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Siling Labuyo: St. Francis of Assisi: Patron Saint of Opinion Surveys

St. Francis is well-known as the patron saint of animals but in life, he was more than that. If one mentions his real name - Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone – however, even the most devout Christian would probably not recognize the man. Born in Assisi, Italy Giovanni was the son of a wealthy businessman who wanted him to follow his footsteps in business. His mother named him Giovanni after St. John the Baptist but his father did not want him to be a man of God and had him renamed Francesco to reflect his own fascination with France. Francesco is literally translated as a “Frenchman.” Francesco was a party animal during his young life, carefree, always happy, and loved by many. He lived a sinful life and led other young people to evil and vice before his conversion to serve God. His life story to holiness is rich with lessons that a modern day politician can learn from. His highly opinionated character suits him well as the patron saint of polling or opinion surveys. Which brings us to the Philippine political scene. The result of the recent polling by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed a rather remarkable drop on Vice President Leni Robredo’s net satisfaction rating for the first quarter of 2017. The 11-point drop is remarkable in many ways that should be cause for concern for the vice president. While the drop was anticipated because of recent events that featured Robredo prominently in a negative way, the 11 points was rather steep especially after a modest drop back in December when her rating was considered “good.” The other marker of the survey is how well she fared when compared to other high officials. Senate president Koko Pimentel suffered a slight drop and so did Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno but President Rody Duterte and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez both held steady or got a slight bump. Their survey performance is worth looking into in Robredo’s context because the duos were also featured in the news negatively because of their own controversies. While it is true that ratings will rise or drop depending on the mood of the citizenry and therefore could be a temporary thing, but a steady drop on the ratings could be bad if the downtrend reaches a point of no return. Robredo’s approval rating in September 2016 was at 65% and slipped to 58% in December. While her 53% approval rating in March 2017 still provides some cushion it should not bring comfort because that is only a few points from turning negative. The video release in January has to do with the rating slide but is only a symptom of other things contributing to the drop. The release of the survey results just before the Holy Week, however, provides an opportune time for VP Robredo to do some soul searching and reflection. Apart from the Lenten prayers, she needs to reflect on St. Francis’ life and seek for his guidance or wisdom on how she can survive politically in DU30’s realm. Then she needs to huddle up with her team and formulate a strategy to arrest her nosediving rating. What would St. Francis do if he were on the VP’s shoes? The Italian saint would probably advise her to follow his lead as he did when his father disowned him in front of a crowd his father gathered. After all, poor showing in polling surveys is a form of rejection from a segment of the population. Francesco disavowed his own father after the latter stripped him of his belongings and wealth. When the bishop reassured Francesco not to worry because “God will provide,” the jovial but literally then a poor guy exclaimed his freedom from the clutches of his patriarch. The Liberal Party (LP) is Robredo’s paternal guardian who tells and gives strategy direction to through the party leaders. It is clear looking at events and Robredo’s pronouncements that the party’s influence on her is strong but perhaps does not realize she is being fed to the lion. Her position as titular head is important but should not be an overriding influence on her actions. As I keep repeating, her ultimate goal should be getting elected president in the next election and every strategy should be focused on that. She will not get there if she loses the electoral protest by Bongbong Marcos and most definitely if she is impeached. True, her party has been under siege from the administration but that should have been expected after LP members’ constant agitation of the DU30 administration in its first 100 days. Robredo’s active involvement and constant media presence gave the impression that she was gunning for DU30’s spot already – a taboo in Philippine’s macho culture and is thus reflected in the surveys. Thus the administration’s destabilization charges, active prosecution of Senator Leila De Lima, stripping of committee chairmanships, and impeachment efforts now underway against the VP are part and parcel to neutralize her and the LP. Perhaps some realism is in order. One, at the gate both the president and the vice president were both very popular given their equally momentous electoral wins. The president felt and believed that the electoral mandate given him was his license to kill and to go after the bad guys. Majority of Filipinos agree so despite controversies and bad press, DU30 remains strong and popular across all demographics and throughout the country particularly in the Visayan and Mindanao regions. At this point in time, Robredo will be foolish to go toe-to-toe with DU30 in competing for the Filipino soul. Two, DU30’s weakness is the extra judicial killing issue but the strategy should be more on the prosecution of summary killings like going after the Philippine National Police (PNP) instead of DU30. It goes without saying that successful prosecution of these cases will reflect badly on the president and could prove toxic to his presidency. Having said that, media presence then to address these issues should be done by other LP operatives or the opposition figures instead of the VP. Sen. Bam Aquino should be utilized more so he can gain some traction particularly among the youth in the barangay election issues. Senator Francis Pangilinan should be the LP front man on the agriculture sector and should look more into the rice importation issues. Senator Sonny Trillanes should continue his verbal assault on DU30 and other corruption issues attributed to administration officials including the government’s peace efforts. While Sen. Franklin Drilon should front the legislative issues like lowering of the criminal liability, death penalty, South China Sea/Benham Rise, and the impeachment issues. On gender politics, Sen. Risa Hontiveros is a potent adversary and can carry the load on a host of issues like women’s rights, LGBT, labor, and drug war. Sen. Leila De Lima has been neutralized and her frontal efforts against the administration are no longer effective. Congressman Edcel Lagman could take up her fight. Although Sen. Ralph Recto is in the majority, he could provide insider support to advance LP advocacies. One of the things the VP can do in the meantime is to start looking around the LP membership especially among elected officials to identify those with special talents and start using them. She should also find ways to cooperate with the administration to deliver better services in healthcare, livelihood, trimming the bureaucracy but being effective. The opposition cannot just oppose all the time. By cooperating with the administration in some ways even just pro forma will be help get her polling numbers to get better.

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