Close presidential race in need of 'dramatic' event: analyst

Christian Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - With still no clear frontrunner two months before the May 9 presidential election, contenders will need a “dramatic and extraordinary” effort to distinguish themselves from the others and pull away for good, a political analyst said Monday.

Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform said administration candidate Mar Roxas would need this “drastic” development in particular, considering that his numbers appeared to have plateaued in the low 20s.

Lito Banayo, a campaign strategist for presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, said Roxas’ numbers were the “max for continuity.” Banayo was referring to Roxas’ promise to continue the programs of President Aquino.

“By this point in time, you need a dramatic, you need a drastic, you need an extraordinary effort or event or incident to break out of that level of performance,” Casiple told ABS-CBN News.

Magic bullet

But a Roxas campaign spokesman said such an effort was also true for other presidential contenders. Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez also cautioned against “manufacturing” a “breakthrough moment” to pull away.

“It might be tempting to look for this one magic bullet,” Gutierrez said.

“(But) you can’t just start saying something completely different 60 days from the election simply because you want something new… That can’t be manufactured. That has to come in the course of the campaign.”

Cebu Rep. Ace Durano, Sen. Grace Poe’s campaign manager, earlier said his camp was optimistic that she would pull away for good if the Supreme Court would rule in her favor.

Poe is facing disqualification because she allegedly is not a natural-born Filipino citizen and that she failed to meet the minimum residency requirement to run for president.

Statistical tie

In the latest The Standard Poll conducted by pollster Junie Laylo, Roxas placed second to Poe, Duterte, and Vice President Jejomar Binay, who were in a statistical tie for first place.

Roxas garnered 22 percent, similar to his number in the December 2015 findings of the Social Weather Stations.

But Gutierrez was confident Roxas could pull off the victory in May, noting that the Liberal Party standard-bearer had started with single-digit ratings in the surveys.

“A year ago, we’re not even in the equation,” Gutierrez said. “Slow but sure, but come May, we’ll have the numbers to actually win the election.”

Roxas was at his lowest at 4 percent in the March 2015 survey of Pulse Asia. Prior to that, he was at 7 percent in Pulse Asia’s June-July 2014 survey and at 8 percent in the firm’s November findings that year.

‘Strategic mistake’

Casiple said Roxas’ committed a “strategic mistake” when he focused his campaign on continuing the so-called gains of “Daang Matuwid,” Mr. Aquino’s good governance platform.

“We’ve never had a ‘heaven on earth’ type of administration (meaning) no mistake, no criticism,” Casiple said.

“So, the moment you say you will continue ‘Daang Matuwid,’ voters assume that what they see now will only persist,” he added, citing the worsening traffic in Metro Manila and conditions at the Metro Rail Transit system.

Casiple said Roxas should put his own “stamp” in his campaign. Gutierrez said this precisely was what Roxas had been doing at this stage in the campaign.

Still, Gutierrez said campaigning on a platform of continuity would work to Roxas’ advantage.

“There are drawbacks on being the administration candidate,” he said, “but even with the drawbacks, on balance, it is an advantage to actually be the administration candidate.”

Gutierrez cited Mr. Aquino’s high trust and approval ratings this late in his term.

But as Casiple pointed out, it’s Roxas—not Mr. Aquino—who’s running for president this time.