'Midterm polls a referendum on Duterte'

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The midterm elections would be a confidence vote on the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, a political analyst and a former presidential spokesperson said.

Metro Manila (February 18, CNN Philippines) — The midterm elections in May would be a referendum on President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration, a political analyst and a former presidential spokesperson said.

"It's a confidence vote of the incumbent administration. So if it goes south, you know already that something is wrong," political analyst Edmund Tayao told CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday.

Former Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda agreed with this view, saying that with Duterte and his administration still enjoying high trust and approval ratings from the public after nearly three years in office, it is possible that many administration candidates would win in the May polls.

With this, Tayao said the "Otso Diretso" opposition slate would have a difficult time in their campaign.

READ: Pangilinan sees uphill climb for opposition Senate slate in 2019 polls

"'Pag titingnan mo ang [If you look at the] pattern,  the only time na talagang natalo 'yung administration candidate [the administration candidates lost] was during the time of [former President] Gloria [Macapagal-Arroyo] in the midterm election, na puro oposisyon ang nanalo [when many opposition candidates won,]" he said.

Part of Otso Diretso's campaign line is that the midterm elections will prove to be a referendum on the Duterte administration, which they have criticized over alleged human rights violations committed during the course of the war on drugs and its other policies.

However, despite criticisms from the opposition and even internationally, Duterte's approval, trust and satisfaction ratings remained high at 76 percent, 81 percent and 74 percent in the last quarter of 2018, respectively.

Many Senate bets endorsed by or are aligned with Duterte are also ranking high in the surveys, while only two opposition bets have broken through the circle of possible winners.

Former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III enjoyed similar ratings toward the end of 2012, before the midterm polls in 2013, when 78 percent of Filipinos said they approved of him and 80 percent said they trusted him, while 72 percent said they were satisfied.

In the midterm elections in 2013, nine of the 12 candidates in Aquino's ticket won, while only three opposition bets emerged victorious.

In contrast, the only president who had low ratings prior to the midterm elections was Arroyo, who had to face negative ratings throughout most of her term as president.

Now that she is House Speaker, Arroyo is the least trusted and has the lowest approval and satisfaction ratings among top national officials — but that has not stopped her from vowing to give "all out" support to senatorial candidates endorsed by Hugpong ng Pagbabago, the regional party of Duterte's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

"I was surprised that GMA actually showed up in the campaign. Eh hindi mo maintindihan kung positive or negative ang effect nito. [You won't know if this will have a positive effect,]" Tayao said.

Who could win?

Tayao and Lacierda agree that former Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go, who surged in the latest Pulse Asia poll to the eighth place, has a strong chance of winning and even ending up on the top of the race like Senator Grace Poe, especially since he is the "gatekeeper" to Duterte.

"Over and above all the advertisements that you see on the streets or on TV and radio, the governors are committed to him. Because he's the gatekeeper, you need the funding, you need the [Internal Revenue Allotment,] you need the funding for the national government. Kausapin lang 'yan. [They just have to talk to him.] They have to commit to Bong Go," Lacierda said. "Nobody goes to the President without Bong Go."

READ: Go, Marcos and Roxas among the top pre-campaign ad spenders – PCIJ

While he had to resign from his post upon filing his candidacy for senator, Go remains to be seen with Duterte and continues to accompany him on his trips, even abroad. He is also among the candidates the President has officially endorsed.

Duterte has backed down from his endorsement of plunder accused and former Senator Jinggoy Estrada and did not endorse former Senator Bong Revilla.

READ: Duterte bares senatorial slate he is endorsing

Lacierda said that while this might affect their performance in the polls, their being actors would also help boost their candidacy.

Revilla's acquittal of plunder in connection with the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam might also help him in the elections, Lacierda said.

The two are still among the possible winners, according to the latest Pulse Asia poll, with Estrada placing ninth and Revilla placing 12th, but Tayao said they may not land in the top six in the elections.

Lacierda, however, said former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas may eventually figure in the top six in the elections, even if he still lags behind other candidates in the pre-election surveys.