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THE LORD'S POLITICAL RESURRECTION
The Erap threat
By Marvin Bionat, Political Analyst

[*We feature submitted opinions and articles. You can submit your articles to chapelnet@usa.net. For more information, call 426-5966 or 426-6138. Look for Weng.]

What exactly is the big fuss about? Why not let the most popular
candidate win? Well, let's see ... As mayor of San Juan, Erap earned the Ten Outstanding Young Men award for outstanding public service. When he left office, San Juan was the only Metro Manila municipality that had a budget surplus. What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. In fact, that's remarkable; he deserves credit for his good deeds.

As a senator, he filed a bill protecting carabaos. Nothing wrong with
that either ... except that it's the only known bill he filed in the Senate.
He got elected as senator only to file one bill protecting carabaos? Now
that's something! What did his brilliant circle of advisers do during his 5
years in the Senate? What will his 30 Council of Wise Men do when he becomes president? Who among them will gain the most influence and thus become the real power behind the throne? And what about his association with shady characters? As if his friendship with reputed underworld hustler Atong Ang is not scandalous enough, Erap recently endorsed the alleged leader of a crime syndicate to run for a congressional seat. Don't we have enough hoodlums in Congress already? What was he thinking?

By all indications, Erap does not have the intellectual wherewithal to
deal with the intricacies of the economy. During a televised debate in
February, Estrada said this about globalization: "Well, whether it's good or bad, we cannot afford not to be included in the globalization. Because we cannot be, err, I would say, an island. So we have to be included in the global, err, trade, and global, err, whatever. I would say that in globalization, I would say everybody should be included." This was one of the few occasions when Erap actually did not say he'd form a committee to study the issue--his usual way of avoiding intelligent conversation.

State of denial. Except for Erap, all the other presidential candidates are dismissing the most recent surveys as hogwash. These are the very same people who had been watching poll results with bated breath, throwing confetti every time they gained points. Well, two weeks before the elections and the front-runner is still Erap, safely ahead with a solid 30 percent. He's the village idiot in this campaign. The rest of the 'intelligent' candidates are chugging along--way behind. With 10 of them divvying up the remaining 70 percent and vigorously clawing each other down, none has generated even half of Erap's popularity rating. Is denial the answer? If someone has been positively diagnosed as having a terminal illness and he or she chooses to deny it, should we give him or her a smack in the head and say, "Get a grip! You're gonna die!" Of course not!

We want to be sensitive to his or her feelings. But what we have here is not Lim, Osmena, Roco, or De Villa having terminal cancer. It's not a good time to be timid and worry about hurting their feelings. The May elections is not about them. It's about 13-year-old Josephine and thousands of her ilk who--in the shadows of Metro Manila's giant malls and a towering skyline--still have to forage heaps of trash to survive. It's about 10-year-old Andrew and thousands of the country's street children who have to sell their little bodies so they may buy food. It's about babies dying in Mindanao because corrupt and bumbling leaders fail to address the long-expected ill-effects of El Nino. It's about the country's innocent children ... and us taking full responsibility for creating a better future for them. Should the alternative candidates ignore the polls? Should we allow them the privilege of denial? Heck, no! If these supposedly intelligent candidates remain adamant, they sure deserve a smack in the head, because they are about to engage in a completely senseless act of mass political suicide, a monumentally stupid act of self-sacrifice right on the altar of the supposedly clueless Erap presidency!

The facts. How reliable are SWS survey results? First, Mahar Mangahas, the man behind SWS, is a respected pioneer in public opinion research in the Philippines. He obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of the Philippines and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. His thoroughness as a researcher has earned him the Elizabeth Nelson Award from the World Association of Public Opinion Research and established SWS as the most reputable polling outfit in the Philippines--out-performing local affiliates of prestigious international pollsters including Gallup. An academic whose career depends on the integrity of his work, no objective observer is inclined to believe the speculation that because Mangahas is related  to Fernando Poe Jr., one of Erap's celebrity campaigners, SWS has become a psy-war tool of the Estrada-Angara camp. Second, SWS results were remarkably accurate in the 1992 elections. In the pre-election survey, SWS ranking for the seven vice presidential candidates was 100 percent accurate, with an impressive average deviation of only 1.2 percent. In the presidential contest, SWS pre-election ranking was almost perfect except for the fifth and sixth places (SWS had Salonga at number five and Imelda at number six; the actual results had Imelda leading Salonga by less than a hundred thousand votes) and the average deviation was only 2.4 percent.

SWS detractors like to cite statistical flukes like Marcelo Fernan ending up at number 10 when an SWS pre-election survey showed him at number 17 in the 1995 senate race. It is important to point out that surveys tend to be less accurate in contests where there are multiple seats available, obviously because voters are less able to memorize multiple names (12 in the case of the senate slate) and are emotionally less committed to their choices. A slew of political analysts also argue that since Erap's support base are from class D and E, his actual votes will be lower than survey figures because the turnout for class D and E is often low and those voters are most vulnerable to vote buying. Guess what: In 1992, Erap's 30 percent in the pre-election SWS survey translated into 33 percent in the actual voting. His masa voted for him in full force and more!

What about other polling outfits such as Facts Base showing Joe De Venecia catching up? Don't even read them! The reason why they don't have a human face the way SWS has Mangahas (and formerly, UP Professor Felipe Miranda) is because they are phony, and they sure know it! If Wednesday's SWS results show Erap leading by more than 15 points, does anyone in his or her right mind actually expect any of the alternative candidates to win? JVD, through a massive vote-buying and dagdag-bawas operation, perhaps ... but Lim? Osmena? Roco? De Villa? Nah! If they all stubbornly insist on running, we should reconsider who the real village idiots are.

Filling the vacuum/selection process. The Revive the LORD initiative floundered because, first, it was broached at a time when the alternative candidates were hoping that more recent attacks against Erap would cut down some of his lead. A simple case of wrong timing. With the release of Wednesday's survey, however, Erap's political invincibility has become apparent. Second, there was a widespread perception that the initiators led by Brother Rolly Dizon were sympathetic to Lim--something the organizers vehemently denied but failed to quash. Third, everyone was wary about being hoodwinked into an unfair selection process.

For those who fear an Erap presidency, what we now have is a political
crisis. As in 1986, it has created a leadership vacuum, a dilemma that begs for someone who has the power to unify. Finding someone beyond reproach, respected by all the parties is key to resurrecting the LORD initiative. Unlike in 1986, we don't have a Cardinal Sin to fill that vacuum, obviously because he has been identified with the Lim camp. It's the same case with Cory Aquino. We can't be out of possibilities, though. Ateneo de Manila's Father Joaquin Bernas. Former Senate President Jovito Salonga. Former Senator Arturo Tolentino. Members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. NGO leaders. We have people of unquestionable integrity around.

In all likelihood, they won't push for their participation (perhaps even resist involvement), but they need to be identified and social forces will take care of sucking them into the process. What sort of selection process is acceptable? Waiting for the final survey (assuming there's one) to serve as the basis of the selection process may be too late. Besides, everyone has by now publicly condemned all surveys as unreliable. A more practical process is to gather all the parties (Senator Miriam Santiago should be part of the process too: LORD'S Resurrection sounds right) and then ask them to vote for their favored candidate. If self-voting is not allowed, the possibility of a five-way tie is minimal. With LORD'S Resurrection, some 70 percent of the electorate will have a real choice on May 11. Without it, it's President Erap Estrada into the next millennium ... whether 70 percent of the people like it or not.

UPDATES - 4/26
Sin has exhorted some qualified candidates to withdraw from the race ``in order that the unqualified may not hold sway.'' ``You have fought the good fight, you have kept the faith, you have run the race. But having come so far, you know it may now be time to withdraw. That the country may stride forward, you know you must step backward,'' the good Cardinal said.

UPDATES - 4/25
Leaders and representative of organizations backing the Third Force as a viable alternative for the presidency have organized a multi-sectoral coalition to serve as its mass base. Organized during a meeting held at the University of St. La Salle Wednesday was the People's Alternative Candidate for the Third Force or PACT FORCE. It is a people's initiated movement that aims to provide Filipinos with a more credible alternative either to an Estrada or De Venecia presidency. The group can be reached at 434-1063 (c/o Jing), 435-3857 (c/o Edwin or Eldi), or 708-4219 (c/o George).

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