Candidates need to rethink the 'bobotante'

By Inday Espina-Varona,

Posted at Jun 19 2015 08:00 PM | Updated as of Jun 20 2015 04:00 AM

Binay slips among poor voters

MANILA - The strategy of patronage has a point of diminishing returns when it comes to national elections.

When the media banner voters’ top issues of concern, and race leaders trip under the spotlight, other candidates can play catch up without breaking the bank, according to political scientists assessing the results of the latest Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys.

In the Philippines, voters’ preference for “pro-poor” candidates has long been interpreted as a boon for candidates who buy votes with cash or services sourced from their pork barrels.

Political scientist Temario Rivera, however, told that past national elections showed poor voters identifying graft and corruption – and equal enforcement of the law – as their main concern.

In failing to walk the talk, Vice President Jejomar Binay lost substantial support from the critical D and E voting blocs, said Bobby Tuazon, director of policy studies at the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPeg).

Rethinking ‘bobotante’

Good governance and election watchdogs like tracing the Philippines’ endemic corruption to the huge base of poor voters with low-educational levels.

The message can be grating: “bobotante” (stupid voters) elect corrupt politicians in exchange for a few hundred pesos worth of bribes and other displays of patronage.

The latest series of presidential preference surveys by Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS), however, show a different story.

Binay, long known as king of largesse – decades of twin-city programs and a vast array of social services and quaint perks for Makati City residents -- has slumped among the crucial Class D and E voter demographics.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who for now has the administration’s formidable resources behind him, continues to inch up the surveys, not enough to ease concerns about his “winnability."

Independent contender, Sen. Grace Poe, meanwhile, zoomed past Binay, doubling and tripling her ratings in crucial economic demographics and the most vote-rich areas.

Crucial base

In the latest Pulse Asia report, Binay saw a drop in Class D and E backers, from March to May this year.

Candidates need to rethink the 'bobotante' 1

The period featured legislative and legal probes into alleged corruption which led to a freeze of his assets and that of kin and trusted aides.

His portion of D voters slipped from 30% to 20%. From 33%, his class E share went down to 25%.

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The D class accounts for 60% of the population, according to a report released in 2011 by then National Statistics Coordinating Board (NSCB) head Tomas Africa.

The lowest end of the middle class, or the higher end of the poor, comprises the D voters.

Rivera places the D voter base at 60% to 65%, and the E class at 25% to 29%.

Overall, the Vice President dropped 7-percentage points in the survey conducted from May 15 to June 5, a development described as “slightly significant” by Pulse Asia president Ronald Holmes.

Rivera pointed out that Binay’s ratings have “progressively declined” since June 2014, when he enjoyed a 40% share of respondents.

More dangerous, he said, are the “very significant” gains of Poe, who more than doubled her share of voters’ preference nationwide.

The senator’s share of the D class doubled, from 15% in the March 2015 survey to 31% in May.

In the E class, the traditional hold of Binay and the populist former president Joseph Estrada, Poe’s rating increased from 13% to 25%

Rivera, who chairs CenPeg, said the slump is serious since the margin of error for D voters is low, around 4% to 5%.

Media’s role

Holmes, in an interview with ANC, said there were days when Binay’s alleged links to corruption was “only thing hogging the news.''

Political science professor Antonio Contreras agrees with Holmes.

“I guess the CDE voters for Binay are now getting the message,” he told

 He said some broadcasters are “very effective in painting him (Binay) as a crook in dramatic ways.”

“Alam mo naman ang CDE, yan ang nakikinig pa sa radio,” Contreras pointed out. (The CDE classes listen to radio.)

Tuazon believes Binay’s defense against mounting corruption issues was flawed.

While his lawyers, political allies and children tried to fend of charges raised in and out the Senate, “the effort was not consolidated”.

“The perception is, that he has been avoiding tackling the issues head on,” Tuazon said.

Poe, on the other hand, gained from the almost daily coverage of the emotional hearings on the Jan 21 Mamasapano carnage that claimed the lives of 44 elite cops.

She also oversaw hearings on issues important to the D class – the breakdown of the MRT system used daily by half a million Metro Manila residents.

Rivera said attempts to attack Poe using her status as a foundling backfired in a culture where abused underdogs are a favorite conversation topic.

ABC support

Strangely, as senators crowed about new evidence of alleged plunder, and details of bank accounts in the billions of pesos were leaked to media, Binay’s ABC supporters increased.

In fact, Binay has seen a steady increase in ABC believers since Pulse Asia’s November 2014 survey, when news reports were already full of details from the Senate probe spearheaded by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.

From 17% last November, Binay’s ABC preference rating rose to 22% in March and to 29% in the latest survey conducted from May 30 to June 5.

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Traditional wisdom, oft quoted by political pundits, assigns to the middle and upper classes the conscience vote, the high ground focused on issues like corruption and good governance.

In 2010 presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III used the slogans, “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” and “tuwid na daan” (straight path). It caught fire in the end days of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s scandal-plagued administration.

What could account for the rise in Binay’s ABC rating?

Contreras said, “the rise of Binay among the ABC is perhaps sign that the elites are getting irritated at the no-holds barred lynching of Binay. ”

Political opinion-writer Beth Angsioco was also puzzled by the rise in Binay’s ABC ratings, “unless people in this cluster think that he is being unfairly crucified.”

But while allies of Roxas and the LP went all out against Binay, the biggest beneficiaries was not the Interior secretary, but Poe and Duterte, she pointed out.

Did Binay become the “protest choice” by anti-corruption advocates angered by the Aquino administration’s display of “double standards” on issues of governance?

Activist artist Mae Paner disagrees.

“I don’t see those disappointed in Aquino, on issues of transparency and fiscal abuse, and corruption by his aides, going for Binay,” Paner said. “They will be looking for an alternative to these two examples of trapo politics.”

Rivera, however, downplayed the increase in Binay’s ABC support, calling it “statistically insignificant.”

While the figures may seem substantial, he said the small representation greatly increases the margin of error, especially with the AB class, which is traditionally reluctant to participate in surveys. The demographic’s margin of error, he pointed out, can be as high as 20%.

Tuazon said the ABC figures could be a reflection of the old Binay-Roxas polarity.

Both have long signaled their plans to contest the presidency, he pointed out. In contrast, the other perceived contenders – Poe, Duterte and Estrada – have not issued clear statements on their political ambitions.

“That (ABC) figure will dramatically change once the candidates come clean about their plans for 2016,” said Tuazon.

Roxas’s gains not enough

Roxas, still the frontrunner where the ruling Liberal Party is concerned, improved his showing in the May survey, going up to 10% in a tie with former President Joseph Estrada, and after Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte with 15%.

While Roxas increased his share of Class D believers from 4% to 10%, Riversa said this was actually a very small increase if the margin of error is factored in.

Angsioco believes Roxas benefited from the reprieve granted to Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino facing the death sentence in Indonesia and the death of Umbra Kato, a wanted terrorist,” and his visibility in the aftermath of the Kentex fire in Valenzuela.

“Conversely, Binay was perceived to have 'failed' to save Veloso and had nothing to do with military operations so perhaps popularity among class D-E dipped,” Angsioco said.