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Mayor Binay makes history

Photo by Robert Dilan

Mayor Binay makes history:
Win or lose, VP race one for the books
June 7, 2010

Whatever the final outcome of the tightly contested vice presidential race, Mayor Jejomar Binay of Makati City has made history by being the first local official to be possibly catapulted to a top national position, just a breath away from the presidency. Unlike another former mayor, Joseph Estrada, Binay bypassed Congress in his quest for a top post.

But Binay’s journey from being a far third at the start of the campaign to becoming the frontrunner in the national canvassing does not surprise fellow mayors and other local executives who say that he prepared for it long ago. The Makati mayor made smart use of vast resources and backed these up with an underground operation that included an in-your-face infiltration of a rival political organization.

The latest count by the Senate and House of Representatives acting as National Board of Canvassers shows the Liberal Party’s Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd with a commanding lead of 5.5 million over former President Joseph Estrada of Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP).

But the vice presidential race is still too close to call with the PMP’s Binay posting 14,084,879 votes against the 13,440,127 votes of the Liberal’s Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd.

Binay leads by 644,752 with some 1.4 million votes still to be canvassed.

This cliffhanger finale to the 2010 elections was unthinkable at the start of the campaign period when Aquino and Roxas topped the December 2009 survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) with 40-percent respondents’ approval. Sen. Loren Legarda of the Nacionalista Party was a distant second with 32 percent, and Binay trailed far behind with 10 percent.

But interviews by VERA Files reveal Binay is now merely reaping the rewards of a nationwide network laid out nearly two decades ago when he launched a sister-city program linking Makati with other local governments.

Spreading the wealth
With a P12-billion annual budget, Binay’s Makati could afford to be generous. Since the early 1990s, Makati has forged sisterhood ties with more than 200 municipalities and cities all over the country, advising them on public management, subsidizing computerization training of municipal government employees, providing computer equipment, giving scholarships to poor students from the provinces in Makati City schools and making available the city’s modern medical facilities.

Binay is also known to be quick in giving at least P50 million in financial assistance to a sister municipality in need, such as in times of calamity.

In his visit to Catbalogan, Samar, in March 2009, Binay told reporters that Makati’s sisterhood program had nothing to do with his announced plan to run for president. “Aside from extending assistance and goodwill to other cities and municipalities, the sisterhood is also a good way for LGUs [local government units] to exchange ideas and best practices on governance,” he said.

Binay had initially aimed for the presidency, refusing invitations from the Liberal party to join its senatorial ticket, saying that his expertise is as an executive and not as a legislator. He only slid down to the vice presidency when Estrada decided to run for president.

The Makati mayor gained valuable exposure to the masses in provincial sorties with the popular Estrada. Sources knowledgeable about the Estrada campaign said Binay underwrote the bulk of the PMP campaign expenses.

Mayors, Boy Scouts and fraternity
Binay solidified his linkages with local governments with his friendship with 78 other city mayors who compose the League of Cities of the Philippines. This is best shown in Metro Manila’s results where the winning team was Aquino-Binay.

The SWS exit poll showed Binay’s support cutting across party lines. Majority of supporters of Nacionalista’s Sen. Manuel “Manny” Villar Jr., Lakas-Kampi CMD’s Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro and other presidential candidates had him as vice president.

A source close to one of the Metro Manila mayors said Binay campaigned only for himself with his fellow city mayors, telling them he understood their commitment to another presidential candidate. Estrada showed his displeasure by leaving blank the slot for vice president in his ballot, which was captured on camera on May 10.

Another national organization that Binay cultivated through the years was the Boys Scouts of the Philippines and its allied fraternity, the Alpha Phi Omega.

People made fun of the diminutive mayor looking like an overage boy in his Boy Scout uniform. But what many didn’t realize was that whenever Binay donned those khaki shorts, he was re-affirming his ties with the 3.5 million members of the organization and establishing a connection with their parents and other family members.

Binay’s masterstroke
While Binay’s low-key building of national networks would make a good study of effective campaign strategy, his masterstroke was the infiltration of Aquino’s campaign organization.

“There’s no way that Mar [Roxas] could have won with the betrayal from within their campaign organization,” a veteran journalist remarked, sharing his conversation with Aquino’s campaign manager Florencio “Butch” Abad, who was concerned about the activities of the Noynoy Aquino for President Movement.

The movement is headed by Ed Roces, son of the late Joaquin “Chino” Roces, founder and publisher of The Manila Times who was responsible for convincing the late Corazon “Cory” Aquino to challenge Ferdinand Marcos for the presidency in 1986.

Abad, the journalist source said, was disturbed that the movement was campaigning for a Noynoy-Binay ticket from its campaign headquarters in Parc House Building along EDSA, just two floors above the Liberal Party office.

It was not only the movement that was campaigning for a Noy-Bi ticket among Aquino’s supporters. There were the “Yellow Force” reportedly headed by Mikee Cojuangco Jaworski, daughter of Aquino’s brother Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, the gay organization Ang Ladlad, the People’s Patriotic Movement, and Council for Philippine Affairs (COPA).

Friends of the council leader Pastor “Boy” Saycon speak of a roomful of Noy-Bi materials when visiting his Makati office. The council includes Peping Cojuangco and his wife, Margarita, and Philippine Star columnist Billy Esposo.

Other Aquino relatives campaigning for Noy-Bi were Jose Maria “Boy” Montelibano and his wife Maria, who headed Radio TV Malacañang in the Cory Aquino administration and was active in Noynoy’s presidential campaign.

Major blunder
Boy Montelibano, in his column in Inquirer online, said that Roxas has only himself to blame for his defeat: “It [a Binay victory] has caused allegedly well-bred people to cross lines of decency and engage in gutter behavior in blaming others for what cannot be but a serious error of the core of Mar Roxas’s campaign. For a candidate to lose a lead of over 30 percent in three months without realizing it until the last moment is a classic case of political ineptness. The inept, therefore, has to point the blame on others, a usual human tendency.”

Campaign strategist Malou Tiquia of Publicis, who helped Roxas’s senatorial campaign in 2004, has a similar observation, although put in gentler terms. “Mar was too complacent. This is not the Mar of 2004 who was well-prepared with a good message, an organized ground troop and an air war with a storyline strategy.”

“My reading of him was he was too burned-out after sliding down to number two, and my sense was he was banking on the ‘sacrifice’ to get the home run,” Tiquia added. Roxas, who had been nurturing his own presidential ambition for years, gave way so that Noynoy could become Liberal standard-bearer, amid public clamor in the weeks after Cory’s death in August.

Tiquia noted that Roxas’s ads did not “embrace” Aquino’s anti-corruption theme and that he was not able to communicate what a vice president can do. “He was more of Mr. Palengke than a partner of Noy,” she said.

Since sliding down to vice president, Roxas had consistently maintained a commanding lead against his then closest rival, Legarda, until polls showed Binay catching up in April.

And then there was Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero who withdrew from the presidential race in November 2009 and then announced he would be supporting Binay for vice president. Escudero and Binay worked together as part of Fernando Poe Jr.’s presidential campaign in 2004. Escudero did not immediately announce whom he was supporting for president.

Enter Escudero
In February, when Aquino’s rating was declining and Villar was catching up with him, Aquino revamped his campaign organization and brought in Escudero, whose team handled media operations. They are believed responsible for the exposés against Villar that paved the way for an Aquino surge.

In April, Escudero, while managing the Aquino campaign’s media operations, came out with TV ads endorsing Binay for vice president. The next surveys after the endorsement had Binay slightly ahead of Roxas.

Tiquia does not credit Binay’s surge to Escuderos’ endorsement. “Binay was already on the rise when it came out,” she said. “What it perhaps did was to raise the ante. The timing of the endorsement created that kick to the end game.”

University of the Philippines political science Professor Miriam Coronel Ferrer agreed with Tiquia. “The vaunted appeal of ‘NoyBi’ is a myth. Let’s not give too much credit to Chiz Escudero, Ang Ladlad, and the faction of the Coryistas who supported Binay,” she said.

Ferrer did an analysis of votes based on figures from the electronic data maps prepared by Cybersoft GeoInfomatics for the Philippine Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting. The running tallies were computed from about 90 percent of election returns.

“Aquino and Roxas dominated all other tandems in terms of sheer number of votes,” said Ferrer. “NoyBi is leading in eight or majority of the regions, but contrary to what most people think, Binay benefited primarily from being Estrada’s running mate and only in a small way from the NoyBi vote configuration.”

Ferrer pointed out that Aquino and Roxas led the race in Western and Central Visayas and the Caraga regions, while Estrada and Binay prevailed in Cagayan Valley, Northern Mindanao, Davao and Socsargen Region.

“Assuming all Erap supporters also voted for Binay, about 8.7 million of his votes can be accounted for. But he has about five million more votes than Erap,” she said.

Ferrer said the gap between the votes of Teodoro and his running mate, Eduardo Manzano, was a possible source for about 2.9 million votes for Binay. “A secondary source is the 1.2 million more people who voted for Villar but not for Loren,” she said.

“Binay should thank Gibo’s and Villar’s supporters instead,” Ferrer said.

What makes this year’s intrigue-ridden vice presidential race interesting, however, goes beyond the results of this election. It could be a preview of the 2016 presidential contest.

Ellen Tordesillas and and YouthVotePhilippines

Editor’s note: VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look into current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”


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