We are four months away from the 2016 elections, but the final list of candidates seems far from final. Will Rody Duterte and Grace Poe stay on the ballots? Will Jejomar Binay win and Mar Roxas drown, as per the SWS Survey? Where is Miriam Defensor Santiago?

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has already released the official certified list of candidates for the May 2016 Elections, and eight names are in for the presidential race: Sen. Grace Poe, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Sen. Miriam-Defensor Santiago, former Interior secretary Mar Roxas, OFW party-list Rep. Roy Señeres, Mel Mendoza from Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), and independent candidate Dante Valencia.

Still, several issues remain floating in the air. What are the most interesting bits and latest scoop on our presidentiables? In this series, we give you a peek at the political landscape as election fever grips the Philippines.

Fighting for foundlings

Sen. Grace Poe has been fighting and fighting, but no resolution has yet been reached. In November, the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) pronounced her Natural Born, junking the motions to remove her from the presidential race due to residency and citizenship issues. A month after, the Comelec revoked the decision of the SET and barred Poe from running because she failed to meet the requirements for presidential candidates, which state that the candidate should be a natural-born citizen and should have lived for at least 10 years in the country.

Her camp has brought the matter to the Supreme Court (SC), arguing that it is not the Comelec but the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) which has the jurisdiction to decide on Poe’s candidacy based on the qualifications for the presidential bid. In this case, the PET is the SC en banc, meaning all the SC Justices are participating in decision-making.

Grace Poe’s camp attended the first day of oral arguments before the SC last Tuesday, where her supporters showed up in force. Ultimately, what’s really just happening is that Poe’s camp is trying to convince the SC to disagree with the Comelec’s decision to disqualify her. Poe is facing three pending cases, two from Comelec and one from Rizalito David, a result of the SET hearing. Rappler explains her cases more thoroughly, and should be worth checking out.

Against all odds

Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has had his own fair share of drama ever since he filed his candidacy in December. He has been in perpetual urong-sulong mode since filing started, but as soon as he made up his mind (read: just when Grace Poe’s natural-born issue exploded), disqualification cases against him started mushrooming.

Four disqualification cases now stand against Duterte filed by broadcaster Ruben Castor, disqualified presidential candidates Rizalito David and Elly Pamatong, and University of the Philippines Student Council chairman JP Delas Nieves. Comelec promised to act swiftly against the DQ cases against Mayor Duterte at the beginning of January. Two weeks into the year, all Comelec has managed is to junk Mayor Duterte’s plea to inhibit Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon from the disqualification cases because of perceived conflict of interest and bias.

Despite the cases, Mayor Rody Duterte and his running mate Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano are resuming their nationwide campaign, appearing in the recent “The Leader I Want” forum by Rappler to promise they will be able to eradicate illegal drugs in the first six months of their service.

“If I become president, there will be no such thing as bloodless cleansing. I propose to get rid of drugs within three to six months. And maybe I can do it. Why do I say that? Well, my exhibit A is Davao City,” Duterte says.

Mayor Duterte has also been very vocal about his plans to be a dictator if he wins the 2016 elections, as he believes this is what the country needs in its sorry state.

Makati’s pride?

The city of Makati has been much praised since it became a booming business hub, thanks to the numerous companies based in the area. Its mayor of 21 years, now Vice President Jejomar Binay, has been taking the bulk of the credit, which contributed immensely to his win in the last elections.

However, in 2015, VP Binay and his son, suspended Makati Mayor “Junjun” Binay Jr., faced a plunder case for an overpriced city hall parking building in Makati. Senate investigations found that the P1.56 billion construction project should have only been priced at P245.56 million. During the last hearing in August 2015, initial findings suggested that VP Binay’s numerous dummies allegedly controlled the bulk of Makati’s IT, janitorial, and security services, worth roughly P5.6 billion.

After five months of hiatus, the Senate will resume investigations of VP Binay’s corruption case on January 26. Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, the person who re-opened the plunder case against VP Binay, tipped Rappler that a new witness will be presented during the hearing next week.

Despite the dangling plunder case, the latest survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) revealed VP Binay is leading the presidential race with 31 percent.

Success and distress

There are three things Mar Roxas is remembered for, thanks to the mainstream media: his title Mr. Palengke, his “outstanding” performance during typhoon Yolanda, and his bickering with fellow presidentiable Mayor Duterte over his academic achievements.

Who can forget the phenomenal Mr. Palengke TV advertisement by Roxas? It was one of the most successful TV ads that ran during that time, putting then unknown political face Roxas at the top of the senatorial list.

Fast-forward to his appointment as Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and his blunders when typhoon Yolanda hit Tacloban. Despite the long explanations and the apologies that extended even beyond the rehabilitation, the whole world witnessed the inefficiency of the DILG and the national government when the catastrophe laid Tacloban to waste. Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin were there, yes, but what the unit and the government did (or failed to do) while and after the storm destroyed homes and families remain etched in everyone’s memories—an enormous failure of timing and initiative.

And then the Wharton graduate issue. Yes, Roxas was indeed a Wharton graduate, confirmed by the university itself. But of course, he and Mayor Duterte had to bicker over it like squabbling children.

Now, Mar Roxas is at the bottom of the race, according to the same SWS survey that put VP Binay on top. But he is ahead of everyone in another playing field: the amount he already spent for his campaign ads. Research by AC Nielsen shows that Roxas already put P774 million into his campaign throughout 2015, a year before the official campaign period even started. According to Republic Act 7166 or the Synchronized Elections Law of 1991, presidential candidates are only allowed to spend P10 for every voter. Comelec projects that there are some 50 million voters registered for 2016. You can do the math.

Where is Miriam?

Amidst all the drama that is the 2016 presidential elections, a candidate seems to be missing in action. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago is noticeably absent from TV ads, news stories, posters, and flyers, unlike her fellow presidentiables who appear on the television day in and day out. Her game plan may be to lay low and strike low, commenting now and then on issues she deems worthy of her time.

One of her calls as of late is to scrap the government’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US, which she feels makes the Philippines and its armed forces too dependent on the US. She is also setting a Senate hearing to investigate presidential candidates  reported to be spending too much on political ads ahead of the May 2016 elections.

In a statement, Sen. Defensor Santiago argues, “A president’s salary is only P120,000 a month. He or she may thus expect to earn only P8.64 million for the six years that he or she is in office…The question we must ask is this: How will these politicians recover the scandalous amounts they spend for their campaign? The simple answer is that they will steal from public funds, or will at least be tempted to do so. An alternative would be to give favors to rich contributors, to the detriment of public interest.”

However, despite her absence in advertisements, she continues to top campus polls held throughout the metro. Before 2015 ended, University of Sto. Tomas, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and University of the Philippines Los Baños conducted campus presidential polls and the senator topped all three polls. Last January 21, University of the Philippines Manila conducted a mock poll and Sen. Defensor Santiago again emerged victorious, securing 59.54 percent of the votes. It looks like she’s pretty popular among the kids.

President who?

Apart from the heavyweights on Comelec’s presidential list, there are two names unknown to voters: Mel Mendoza and Dante Valencia. Both Mendoza and Valencia were deemed nuisance candidates before the official list was released, but Mendoza is now qualified after the Comelec en banc dismissed the petition, and Valencia is still eligible to appeal to the SC.

Little is known about both candidates, but GMA Online was able to unearth a bit of information. Mendoza, 39, is from Oriental Mindoro, and his COC was signed by PMP president Sen. Jinggoy Estrada. Valencia, 58, is from the Quirino province, and is a civil engineer and “networker.”

 

There is still much to know about our presidentiables and their platforms. But knowing this much, won’t you agree that the 2016 elections are turning out to be quite a circus?

 

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