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Mar Roxas

Liberal Party presidential candidate Mar Roxas

Fashioning himself as the anti-Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte candidate has worked wonders for Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Mar Roxas, who on Wednesday characterized the election as a two-way horse race between him and the foul-mouthed Davao City mayor.

“The fight is now down to the two of us, Mayor Duterte and I,” Roxas told a press briefing at the LP’s Balay headquarters in Quezon City.

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After trailing his rivals for months, Roxas rose by 2 points to place second in the Pulse Asia survey conducted from April 26 to 29, in a statistical tie with Sen. Grace Poe. His voter support went up to 22 percent, while Poe, slipping by one point, was at 21 percent.

Duterte, the front-runner, remained steady with 33 percent, putting him 11 points ahead of Roxas.

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Vice President Jejomar Binay, the front-runner before the start of the campaign period, slipped by a point, from 18 percent to 17 percent. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago got 2 percent.

The survey covered 4,000 respondents and had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 1.5 percentage points.

Political analysts said Duterte had struck a chord with most Filipinos who were frustrated and disappointed with the Aquino administration’s inability to solve mass transport and traffic problems in Manila.

READ: Roxas: Fight is now between Duterte and I

His strong anticrime platform also resonated among voters across all economic classes and in all geographical regions.

Not infallible

Poe remained confident that she would win the presidential election despite slipping to third in the latest Pulse Asia survey.

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She cited the strong dissatisfaction with the administration or the popularity of Duterte and the political machinery of the government for Roxas’ resurgence.

“But I have not lost any energy. I will continue to go around and campaign. We have our own surveys and we don’t reveal it to prop ourselves. We only use it as a guide for our strategy,” she said.

Poe pointed out that while surveys were reliable, they were “not infallible.”

Her spokesperson, Rex Gatchalian, disputed Roxas’ claim that the presidential race had become a two-horse race between Roxas and Duterte.

In a statement, Gatchalian said that Poe was very much in the race as her numbers showed she and Roxas were in a statistical tie because the one-point gap was less than the margin of error.

Not looking at polls

In Cauayan, Isabela province, where he was campaigning, Binay on Wednesday said he had lost faith in preelection surveys, the latest of which showed his numbers in a continued downtrend.

“I don’t look at surveys anymore,” Binay said, when asked about the results of the latest Pulse Asia survey.

READ: Failing to regain lead, Binay loses trust in surveys

Binay has repeatedly expressed his misgivings about poll results, pointing out these did not jibe with what he sees in his campaign rallies.

In Iloilo City, Roxas declared, “We will surely win,” as he called on his fellow Ilonggos to step up their campaign, six days before the presidential election.

“When we started, they said Mar Roxas has no chance. But you here in Iloilo were the first to stand up and trust us. We have slowly picked up. (We are) within reach of the number one position,” Roxas said in a speech before around 15,000 supporters at the LP “miting de avance” at the Plazoleta Gay.

Upward trajectory

Roxas, a former trade and interior secretary, reveled in the fact that only he among the candidates was on an upward trajectory, saying “momentum is with us.”

“Our rivals are going down, while we are going up. This is a reflection of the trust the people have continued to give us, and we thank them for it,” he said.

Asked about what factors led to his rise, Roxas said it was a combination of a strong performance during the April 24 debate and the recent controversies surrounding Duterte, including an outrageous rape joke and alleged multimillion-peso transactions in his bank accounts.

READ: Duterte accounts had P2.4B in transactions

Poised to win

With only days left before the vote, he said he and running mate Leni Robredo were preparing for the “fight of our lives.”

“There are still many things to come. The ground is shifting. I have been receiving many texts. A lot of people are joining us,” he said.

READ: Robredo asks for continued support amid new survey lead

Duterte was poised to win unless “reformist” voters would consolidate their support and rally behind one candidate—either Roxas or Poe, according to a political scientist.

“It’s the iron fist versus the straight path now,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science assistant professor at De La Salle University.

Despite Poe being the top alternative candidate, Heydarian was more inclined to think that Poe’s supporters would shift from her to Roxas rather than the other way around.

Heydarian noted that Roxas was showing resiliency while Poe’s lead in previous surveys had evaporated.

Ana Tabunda, Pulse Asia research director, said the results of the survey were good only for the polling period.

The survey, commissioned by ABS-CBN, covered allegations by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a vice presidential candidate, that Duterte held multiple accounts with tens of millions of pesos in three banks in 2014 and failed to declare these in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

Tabunda said that during the survey period the issue did not get as much media attention as during the past several days.

“Those saying they are voting for Duterte are more or less convinced that they are voting for him. Whatever the allegation thrown at him, it may not hurt really that much,” said Jan Robert Go, an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines-Diliman.

According to Go, however, there are the “soft supporters” who may change their mind about supporting Duterte and this applies to any candidate as shown in the increase in Roxas’ rating and Binay’s decline.

Undecided voters

The “soft” and “undecided” voters could turn the tide around for the candidates who are not on top of voter popularity surveys, and they are what Poe and her running mate, Sen. Francis Escudero, are banking on to help achieve victory on May 9.

Escudero said the lead of the front-runners was not insurmountable because about 10 to 20 percent of the country’s 54 million voters had yet to cement their choice, or could still change their minds.

These voters, he said, could decide on their final choice on Election Day.

“To the extent of our ability, we will do our best to make known our message and our plans to as many people as possible,” he said at a Senate forum.

The undecided voters were also the target of Roxas. “Look at our track record and our character. Character is your guarantee as to who we are, our positions on issues and whether you can trust us,” he appealed to these voters. With a report from Marlon Ramos/TVJ

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