrupt, and if he or she is jailed for plunder, which is “non-bailable,” there wouldn’t be a political furor over his or her jailing.
Aquino’s camp knows that the allegations of overpricing for the Makati building, the Batangas agrotourism park, and rigged city-government contracts don’t really matter for the C-D-E classes, which have learned to accept an “acceptable” level of bribery as long as an official is doing his job – and Makati has been practically the kind of social-welfare state the masses want.
Surveys I’ve seen also show that Binay has built up a solid, unwavering 35 percent mass support, even a bit more than of Erap’s. That kind of support has proven to be invulnerable and steadfast, with Erap’s landing second place in the 2010 elections even after his conviction by the Sandiganbayan, and even if the other candidates like Manuel Villar had much bigger campaign funds.
For some reason, despite the corruption of the judiciary, it is still a highly trusted institution, and many people believe that if a regular court orders somebody jailed, it is likely that he or she is guilty, or “somewhat” guilty of a crime.
Almost all the elements in Aquino’s now familiar playbook for attacking a personality and putting him (or her) to jail are now in place:
• The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s and its opinion columnists’ all-out attack against the target, almost simultaneously with a Senate investigation, as has happened in the campaign against President Arroyo, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, Chief Justice Renato Corona, and the three Senators.
Alleged whistle-blowers who would be placed, for drama, under the Witness Protection Program.
After the big Doberman-type of attack dogs on opinion pages, enter the “Chihuahua” attackers yapping their “exclusives,” like that blogger whom congressman Renato Umali in the impeachment trial described as the small lady who gave him Corona’s confidential bank records, columnists who usually follow crowd-thinking, and a news website.
• Commission on Audit commissioner Heidi Mendoza (remember her crying in the Senate hearing against Reyes and her attempt to explain Corona’s bank records in the impeachment trial?)
• Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and her attack dog, the National Bureau of Investigation; and lastly,
• The Anti-Money Laundering Council’s secretariat, especially when its play-safe head, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco, is out of the country.
The one element that is conspicuously absent is the Akbayan party, which, after getting millions of pesos from this Administration, is wisely starting to disengage from it.
When Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales rears her head in this fray, Binay should start packing his overnight bag.
What would Binay’s jailing achieve?
First, he would find it difficult to tap his resources, financially and politically, and there would be some defections from his political and business-sector supporters. Second, the usual campaign funders from business would reduce their contributions, and if there is no public uproar over his jailing in the eight or six months before the May 2016 elections, they would probably stop their support, crippling his campaign.
The media will play a big role in the coming months or even weeks, whether Aquino will implement his plot to jail Binay and whether it will be successful or whether it will backfire to make him a shoo-in for the presidency in 2016.
However, the two big networks, ABS-CBN and GMA7, as well as Channel 5, are appearing as defenders of democracy and have not joined the still-small lynch mob against Binay, and to their credit have been professional in their coverage of the accusations against Binay. Unlike Aquino’s previous campaigns, the Philippine Star also has been more sober in its coverage of the controversy. There is still a chance for democracy and justice.