The Elections: New Faces and Old Truth

Top Philippine senators proclaimed (L-R): Francis Escudero, Grace Poe, COMELEC Chairman Sixto Brillantes, Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano and Juan Edgardo Angara (Source: Yahoo Philippines)

Two women, newbies in politics, tell the story of the recently concluded midterm elections. To outsiders, it seems that they were plucked out of nowhere. Both have not made a name for themselves in their work; neither of them has contributed to national policy.

But—and here’s the big but—they are daughters of famous men who come from two divergent fields, showbiz and politics. But somehow, in the Philippines, these meld; and movies and TV are shortcuts to politics.   

Meet the Senate frontrunner, Grace Poe, the petite and fragile-looking daughter of movie icon and one-time presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., and Nancy Binay, one of the most popular senatorial candidates. She is dusky, plain and unpretentious and she is the daughter of Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay.

An analyst has aptly described the Senate as an ‘old surnames’ club.’

Their amazing victories prove, once more, an old reality in elections. To win a national race, you need a well-known surname that has evolved into a brand, either through decades in politics or on the celebrity stage. 

The Poe and Binay surnames spelled magic and gave Grace and Nancy an edge. Name recall, conventional wisdom says, is definitely a major factor in winning a crowded contest. (More than 30 candidates vied for the 12 senatorial posts.)

Brand Names

“Candidates are the brands,” explains political scientist Amado Mendoza Jr. in his blog for “Political parties are just extraneous wrappings that may be changed in the next election.”

Grace ran as an independent candidate but joined the ruling coalition, a mix of various political parties supported by President Benigno Aquino III. Nancy was with the opposition ticket, led by her father and two other old names in politics, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and former president (now Manila mayor) Joseph Estrada. 

Recent studies show that the Senate is an exclusive club made up mostly of members who come from political dynasties, followed by media personalities. An analyst has aptly described the Senate as an “old surnames’ club.”

The ruling coalition put together the brands that were relatively easy to sell, including those running for re-election (Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, Chiz Escudero, Koko Pimentel, Sonny Trillanes), members of political families (Sonny Angara, Bam Aquino, Cynthia Villar) and, of course, Poe.

Philippine Senator-elect Grace Poe with father Fernando Poe,Jr. and children Brian and Hannah (Source:

Strong Mandate 

This, plus President Aquino’s dogged endorsement—he campaigned with them in about half of their sorties nationwide and appeared in their TV ads—led to a ringing victory, with nine of the winning candidates coming from their team.

The president remains hugely popular and he used this political capital to ensure that he gets the majority in the Senate. It is expected that the House of Representatives will be dominated by allies of the president as well. 

Clearly, the mid-term polls have given him a strong mandate. With a friendly Congress, Aquino can continue the reforms he started and make the country’s economic growth “inclusive” in the next three years. He has yet to announce his priority bills, but the biggest challenge is to reduce inequity, both in the economy and in politics. 

Three pending measures in Congress are strategic: the anti-trust bill, which aims to level the playing field in business and industry; the political party reform act, to strengthen political parties, make campaign finances transparent, sanction political butterflies and widen political participation; and the freedom of information bill, to institutionalize access to information down to the community level and enable the public to hold officials accountable.  

But back to the phenomenon of Grace and Nancy: There were other plus factors going for them.

For one, Grace ran a “smart and disciplined” campaign, says Sen. Serge Osmeña, himself a veteran of national campaigns. She worked hard and stuck to her message that she is her father’s daughter out to help the poor—in her ads, rallies, interviews and debates.

Early in the campaign, a focus group discussion conducted by Grace’s team found that people were convinced her father was cheated in his 2004 presidential bid. And they wanted to right a wrong. This sentiment strengthened Grace’s brand. 

Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay and Senator-elect Nancy Binay (Source: Yahoo Philippines)

Her Father’s Victory

“It [her victory] is also a validation that they wanted to prove that, yes, FPJ won,” she said in a TV interview.

For her part, Nancy banked on the political network built by her father who won as vice president in 2010. A group of Binay’s friends and supporters, including his fraternity brothers (Alpha Phi Omega), campaigned exclusively for Nancy, we learned from an insider. 

“They reactivated the network that made Jojo win the last time, except with additional vigor of knowing their backs were protected by the VP and the confidence gained by having won once already,” this same source told us.

“In the end, the Binay likeability plus the formidable political machinery made Nancy win,” the Binay camp insider continued. “This gives Jojo the confidence that he can win the presidency in 2016. He has three more years to hone his campaign machine.”

Vice-President Binay has not been shy about his desire to run for president. “My plan for 2016 is to be a candidate. I won’t be a hypocrite,” he told reporters. 

With two national victories notched by the Binays, many say this is a preview of the 2016 elections. Will he continue the reforms started by President Aquino? That is the big question on many people’s minds. The other is: Whom will Aquino anoint as his successor? 

A lot depends on the next three years and how much further Aquino can boost the economy and make people’s lives better.  

Marites Danguilan Vitug

Marites Danguilan Vitug

Marites Danguilan Vitug is one of the Philippines' most accomplished and respected investigative journalists, winning awards and public recognition for her books and reportage on Philippine justice, security, and political affairs. She is the author of the bestselling books, Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court, and its sequel, Hour Before Dawn: The Fall and Uncertain Rise of the Philippine Supreme Court.


In our May 1, 2013 issue, we asked, "The Catholic Vote -- Fact of Fiction?" Here is the answer:


What Catholic Vote?
By Aries Rufo

The Catholic vote is a myth, and this year’s national and local elections validated that.

Senatorial candidates, anointed by Catholic bishops and lay groups, are lagging behind other candidates based on partial and unofficial results.

To add insult to injury, those who were blacklisted by the Catholic Church for supporting the Reproductive Health law are faring well, jostling for the top slots in the Senate race.

In Batangas, where the Lipa Archdiocese unleashed the fury of lay groups to overtly campaign against pro-RH candidates dubbed as “Team Patay (Team Death),” are occupying the top 7 senatorial spots. (See partial, unofficial results here)

In contrast, bets labeled as “Team Buhay" (Team Life) are trailing in the poll results.

In particular, the 3 Kapatiran bets the Lipa Archdiocese openly supported are at the bottom of the latest partial results.

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, in a phone interview, admitted that creating the "Catholic vote" is still a pipe dream. “We are just starting to create a mindset for the Catholic voters,” he said.

He argued that “old politics” remained and many voters there still have to warm up to the idea of a principled vote. “From the beginning, the Catholic vote is weak. But we will not give up.”SIDEBAR

The controversial "Team Buhay/Team Patay" banner hanging at a church in Bacolod (Source:

The Lipa archdiocese is one of the most politically active dioceses in this elections, marshalling its lay leaders to hold house-to-house campaign to convince voters to reject supposed anti-life candidates and vote for the pro-life bets. In most churches and chapels here, political tarpaulins endorsing and rejecting certain candidates were displayed in and outside the church premises.

The Malolos diocese in Bulacan also followed the Batangas example and partial results show its favored bets also performed dismally. A day before the elections, Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros openly endorsed certain candidates under the Solidarity Vote Movement.

The Solidarity Vote Movement is a term adopted by certain dioceses to substitute for the "Catholic Vote." The phrase was used after some bishops expressed reservation in using the word “Catholic” in a partisan political exercise.

If it’s any consolation, some of the "pro-life" senatorial bets the Lipa and Malolos dioceses carried are performing well, although it is arguable whether this is a result of the Church’s endorsement. Re-electionist senators Gregorio Honasan, Antonio Trillanes IV, San Juan Rep JV Ejercito and former Las Piñas Rep Cynthia Villar appear headed for Senate seats, although the first two are still fighting it out for survival.

Batangas and Bulacan are two of the most vote-rich provinces in the country with a combined 3 million registered voters. Batangas and Bulacan are also two of the provinces where there is a high concentration of Catholics. In Batangas, for instance, 9 in 10 residents there are Catholics. The poor showing of the two dioceses' favored candidates, specifically the 3 Kapatiran bets, is enough proof that they failed to muster the Catholic vote.

Further proof of this is the ranking of supposed pro-life candidates in the Bacolod diocese in the province of Negros Occidental. The Bacolod diocese was the first diocese to display Team Buhay, Team Patay tarpaulins identifying the senatorial candidates who should be supported or rejected by the laity. Some dioceses followed the example of Bacolod diocese.

In both Bacolod City and the province of Negros Occidental, bets identified as Team Patay, like re-electionist senators Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, Francis Escudero and Aurora Rep Juan Edgardo Angara are hogging the top 5 places in unofficial results. Pro-RH advocate Risa Hontiveros surprisingly also got sizeable votes there, putting her in the top 12 choices.

Occupying the last spots in the senatorial race there are the pro-life candidates.

Cebu, too

In Cebu, where Catholicism is arguably most alive and where almost 9 in 10 residents belonged to the Catholic faith, “Team Patay” bets Cayetano, Legarda, Escudero, Angara all won, with Hontiveros within striking distance of the Magic 12.

Only 3 Team Buhay bets -- Aquilino Pimentel III, Villar and Nancy Binay are within the winning circle based on partial, unofficial results. The other Team Buhay bets like Ejercito, Honasan, Zambales Rep Mitos Magsaysay and the Kapatiran bets are outside the winning circle.

Although Church leaders in Cebu are not as politically active compared to those in Batangas or Negros Occidental, the poor showing of Team Buhay bets spoke volumes on the influence and clout in the province of Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma. The prelate gave the go-signal for the lay group there, Live Initiative for Election 2013, to openly campaign for supposed pro-life senatorial bets.

Arguelles said the failure of the Catholic Church to unify and stand behind a common set of candidates spelled doom for the Catholic vote initiative. He was referring to the decision of dioceses to come up with their own individual set of candidates, based on the discernment of their respective lay groups.

“The different dioceses each has their own criteria. Some of the candidates endorsed by some dioceses do not match what we have. We are not united, “ Arguelles said.

Another indication of the failed Catholic vote is the failure of the vaunted El Shaddai vote failed to boost the chances of senatorial bets Ramon Magsaysay Jr and Mitos Magsaysay, both endorsed by Bro. Mike Velarde.

El Shaddai brags it has 8-10 million members, half of which are voters. With the exception of Bam Aquino, all of Velarde’s bets are nowhere in the top 5, although 6 of his bets have strong chances of breaking the top 12. Those who are occupying the top 5, including the pace-setting former censors chief Grace Llamanzares Poe, are not endorsed by Velarde. 

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