Speculation and Chismis

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The presidential elections are two years away, yet it is beginning to seem like we already are in an early campaign mode. It must be that the great powers given to the Office of the President and the Executive Branch can actually make the head spin, or the mouth salivate – even from onlookers.

I remember how it was in 2008, two years before the 2010 presidential elections. It was not much different. Already at that time were lots of speculation and chismis.  The more interesting and sane deductions came from those whose lives were almost totally dedicated to politics, not as candidates themselves, but as secondary players in campaigns and elections. Depending on the level of politics they were used to being part of, so would be the strength of their prognosis.

The more extreme opinions, though, are those who come from chismis, or from telenovelas. They have to conjure pieces of speculation that cannot be boring. It is funny how many Filipinos are engaged in chismis but not realizing they are, or will not admit to it. From now until the deadline of filing of candidacies will be one rumor mill after another, one story or drama after another. It will also not be just the naïve who will be jumping up and down with every crazy opinion but, strangely, many interested candidates as well.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay is the dominant frontrunner by any kind of measure, speculative or scientific. I am sure many private surveys already point to this. I say dominant because not only the numbers say so (and numbers are people who vote), but would-be candidates know so as well. This is reflected by their attacks, frontal and from the shadows. That only VP Jojo Binay is a prime target today is testament to his dominant lead position.

Everyone else is speculative. This reflects their present inability to become a strong one-on-one rival to VP Binay. It doesn’t mean that not one of them can win against Binay, but not now, not by any survey and evidence on the ground, and not by any intelligent plan on how to win the people’s affection and vote.

At the moment, it seems that the only active plan is to attack Binay. That may lose Binay some votes, but that does not win the attacker more votes. People should recall how Vice-Presidential candidate Mar Roxas attacked and attacked rival Loren Legarda, succeeded in eroding her support base, only to see the affected votes go to Jejomar Binay.

Attacking the frontrunner is a valid but not necessarily the best strategy. That kind of move is double-edged, like a sword. It can hurt the attacker more than the attacked. The attacks themselves seldom work against someone who has established a consistently favorable relationship with the people despite these allegations.  
Attacks have worked against a sitting president, actually two of them, despite their own political bases, but only because they abused their power, and could not hide their plunder. It did not help that they got involved in many personal scandals and maintained high-profile cronies.

Where there were other instances of re-electionist presidents losing their bids, especially Quirino to Magsaysay, Garcia to Macapagal, Macapagal to Marcos, it was less the attacks and more the superior charisma of the challenger that won the presidency. Eventually, in the post-Edsa scenario, Ramos won not by attacking anyone, Estrada won by his popularity, and so did Noynoy Aquino. They all had no re-electionist president for a rival, and had to win mostly on their positive merits.

At this point when all are speculation and chismis, there are no boundaries to what is reasonable or crazy except the risk of embarrassment of journalists attempting to be political analysts or commentators. The Filipino public is not often very discerning between what is plausible or utterly baseless. Or, even if they suspect that many sources have crazy conclusions, the public forgets quite fast and keeps listening to the same people.

The speculations and chismis will not die down either, not maybe until the end of 2015 when the filing of candidacies close. A few months before that, though, a few will have dropped out, convinced that they will not be the destined one. They will tend to slide down to the Vice-Presidential slot, or run for senator.  There will be only one or two who will run against great odds, either because they are too blinded by their ambition to see the handwriting on the wall, or because they can afford to let loose a few billion pesos from their hidden wealth and build a bigger, early base for 2022.

Meanwhile, it is Vice-President Jejomar Binay against the field. He will receive all the attacks and all the provocation. Often, it will not be to demonize him but to bait him to put his foot into his mouth. Early on, Binay can develop the ability to stay above the fray, which he will need to be a good president of a country that is fast being globalized and a predictable ping-pong ball between China and the United States. In the face of all that will be thrown at him, he has to see the bigger picture, and firmly stay there.

I remember a most interesting development where Vice-Presidents were concerned. Gloria when she was VP under Erap had a positive net rating of +63 in the 3rd quarter of 2000, but dropped heavily to -4 in the 4th quarter when she had turned against Erap. It was not as though Erap was not going down himself, as he was from +19 in the 3rd quarter to only +9 in the 4th, but obviously people did not take it well that Gloria abandoned him.

The very positive ratings of Vice-President Binay, then, are not in isolation from the very good ratings of PNoy. Though both are from different parties, Filipinos nevertheless look at then as an executive team, as they did Erap and Gloria in 2000. Food for thought.

Anyway, onwards to more speculations and chismis.

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