The May-June Pulse Asia Survey results report, for the first time since he declared his intention to run, Vice President Jejomar Binay not in first place among presidential contenders for the upcoming elections. This result is not entirely a surprise. Since the middle of 2014, Binay has been experiencing a steady decrease in his presidential preference rating as well as his overall approval as the public has been inundated with evidence detailing his and his family’s corruption in government and accumulation of wealth, while Binay and his plethora of spokespeople have not been able to credibly respond.
What, perhaps, is surprising is the class breakdown of Binay’s support.
Binay Presidential Preference (Pulse Asia)
|Socioeconomic Class||March 2015||June 2015|
Between March and June, ABC classes were the only socioeconomic section where preference for Binay rose. Preference for Binay markedly dropped among D and E classes. In June, the ABC classes expressed the highest level of support for Binay while the D class expressed the lowest level of support for Binay. With a margin of error of ±3, all of these shift are statistically significant.
In recent years, “bobotantes” has been gaining traction as a pejorative term that essentially blames voters for the ills of Philippine politics. The term refers to voters who elect, and especially re-elect corrupt or poorly performing public officials, and often goes with the assumption that those who do so are poor and uneducated. Some of those who assail so-called “bobotantes” even go so far as to suggest that the Philippines would be better off if elections were determined exclusively by the middle class and that there should be formal education requirements in order to qualify to vote – something that harks to the days when property requirements and literacy tests were used to keep democracy exclusionary.
Many of the self-styled intelligista have blamed the career and popularity of VP Binay on these “bobotantes.” It seems an obvious connection. The public image Binay seeks to project is designed to pander to the poorer classes. Emphasizing his humble upbringing and his dark skin (which unfortunately and quite disgustingly continues to be associated with economic class in the Philippines) has been a central part of the Binay narrative. Meanwhile, the Binay machinery is a quintessential exemplar of clientelism. Both in Makati as well as nation-wide through the sister-cities and other programs, the Binay machine provides much-needed services and benefits. While providing services is no doubt part and parcel of what a government official should do, what makes the Binay version clientelistic is that it is predicated on a patron-client relationship or a quid-pro-quo between him and voters. If the voter does not adhere to Binay’s or his area leaders’ demands, the voter can be excluded from these services. For example: Binay touts that hospital care and senior citizen benefits are free in Makati (which is also not completely true). However, openly criticizing Binay or refusing to attend a pro-Binay rally can result in the revocation of these benefits. Those known to be critical of the Vice President may be the only ones among their neighbors to not receive calamity assistance during the constant flooding that happens during the rainy season. While healthcare and calamity assistance are certainly forms of services, these Makati programs are designed to allow the Mayor to control the population by selectively excluding people from what should be public benefits. Instead of truly universal healthcare that would allow any number of forms of proof that one is a Makati resident, residents must apply for yellow cards with the Binay logo that require, among other documents, barangay clearance. The overwhelming majority of barangay captains are, of course, part of the Binay machinery. Instead of fixing drainage and floodways, the city reserves money for household-level calamity assistance bags, complete with the Binay logo. In this way, Binay uses what should be public funds and programs as a method of instilling personal loyalty and control. Residents always live under the threat that their benefits may be taken away.
Those who have blamed Binay’s heretofore survey performance on “bobotantes” presumably believe that Binay’s image as a “poor dark-skinned orphan” resonantes with poorer and less educated voters and that poorer households, because of their greater need for services, are more vulnerable to clientelistic control. They believe that poorer voters do not care about Binay’s corruption as long as they receive clientelistic benefits. On the other hand, middle and upper class voters are value-voters better able to judge politicians without being tainted by clientelism. This latest Pulse Asia survey, however, suggests that these assumptions are wrong.
Binay’s support among the ABC classes has been statistically consistent since September of 2014 until this most recent survey when it shot up by 7 points. The prior consistency could perhaps be explained by the theory that most middle and upper class voters had already firmly made up their minds about Binay or were already aware of his corruption, and so were not swayed by revelations over the last ten months. However, I am at a loss when trying to think of explanations for this latest spurt among upper and middle class support. I am not aware of any of Binay’s efforts to appeal to the middle and upper classes (besides promises of positions and public works contracts, but which I would imagine are limited to a population too small to have an impact on this survey) and there has been no change in his narrative to make him more appealing to upper and middle classes.
On the other hand, Binay’s main response to the flood of evidence linking him to corruption has been to ramp up local organizing and campaigning, which include media events that pander to his “I came from poverty and am down to earth” image (i.e. boodle fights), the increased distribution of goods, and loyalty checks among local organizers. These all indicate intensified appeals to the D and E classes, including intensified clientelism. By blatantly skirting the ever-growing issues of corruption and believing that entertainment and dole-outs would be adequate distractions to the issues, Binay, like those who use “bobotantes,” assumes that poorer voters are stupid, value-less, and easily bought. However, Binay’s steady decline among both the D and E classes illustrates how erroneous it is to assume that poorer voters are so easily manipulated.
There is no single panacea to the ills of Philippine politics. Meaningful reform and transformation will require the combination of many efforts and solutions. Excluding those assumed to be “bobotantes” from the democratic process is not one of these solutions. Exposing and opposing boboliticos is.