Grace Poe and the call for change


As expected, her rivals for the Presidency of the Republic are downplaying its impact on their chances this May. But the Supreme Court en banc vote of nine to six reversing the Commission on Elections (Comelec) order disqualifying Grace Poe from running is likely to boost her already high voter-preference numbers and to hand her the presidency this year. Barring massive fraud in the counting, the Court decision makes the country’s choice of a third woman president almost certain — and it’s not going to be Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

The impact of the Court decision on Poe’s ratings should be evident in the next surveys. But the camp of Vice-President Jejomar C. Binay, Sr. nevertheless claims that the decision will not have an impact on Binay’s chances.

“The Supreme Court decision has no bearing on our campaign,” said Binay Spokesperson Rico Paolo R. Quicho, who insisted that because “This election is not about who the opponents are but who is the most prepared to address the problem of poverty,” it is still Binay who is the country’s best hope to do so.

If that sounds more like wishful thinking rather than the result of rigorous analysis, it’s because it is. The Court decision is the critical factor that will break the statistical tie among contenders Poe, Binay, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte, and former Interior and Local Governments Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II. It’s exactly what the Poe camp has been waiting for, the turning point that in past elections has made the difference between losing and winning, the 2016 equivalent of the death of Corazon C. Aquino in 2009 that made Benigno S. C. Aquino III president in 2010 and consigned Manuel “Mar” Roxas II to political limbo.

Roxas’ Liberal Party similarly played down the court decision, claiming that Roxas had always been “prepared to run against Senator Poe” — a statement that conveniently forgets that the LP spent months in 2015 trying to convince Grace Poe to run as Roxas’ vice-presidential partner, in implicit recognition of Poe’s already vast popularity. Despite his upbeat statement, however, LP Spokesperson Ibarra “Barry” M. Gutierrez III practically admitted in the same breath that they’ll now have to work harder if they want their candidate to win: “with 62 days left till elections, it simply means we have to keep focused on the campaign and our message.”

Rodrigo Duterte tried to sound unconcerned as well, deciding to simply congratulate Poe, whose being “an American” was supposedly the reason why he decided to run for the presidency. But PDP-Laban President Aquilino D. L. Pimentel III nevertheless said the Court’s decision had no effect at all on Duterte’s campaign.

Like the Liberal Party, PDP-Laban, said Pimentel, “never based our plans on the assumption that Poe would be disqualified.” He added that the Duterte-Alan Peter Cayetano tandem’s “platform” addresses the concern of most Filipinos over crime, corruption, and poverty.

These statements mask a very real fear: that Grace Poe will win the presidency in May. The only exception to this orgy of bogus optimism was the response of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., who was all praise for the ruling, since, he said, with Poe running, “the Philippine voter has a full range of choices of individuals and programs to choose from.”

Marcos, Jr. was only being true to form. He’s after all running as the vice-presidential candidate of Miriam Defensor-Santiago, whose chances of winning the presidency are at best dim. Marcos, Jr. knows it, and even Santiago knows it. But Marcos, Jr. couldn’t care less about the presidential contest, his main concern being elected to the vice-presidency as the launching pad for the presidency in 2022 on the strength of the same spurious claim Marcos, Sr. made 44 years ago when he declared martial law that he’s the country’s only hope for change.

Change — the growing and sustained call for it from practically all sectors, but especially among the poor and the middle class of professionals and small traders and entrepreneurs — is what the 2016 national elections are shaping up to be about. That demand — focused on such seemingly isolated issues as the Metro Manila traffic mess, the surging crime rate, the embarrassing state of public transportation, the scarcity of job opportunities, the corruption and inefficiency of the bureaucracy, and yes, the grinding poverty that’s the lot of millions of Filipinos — is in direct repudiation of the Aquino III administration’s claims that it has significantly reduced corruption and poverty, and achieved inclusive growth.

The desperate craving for change helps explain why too many Filipinos have fallen for the myth of the “golden age” of the Marcos dictatorship — they simply can’t stand the present, and have embraced folklore as the antidote to it. It helps explain as well why the Duterte candidacy has gained widespread support, despite the contradiction inherent in Duterte’s claim that he will rid the country of crime and restore the rule of law by bending and even breaking the law.

The near-universal demand for change — at times cloaked in modest terms but often forthrightly arguing for social revolution — also accounts for the sustained popularity of Grace Poe, for which her adoptive father’s film fame is only partially responsible. But most of all does the same yearning explain the foundering candidacy of Roxas, whose decision to portray himself as the heir of Aquino’s “Daang Matuwid” — i.e., his promise to do more of the same — is turning into a disaster both for him as well as for his otherwise viable vice-presidential partner, Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo.

With the game-changing Supreme Court decision under her belt, and with only two months before the elections, the possibility that Grace Poe will be president is likely to result not only in a surge in her voter-preference numbers; it will also generate a tidal wave of endorsements and support from those sectors in whose calculations a Poe victory is likely, and whose interests have always depended on government policy.

The endorsements and support won’t be without a price — and the price can come in the form of exactly the opposite of the changes that more and more Filipinos are realizing are sorely and urgently needed for their sake as well as the entire country’s.

Such powerful sectors as the political dynasties, institutions such as the Church and the military, interests both domestic and foreign, have always been critical factors in the election of presidents, and they’re not likely to give up that power. The interests of these sectors, institutions, and interests — summed up in keeping and hardening the status quo of privilege and elite power — have been historically at odds with those of the majority, but have always prevailed over those of the supposedly sovereign mass of the citizenry.

The fundamental question is whether Grace Poe’s presumptive “government with a heart” will be truly transformative: whether it will have the political will and the grassroots support that will enable it to deliver to the long suffering people of this troubled and troubling land the changes — the economic and social revolution — that have eluded them for centuries.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Published in the Business World
March 10, 2016

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