Photo of Vice Presisent Leni Robredo (Wikipedia)
In the latest pulse asia survey that shows President Rodrigo Duterte`s approval and trust ratings taking a dip,
Ronald Holmes of Pulse Asia rightly pointed out that various issues hounded the President and caused doubt in the minds of many supporters, accounting for the results.
Yet the other data in the survey worth noting are the same trust and approval ratings of Vice President Leni Robredo, which have remained the same over the past year.
To my mind the bigger question is why hasn`t this apparent loss of support translated into added popularity for Robredo or the opposition in the critical period prior to the elections.
Three things in my view.
One, there is a perception that her victory in the elections is tainted by fraud. Recent discoveries at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal show how votes for her rivals in many areas were reduced to zero while hers were strong despite the presence of certain groups like the iglesia ni Cristo supporting her rivals.
This leads many to be wary of the LP, rumored to have gamed smartmatic`s vote counting machines in 2016. This belief is bolstered by the current COMELEC`s renewal of the Smartmatic contract.
Beyond this, the destruction of Marawi is also rumored to factor in to the Liberal Party`s chances, since the persistent belief of many in Mindanao that many of Marawi`s warlords played key roles in gaming elections past through intimidation and outright cheating.
Recall how elections often fail in Lanao del Sur, and how subsequent elections tip the balance in favor of certain candidates. The suspicion that the then ruling LP used this old machine to try to shave votes off President Duterte remains strong.
Second, its the fear of the return of the old order that people replaced in 2016. Having enjoyed power in
successive administrations, the Manila based politicians among the opposition do not enjoy the same credibility over majority of voters that President Duterte maintained, particularly among those in southern Philippines and those among the large D class. The various reforms achieved in the last two years are without precedent, and the programs in the works are anticipated with very high expectations. The past two years would have been the chance for the opposition build this base, but they were obviously unablt to do so.
Third, the constant hammering away at Duterte`s personality, manner of speech, clothing and the suspected Extrajudicial Killings made them a one issue political bloc. The message is destroy Duterte`s reputation at all costs, while staying silent on vital reforms and achievements.
They remained silent on all other issues where reforms were achieved, leaving them without the needed credibility to challenge popular programs such as the free college tuition, 10 year passport validity, the removal of agri tarrifs, the increase in military and police salaries. Even in the less popular TRAIN law debates they were absent, making them look like tacit supporters.
This singular focus is a stubborn strategy that was first tried yet failed in the 2016 elections with the Australian rape joke and the accusations against the so - called Davao Death Squads DDS by his rivals. Alas, as the last pre election SWS surveys prior to the 2016 polls showed, some support from the ABC Crowd diminished, but the total figure for this upper class sector still placed him on top of his opponents, while support in the majority D and E class was untouched. It is ressurrected time and again, the latest being their blasting away at the supposed admitted "sin" of extrajudicial killings in a speech made yesterday.
The opposition still believes that the great mass of Filipinos believes as they do in their disdain for the drug war. However, after two years, SWS and Pulse Asia surveys still show 7 out of 10 Filipinos support it. Looking back, any reference to the drug war in the public sphere only seems to strengthen public support for it.
SUPPORT BASE REMAINS INTACT AFTER TWO YEARS, OPPOSITIONS BASE HAS NOT
In the end, while some reduction of support is expected of all sitting presidents two years into their terms, the latest survey results of September 7 show that the support base remains largely intact. Unfortunately for the opposition the same results show that it has failed to capitalize and convince former Duterte supporters to join their fold.
The drop in the voter preference of Senator Bam Aquino from the winning circle is particularly interesting. He would have led the oppositions charge in the next elections, but the Liberal Party`s chances, led by him, seem to have diminished further.
COMING ELECTIONS WILL BE A GAUNTLET THAT CAN EXPOSE WEAKNESSES FURTHER
Depending on how it plays its cards from this point forward, the LP`s failure to convert the Duterte base into its own may be its downfall.
Worse, as the elections draw nearer it looks like it will be unable to do so fast enough, when a big part of its record of government in past years will be exposed as part of campaign mudslinging.
Issues like Dengvaxia, the alleged Philhealth scams concerning Senator Risa Hontiveros, the Janet Napoles links to many of their candidates, and the DAP scandal will definitely surface as election issues.
In this light the Duterte support base has the upper hand, having inoculated itself early as a political force far from perfect yet able to push tough reforms. it has also done an unprecedented job keeping its majority base intact.
The opposition, on the other hand, still clings to its notion as the clean or "decent" alternative, yet remaining unable to deliver on tough reforms. Its numbers, however remain small. Many of its erstwhile leaders and more moneyed supporters now form the Duterte supermajority in Congress. How the opposition will try to tip this balance overwhelmingly in their opponents favor is anybody`s guess.
If this were a basketball game, steals and blocked shots alone don`t win games, especially when you are twenty points down with two minutes left. Some quick restarting of strategy will be needed for numbers to improve.
This will have to happen fast. Once the election mudslinging begins, well see who survives that gauntlet. Obviously it is the one who looks dirty to begin with.