Can Manny Villar buy the 2010 presidential election?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-02-04

The January 21–24 SWS poll which was sponsored by BusinessWorld showed the top six presidential candidates with these ratings: Aquino – 42%; Villar – 35%; Joseph Estrada – 13%; Gilbert Teodoro – 4%; Richard Gordon – 2% and Bro. Eddie Villanueva – 2%.

The Pulse Asia January 22 – 26 survey which was released yesterday to media had a different tale to tell with the top six presidential candidates rating as follows: Aquino – 37%; Villar – 35%; Estrada – 12%; Teodoro – 5%; Villanueva – 2% and Gordon – 1%.

Despite the big drop in the Pulse Asia survey, Noynoy Aquino continues to be the man to beat. To appreciate this better, one must remember that when Joseph Estrada won as president in 1998, it was with a 38% vote total which was already considered a landslide victory.

Aquino will be expected to refocus his campaign. Even when playing cellar dwelling teams, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA encounter scoring dips in the course of a basketball game and are forced to adjust their game plan. It must be noted that it was only in mid-January when Aquino has really been defining his presidency. The effects of these inputs, especially his well received performance before the Captains of Industry at the Makati Business Club last month, should be reflected in the next surveys.

With over 48 million qualified and registered 2010 voters, we can expect that around 40 million will vote in the May elections. That is a safe assumption considering the intensity and excitement that this campaign has generated with the last minute entry of Aquino. With an assumed base of 40 million voters, a 1% winning margin translates to easily 400,000 votes. A 7% margin (SWS stat) over second placer Manny Villar translates to a winning margin of 2.8 million votes, an awesome lead.

Manny Villar has been spending since November 2009 as if he inherited Ali Baba’s hoard. A veteran ad man tracked Villar’s television ad spending by getting the number of placements from a monitoring firm and equating these placements with known airtime negotiated cost per spot. The tracking report showed that Villar already spent around P670 million for 2009 plus around P68 million for January 1-9, 2010 alone.

That is over P700 million that Villar had spent so far, per the ad tracking report. With that volume of TV advertising which was estimated to have generated over 30,000 gross rating points (GRP) in 2009 via around 2,500 minutes of advertising and around 2,500 GRPs via around 263 minutes of advertising for January 1-9, 2010 (in the ad world, we are ecstatic to generate 200 GRPs within a month) – it’s surprising that Villar has not overtaken Aquino.

What happens to Villar’s campaign, which is TV advertising propelled, when the official campaign period limits all presidential candidates to only a total of 120 minutes each for the entire campaign period? That effectively removes his advantage in advertising budget. Where he used to outgun Aquino by an easily 4 to 1 ratio, they will now be competing on an even playing field.

Can Manny Villar sustain his over 30% ratings in the face of the Ethics Case scandal hounding him? If the presidential race will narrow to a choice between Aquino and Villar, Villar would be extremely handicapped. Won’t voters see that as a choice between Mr. Spotty versus Mr. Clean?

There is no real corruption issue against Aquino. His rivals are trying to concoct some but people easily spot falsehoods, especially when these issues only emerge during an election campaign and are being leveled against a frontrunner.

Villar has injected extraordinary inputs that we normally see only during the final stages of the presidential campaign. His advertising spending since November must have easily surpassed the total campaign media spending of the other candidates.

He even had a questionable TV testimonial from comedian Dolphy – questionable because many doubt if Dolphy really knew Villar to say those things he uttered in the Villar TV commercial. When Estrada was asked how come Dolphy endorsed Villar instead of him (Estrada and Dolphy go a long way back in the movie industry), Estrada simply laughed it off and said that Dolphy was only making a living. With so many dependents relying on him, Dolphy is now on the tail end of his earning capacity.

Villar has been extremely lucky in that his other rivals are all busy ganging up on Aquino and are hardly attacking him despite his vulnerabilities. Attacking and getting points from one who is vulnerable to being perceived as Mr. Spotty is the much easier marketing endeavor compared to the previous attempt to get points from one already widely perceived as Mr. Clean. In such an equation, there is a better return on investment in attacking Manny Villar instead of Noynoy Aquino.

The Senate Majority Report on Villar’s Ethics Case is very damaging to Manny Villar, especially in this election when voters fervently want to get rid of corruption and plunder. Winnie Monsod did a very good assessment of that report in her column last Saturday. Amando Doronila called it a damning report against Villar.

Unlike the fabricated issues against Noynoy Aquino, there is a very well documented case of corruption against Manny Villar. And each day, many other Villar issues are beginning to surface.

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