Will Duterte endorsement score a win in May 13 polls?

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 16) — There's no clear way to measure the effectiveness of a presidential endorsement, yet many candidates still go out of their way to get it.

National and local candidates aspire to have their photos taken with the president raising their hands. Often, these photos end up in their campaign materials.

Political analyst Ramon Casiple said a presidential endorsement tells voters that the candidate has close ties with the country's top leader, hence, more access to funds. This makes an endorsement more appealing during midterm elections wherein winners will have three years to work with the sitting president.

"You can claim na inendorso ka [that you were endorsed], so you have this connection to the president who has all the power to release funds. 'Kaya kung manalo ako, magkakaron tayo ng maraming government projects dito [That's why if I win, we will have a lot of government projects here],'" Casiple said.

It is assumed that if the president's ratings are high, his endorsement powers follow.

President Rodrigo Duterte's ratings have remained high since he took office in 2016. In the first quarter of 2019, his net satisfaction rating was at 66 or equivalent to a "very good" mark, matching his personal high in June 2017.

Latest surveys on senatorial candidates have eight to 10 of his bets making it in the top 12. Candidates of the ruling PDP-Laban party grabbed four spots, which include former Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, former Philippine National Police chief Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, former presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino, and Senator Koko Pimentel. Candidates officially endorsed by President Rodrigo Duterte include Senator Sony Angara, Rep. Pia Cayetano, and Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos were also part of the list.

Apart from pre-election surveys, political analyst Edmund Tayao said actual election results are also good indicators of the president's endorsement power. Midterm elections are believed to reflect people's satisfaction with the incumbent administration.

"This president has not gone lower than 70 percent so you can just imagine the staying power of this president in terms of acceptability and popularity by the public," said Tayao.

Duterte's high ratings indicate that despite all controversies that have hounded him in the past three years, most Filipinos remain satisfied with his leadership.

Casiple, however, said a presidential endorsement - a strong one at that - works differently on candidates. He said it matters more for those seeking national posts especially those fighting for the last few spots in the senatorial race.

"The presidential endorsement may be a factor if you're contesting for number 11 or number 12 position. If you're very far away from that point, then the endorsement doesn't count," he said.

It's different for local elections where voters have more access and experience dealing with local politicians.

Casiple said this lessens the impact of an endorsement, even from the President.

"That's true. Una, ang issue magkaiba eh. Sa local, malakas ang usapin na kung ikaw ay incumbent ano ba yung nagawa mo para tulungan kami? Mga isyu ng bayan natugunan ba?" he said. "'Pag national di mo pwede itanong yung mga tanong na yun."

[Translation: That's true. At first the issues are different. In the local elections, discussions would circle around what a candidate has done to help them. Have the issues of the locality been addressed? You cannot ask the same questions in the national level.]

There are also times when the President ends up backing rivals for the same post.

In San Juan City, mayoral candidates Janella Estrada and Francis Zamora both have campaign posters of themselves with Duterte. A similar case is in Zamboanga City where rival mayoral aspirants Beng Climaco and Celso Lobregat both claim to be endorsed by the president.

Casiple said the impact of an endorsement is diminished when opponents for the same post are endorsed.

He said a president's backing could matter more for an underdog going against an established incumbent.

"There are cases where the endorsement of the president becomes decisive. Particularly if there is already a strong family, or a political clan… but the people don't want that clan and there's a factor of intimidation, vote buying and so on… the President comes in, endorses the other, that would encourage the people to vote for the underdog," he explained.

This theory could be tested in the case of mayoral candidate for Malabon, Jeannie Sandoval, who is the current vice mayor.

Duterte endorsed Sandoval who is challenging reelectionist mayor Lenlen Oreta. Oreta is seeking a third term.

Since the beginning of the campaign period, Sandoval has organized two events for Duterte in Malabon.

Duterte has expressed his full support for Sandoval, even taking a swipe at Oreta whom he threatened to have arrested if he fails to curb the city's drug problem.

“Of course I'm sure I will win.” said Sandoval in CNN Philippines’ Politics as Usual, stressing that the president’s endorsement “can be very crucial.”

“The president’s endorsement can be very crucial also but at the same time people are intelligent now… They have to look at the character and achievements of the candidate. It’s not only because the president endorsed you, it will ensure your victory,” she added.

But there are special cases, like that of Special Assistant Go. Among all administration-backed senatorial candidates, Go is President Duterte's closest and most trusted. He began at the bottom of surveys and has managed to climb up to third place in the latest polls.

Go is often seen with Duterte, even after his resignation as special assistant. Some see it as a strategy to maximize the President's visibility and reach.

"If that is any measure, the endorsement of the president really is quite significant," said Tayao.

Though many vie for it, Malacañang said Duterte himself is not one to believe in his so-called endorsement powers.

"I don't think the president believes in his magical so-called power to endorse," said Presidential Spokesman Sal Panelo in a media briefing on February 12.