His numbers may be falling and those of one of his putative opponents rising, but Jejomar Binay is at this point still the leading candidate for the Presidency in 2016.

Binay still topped the list of preferred presidential candidates in a September 8 Pulse Asia survey despite a sharp decline, from a previous (June 2014) 41 percent, to 31 percent, which, given a margin of error of three points, could either be a high preference number of 34 percent, or a low of 28.

On the other hand, voter preference for Interior and Local Governments Secretary Manuel Roxas II climbed from a low seven percent in Pulse Asia’s June survey to 13 percent, putting him a distant second to Binay.

Pulse Asia followed its September release of its survey on voter preference with the release of its approval and trust survey last Tuesday, October 7, in which both Binay’s approval and trust ratings dropped by 15 points to 66 percent from last June’s 81 percent—which, however, still made him the most trusted government official. Although President Benigno Aquino III’s approval and trust ratings did not significantly change, at 55 and 54 percent, Binay was still ahead. Pulse Asia did not release any results on Roxas’ trust and approval ratings.

Roxas has repeatedly been described as the ruling Liberal Party’s candidate in 2016 and as Aquino’s “presumptive heir” — the one person who can continue what Aquino claims is the need to make his “reforms” permanent. Apparently, however, that’s not a foregone fact, at least not to the Liberal Party’s Congressman Edgar Erice — or, for that matter, even to Aquino himself. For 2016, Erice declared in a radio interview early this week, the LP candidate in 2016 could be Roxas—but it could also be Aquino.

Erice is among the most vocal advocates of a second term for Aquino, and in the same interview declared that he was still for constitutional amendments that would allow Aquino to run for a second term.

Erice made the above statements a scant two days after the release of another Pulse Asia survey that found that six out of 10 Filipinos are against a second term for Aquino, while a majority also reject amending the Constitution either to allow Aquino to run for a second term, or in order to cut the power of the Supreme Court to review Executive decisions.

Since the Court declared earlier that the Disbursement Acceleration Program is unconstitutional, Aquino has been arguing that the Supreme Court has been frustrating reform efforts, and has been pushing for Constitutional amendments to curb the Court’s alleged “overreach”. In August this year, following Roxas’ sudden declaration over a TV network’s public affairs program that Aquino’s term should be extended, or that he should run for a second term, Aquino himself has been saying that he would consider going for another term should his “bosses”—whom he claims are the Filipino people—say so. He has repeatedly declined to say what his political plans are, if any—evading, sometimes adroitly, and often clumsily, declaring categorically that he will run or he won’t.

Last Wednesday’s (October 1) release of the Pulse Asia survey on whether Filipinos want Aquino to run for a second term should have put an end to Aquino and company’s hemming and hawing via a statement that, having heard the voice of the people, they’re also obeying it. They could have also declared that all attempts to amend the Constitution should cease, since an overwhelmingly majority of Filipinos (from seven to eight out of ten) are also against amending it to weaken the Supreme Court’s power and oppose amending the Constitution’s economic provisions (among these the restrictions on foreign ownership of land). These sentiments suggest that Filipinos, as in the past, are basically opposed to amending the Constitution, period.

But instead of such statements from Aquino and his cohort, we have Erice’s and Malacanang’s “acknowledging” the results of the survey, but refusing to declare that they’re listening to the people, whom Aquino and company have repeatedly declared are their “bosses.”

On Thursday, October 2, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said the Aquino administration will “consider” the survey results, but at the same time declared that such surveys are only one of many factors on which Aquino would base his decision on whether to run or not. He did declare that “the voice of the people should be heard,” but very subtly suggested that it was only one of several other factors in decision-making.

Apparently the statement that Aquino will “listen to his bosses” contains a fine print section: he will listen to them—among others.

What’s interesting is what those “others” are. If Aquino and company have the real power brokers of Philippine society—and every politician’s including Aquino’s real bosses—in mind, that’s going to be a long list.

On the top of that Roster of Power are the two biggest power brokers in this country, meaning that often invisible but nevertheless very real presence in decision-making in this country, the United States, followed by the Church.

Add Aquino’s fellow political dynasts resident in the House of Representatives and the Senate—the families that have had a monopoly over political power in this country since Commonwealth days. Include the military, which since the martial law period has been a pivotal factor in deciding the fates of governments and which has been a power in itself since the martial law period. And of course you can’t exclude big business.

Among these players, the people, in the calculations of the political dynasties and certainly in that of Aquino and company, are of little insignificance. They do have their numbers, but they don’t have the guns of the military, the warships of the foreign powers, or the omnipresence, influence and wealth of the Church.

The people may in fact not even be in the equation at all, as past administrations that have ignored the people’s sentiments have shown, and as this administration is steadily and surely, despite its populist rhetoric, demonstrating. His supposed “bosses” may have spoken. But Aquino’s ears are tuned to other voices and other interests.

First published in BusinessWorld

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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