MANILA, Philippines - When they first ran in 2007, members of the party list group United Transport Koalisyon (UTAK) thought of placing the numeral "1" before its name, hence its current name 1-UTAK. No deeper meaning behind it, a member says. It's just a strategy for them to be first in the alphabetical list of party list groups that voters will choose from during the elections.
True enough, they became first in the list that year. This year, however, party list groups whose names begin with "1" increased: 1 Ang Pamilya, 1-Aangat Tayo, and 1-Aani, to name a few. "We were shocked because of instead of being number 1, we moved down to number 9," says transport leader Zenaida Maranan, one of 1-UTAK's nominees for this year's polls.
Now that the system is automated and all candidates' names are printed on the official ballot, many are making a big deal out of being ahead in the list.
But what's big deal, really? Science says one's position in a list affects one's chances of being chosen -- or voted for, in the case of elections.
Dr. Felix Muga, a mathematics professor at the Ateneo de Manila, cites Benford's law in statistics, which states that "in lists of numbers from many (but not all) real-life sources of data... the first digit 1 is almost one third of the time, and larger digits occur as the leading digit with lower and lower frequency..."
Thus, if a candidate is associated with the numeral 1 or is first on the list, he or she has 30 percent more chances of "occurring" or being chosen than others. Those close to his or her name have good but lesser chances.
"The effect is usually on the undecided voters. Their tendency is to go to the number one on the list first," Muga says.
This is why the Liberal Party (LP) is uncomfortable with the position of its bet, Sen. Noynoy Aquino on the list. Aquino is number 2, placed between the disqualified candidate Vetellano Acosta and Ang Kapatiran standard-bearer JC delos Reyes.
"It's biased against Noynoy Aquino," says LP campaign manager Butch Abad of the ballot's design. "For one, it still contains the name of Vetellano Acosta … Look at the slot for Manny Villar. He's by himself there."
The LP believes the ballot's design favors Villar, Aquino's closest rival, whose name is alone in one column in the section for presidential candidates.
The party has asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to redesign the ballot and remove Acosta. But the poll body said this is impossible, because it would mean reconfiguring the poll machines' software and printing millions of ballots all over again.
Curiously, reelectionist Sen. Bong Revilla's family name on the ballot is not just "Revilla" but "Bong Revilla," placing him among the first in the list. But his camp says this was not meant to place him ahead of others.
"The voters... have always known and identified him as Ramon B. Bong Revilla Jr. and not Ramon 'Bong' B. Revilla Jr.," his camp said in a statement. "In 2004, the surname Bong Revilla was used when he filed his certificate of candidacy, and the Supreme Court upheld the commission's decision by using Bong Revilla."
Random, Not alphabetical
Muga thinks that to level the playing field, names on the ballot should be randomly instead of alphabetically arranged. This is the way they do it in California, he says.
For the Comelec, however, there's too much and unnecessary ado about how names on the ballot are arranged.
"The position of the candidate on the ballot shouldn't be the determining factor of whether he will win or not," says Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal. "You should give voters more credit than that."
In the end, the poll body says, it's how candidates campaign -- not where they are on the ballot -- that will decide their fate on May 10.