"The tea leaves for 2022 have not settled."
On the first week of October next year, candidates for national and local elective positions will have to file their certificates of candidacy with the Commission on Elections.
It is a date, a deadline so near, and yet so far from the public mind at the moment.
In the proximate past, the race for the presidency would already be warming up by this time. But because public interest, nay fear, is still fixated on the health crisis and its ill effects on people’s lives and the macro-economy, 2022, though so near, is yet so far.
It was not like this in 2014. With both SWS and Pulse Asia publicizing their quantitative readings of the public pulse, interest was periodically generated on who could possibly beat the then vice-president, Jejomar Binay, who for the past three years had consistently topped the metrics of public esteem. He looked like a sure winner in the 2016 elections.
The second quarter 2014 surveys gave Jojo Binay some 40 percentage points, while the administration’s champion and Noynoy Aquino’s heir apparent, Mar Roxas, was a far 15 percentage points low. So many politicians were angling to be Binay’s team-mate, from movie actors-turned- senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, and another popular political figure, Sen. Chiz Escudero being mentioned. But Janet Napoles entered the public consciousness, and the stink from her ghost-project shenanigans threw away the chances of the actor-politicians who had to worry instead about saving themselves from conviction.
With Mar’s figures yet anemic, many were egging the popular senatorial topnotcher of 2013, Grace Poe to run, among them her close friend Escudero, who was spokesman for the ill-fated presidential run of her father, the popular FPJ.
But surprises would yet upset the well-oiled and carefully organized Jojo Binay quest.
Allegations of mind-boggling corruption and hidden wealth were unveiled against him when he and his family ruled Makati for the longest time. And the canary who sang the loudest was none other than his long-time vice-mayor and confidante. Towards the last quarter of 2014 and in the next half of 2015, the nation was fixated by a strip tease of charges against the front-runner for president, slowly melting his uber-high survey ratings.
Nobody but a very few, mostly from Davao, gave a second thought to the possibility of its long-time mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, gunning for the country’s premier post in the middle of 2014. Not even as the year drew to a close. Speculation was more centered on whether Mar Roxas could catch up with the wounded Binay, or whether Grace Poe would throw her hat into the ring as well. Or, as Malacanang wished, a Mar-Grace ticket could yet be forged.
“Pang senador lang ‘yan,” most political observers declared of Duterte. Or “baka sakali, pang bise.”
Yet beginning the last week of January 2015, and especially coinciding with the massacre of the Mamasapano 44, the interest in Duterte slowly began.
Still, the first quarter surveys of that year showed the mayor of Davao quite far from the surveyed front-runners.
The rest, of course, is history.
But these parlous days, few even bother to guess about the 2022 presidential derby.
Surviving the health crisis amid a crumbling health system presided over by its bumbling leadership, and furthermore, worrying about the well-being of the mortally-affected economy are foremost in the public mind.
A float by some rather obscure personalities about a revolutionary government presided over by the incumbent himself, with the support of the military, was immediately shut down both by the President and his sub-alterns. The speculation about the President being succeeded by his daughter, the current Davao City Mayor Inday Sara, has been muted both by her disavowals and by the COVID crisis. Further speculation on Sen. Bong Go, the president’s favorite, whose name Duterte mentions at every opportunity, has likewise been drowned out by the pandemic’s tsunami of ill fate.
But the hands of time do not stop, and unless something out of the extraordinary happens, the October deadline to file is just about a year away.
When will the presidential sweepstakes start heating up?
In a privately commissioned survey I saw some two weeks ago, from field work done nationwide during the first weeks of August, the leading candidate is the personable Isko Moreno, mayor of the City of Manila, with less than a fifth of the total votes as of this time.
Following him, some four points behind is another mayor, the President’s daughter. Then comes the incumbent vice-president, Leni Robredo, likely the Liberal Party’s standard bearer, just about two points below Mayor Sara. And surprisingly, as if reprising their tight contest for the vice-presidency in 2016, former senator and former Ilocos Norte governor, Bongbong Marcos, a very close fourth. And along comes the Pacman, the “pambansang kamao” turned politician, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, also a close fifth.
Altogether, the five frontrunners at this point in time, namely, Isko, Sara, Leni, Bongbong and Pacman ratchet up a total of some two-thirds of early electoral predispositions. The other third is divided, in small bite-size pieces, by other legislators and a governor from Southern Tagalog, with 10 percent still undecided.
But these are early days. Quite near in time, but still too far from the public mind.
Surprises may yet emerge, as Rodrigo Duterte surprised everybody in the previous presidential elections. Or the death of Cory Aquino brought forth the surprise presidency of her son, Noynoy, in 2010.
The tea leaves haven’t settled and the pot, which should be warming up at this time, is still too cold for any reading to be made.