(Published by The Manila Times on 8 May 2019)
The latest Pulse Asia survey for senators, conducted April 10-14, or one month before the elections on 13 May 2019, ranks the top 12 candidates in this order: 1. Cynthia Villar, 2. Grace Poe, 3. Lito Lapid, 4. Pia Cayetano, 5. Bong Go, 6. Sonny Angara, 7. Bong Revilla, 8. Bato Dela Rosa, 9. Nancy Binay, 10. Koko Pimentel, 11. Imee Marcos, and 12. Jinggoy Estrada.
Surveys like that can be wrong, but if they are right, then the country is poised to elevate at least five aspirants of dubious record to the otherwise lofty stature of the Philippine Senate. Revilla, acquitted of a plunger charge by the Sandiganbayan but ordered by the same court to return to government the amount of Php 124.5 million, is still facing 16 counts of graft charges. Estrada is on trial, also for plunder and graft charges, but is out on bail.
Marcos is currently being investigated by the Ombudsman for alleged misuse of tobacco funds while she was Governor of Ilocos Norte. Lapid, in 2015, was ordered arrested by the Sandiganbayan for graft charges; the case was eventually dismissed due to delay in the investigation by the Ombudsman.
De la Rosa is also a respondent to a complaint filed before the Ombudsman, not for stealing or misuse of public funds, but for alleged killings carried out by the Davao Death Squad.
Some will always feel disappointed by the result of any electoral process. They are wary of what Winston Churchill had warned when he said, about a century ago, that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
What he meant is known to many: dumb voters are electing politicians to office. We know something more, of course. Sometimes it is not only about people who neither know nor understand the issues. There are also those who know that they do not know, yet do not care to know anyway. Worse, there are those who, although aware of what is false and what is true, are rationalizing and making up their minds on the basis of lies, even undermining the truth to make themselves comfortable with the lies they embrace.
Something must be amiss somewhere. What is there to know about the average voter—the one that constitutes the majority whose sovereign will shapes the future of our country?
There are tell-tale signs. As the path of the “welcome-back party” for Revilla and Estrada becomes clear, so is the joke that the average voter is a fan boy, picking good looks over good record. This applies similarly in the case of Lapid and everyone else among the front runners, for whom not only good looks but also media exposure has done amazing results.
For all contenders, voter preferences appear to be mainly a function of awareness. In the survey, all top 7 vote-getters have awareness levels of at least 98 percent.
In that sense the average voter is dependent on the so-called power of recall, which means awareness impact is a product of years of messaging, suggesting that media projections during the months leading to the election are not enough. Survey results further showed that newcomers like Chel Diokno, Romy Macalintal and Samira Gutoc (whose media presence promoting their candidacies came out only during the campaign period) have very low awareness levels among respondents, ranging from 31 to 50 percent. Also the awareness factor seems transcendent, as in the case of Poe, whose identity is bundled with that of the late movie great Fernando Poe Jr., and Villar, whose husband, Manny Villar, had practically owned media when he campaigned for president in 2011.
Some candidates try to highlight their intellectual superiority over other candidates. This does not seem to excite the average voter, however, who is probably more comfortable and willing to express empathy with the average candidate. Hence there is limited appreciation for blue chips like Pimentel and Pilo Hilbay, both bar topnotchers, or MATHGRAD, who struggles with Larry Gadon, who is not bobo.
In some cases, the average voter can be an outstanding practitioner of his/her craft, a rebel with a cause, a soldier loyal to his/her flag, a leader that inspires, a brilliant communicator, a multi-awarded community leader, a facebook friend, etc. whose free will is compromised by promises of career advancement, or by indebtedness to the wellsprings of benefaction made plentiful by a Robin Hood, a drug lord, a warlord, a gambling lord, a political dynast, or a member of whatever cartel.
The average voter can even be a grafter in government, or friends of grafters in government, whose love for money is perhaps driven by filial obligations, which is an otherwise cherished value in a different context.
Finally, almost everyone by nature loves a winner. Choosing those who lead the surveys makes the average voter a winner himself or herself.