By Isagani de Castro Jr.
The 2010 presidential elections will likely be a five-way race among Vice-President Noli de Castro, Senate President Manuel Villar, Senator Loren Legarda, Senator Manuel Roxas, and former President Joseph Estrada, in case he qualifies. And in case De Castro doesn’t get the support of the administration, the Lakas-KAMPI alliance will have a dark horse candidate, a political futurist said.
In a paper to be presented Friday at a forum organized by the Center for Philippine Futuristic Studies, Antonio Gatmaitan, head of the research outfit, Political Economic Applied Research Foundation, said there are nine other "early frontliners" for May 2010:
§ Senator Francisco Pangilinan;
§ Senator Francis Escudero;
§ Senator Richard Gordon;
§ Senator Gregorio Honasan;
§ Senator Panfilo Lacson;
§ Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay;
§ Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte;
§ Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Bayani Fernando; and
§ Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro.
Gatmaitan said he whittled down the list to the five major candidates since they are "well positioned to convert their vote-generating capabilities into the next elections."
Out of the 14 possible bets, De Castro, Legarda, Roxas, Estrada, and Villar have the track record to show they can get votes. De Castro, Legarda, Roxas, and Estrada have been "topnotchers" in past elections. Estrada, Roxas, and Villar "can raise money" for a credible campaign from their "family net worth", while Legarda and De Castro can access funds from major donors.
In an interview with abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak, Gatmaitan said these five candidates can be competitive in the three arenas where the 2010 electoral battle will be fought:
1) battle of the airwaves (50% of the contest);
2) ground level war (35% of the battle); and,
3) cyberspace, (15%).
Battle of the airwaves
The lifting of the ban on political advertisements, starting in the 2004 elections, makes the 2010 elections primarily a "battle of the airwaves." Prior to the 2004 polls, when political advertisements were banned, he said the influence of television and radio was only around 10%. In 2010, the battle of the airwaves will have a 50% weight.
"Prime time television is going to be inundated by political advertisements coming from all sides. There will be a shift from politicians to image makers. The latter will take the place of political operatives. The traditional areas controlled by politicians will now shrink," he said.
In the battle of the airwaves, there will be no time for substantive discussion of issues. "It’s going to be one-liners, no time to pontificate on any issue. How can you pontificate in 30 or 45 seconds?...Propaganda is the game, and the message should be simple, straightforward," he said.
A candidate who does not have the funds for an expensive "political ads" war will be "out of sight" during the 90-day campaign period. A credible candidate will "have to be visible to prevail," he said.
Comparing the top five vote-getters, Gatmaitan said Estrada, a former movie actor, and former television broadcasters De Castro and Legarda have the edge in familiarity with television and radio. Roxas and Villar lack experience in this field.
Ground level war
With 184,000 precincts nationwide in 2010, Gatmaitan said candidates must have as many volunteers as possible to man the precincts and guard their votes. In this arena, the candidate needs the support of traditional politicians and political operators.
"The political organization is very important, and it requires special skills," he said. These organizations are involved even during pre-registration of voters to election day and post-election.
With media’s growing influence, the importance of the "ground level war" has been reduced from over 50% in previous polls to around 35%.
Among the five likely bets, Estrada, Roxas, Villar, and De Castro, assuming he is the administration candidate, have the advantage in getting the support of traditional politicians and political operators, Gatmaitan said.
The ground level war includes the national canvassing of all city, provincial and other electoral returns by Congress. And in this battle, the administration candidate has the inside track. "In a tight contest, they can ram through [Congress] anything," he said.
While Internet penetration is still low in the Philippines, Gatmaitan said the influence of cellphones has increased to "63% of the population and still growing." By 2010, it may reach 72%. "By 2010, voters will be read to accept imaginative SMS messages from candidates and political parties," he said.
The administration Lakas-KAMPI alliance is faced with the problem of not having a strong bet. De Castro is officially not a member of either party.
"Noli de Castro is perceived to be a Lakas nominee but he is not an insider of Malacanang. In the event that he is not chosen as candidate of Lakas, he will have to mount a challenge from the outside," Gatmaitan said in his paper.
In case he’s not the administration bet, one option for De Castro is to "go with Villar." Villar may be convinced to give way to De Castro, he said.
If De Castro is not the administration bet, Gatmaitan said the administration will have to choose among Senator Richard Gordon, Mayors Feliciano Belmonte, and MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando. Belmonte and Fernando are not viable candidates since they do not have a "national stature."
"My premise is somebody will emerge from Lakas-KAMPI. It’s impossible for them not to have a candidate," he said.
Gatmaitan said the battle for control of Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), between the Lopez family and the government, "may make Noli de Castro the unintended or intended casualty."
"With the way they’re acting, the Lakas-KAMPI and the Palace are gearing up toward a major offense politically. It could also be through Constitutional change," he said.
His forecast is that Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno may emerge as the administration bet given his close ties with First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.
Citing an anonymous source, Gatmaitan said "KAMPI leaders are eager to test their powers after successfully taking over from the old guards of Lakas. This could come in the form of a presidential candidate from their ranks." Puno is president of KAMPI or the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino, Arroyo’s original political vehicle for the 1998 elections.
"The party nomination process will likely serve as the elimination of other players," he said.
Independents, Erap factor
Independent campaigns, such as the 2004 bid by Senator Panfilo Lacson, are unlikely. "There is no clamor for an independent candidacy. The mood is not there," Gatmaitan said, adding that the current mood is anti-Arroyo administration, especially in light of high food and oil prices.
A legal battle on whether ex-convict Estrada is qualified to run for the presidency is to be expected. In case the Commission on Elections, and eventually the Supreme Court, disqualifies Estrada, Gatmaitan said Estrada’s "masa" support will be shared by the other candidates.
Even though the electorate will generally be younger by 2010, he said this will not affect the polls since "young voters are poor, the impoverished poor, and they know the value of the vote." "That’s the demographic: out of school youths, they’re the watchers, they’re the paid volunteers. The lower middle class play with the politicians, because of the money."