A Political Kiss of Death in the Philippines

A survey conducted by the respected polling organization Pulse Asia a few weeks back identified three people in the Philippines whose endorsement could spell defeat for a candidate running for public office. They are (not necessarily in order) President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao and TV variety show host Willy Revillame.

With Arroyo, it is understandable. She is the country's second longest-serving president next only to deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and is viewed by many as an unpopular president with negative ratings unmatched in the post-World War II era in Philippine politics. The president's unpopularity is manifested by the clashing Aquino and Villar camps which each have traded propaganda blows by attempting to tie the Arroyo albatross around the other's neck. Aquino accuses Villar of a secret pact for co-rule after the election, calling the two "Villaroyo." Villar has fired back, painting his opponent as "GloriAquino," stressing that members of Aquino's clans would remain entrenched in various posts in the Arroyo government.

The inclusion of Pacquiao and Revillame presents an interesting case. They have both endorsed Manny Villar for the presidency. Many Filipinos idolize them for being what they are and reaping success as celebrities in their respective fields. But their popularity cannot be translated to votes as shown by the survey.

Now comes another controversial figure - perhaps the most hated man in the country today - endorsing a presidential candidate who is maintaining a healthy lead over three other pretenders. As was widely reported Tuesday, multiple murder suspect and Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., held a press conference to announce he and his entire family were endorsing Noynoy Aquino's presidential campaign.

The timing and the sequence of events leading to the statement leave a bad taste in the mouth. Andal Jr is the principal suspect in the gruesome massacre of 58 people including 32 journalists and media workers along with family and staff workers for a political opponent in November last year.

Journalists are now referring to the despicable incident as the Ampatuan Massacre as it happened in the town named after Andal Jr's family.

Coming from a powerful political clan in Maguindanao, Andal Jr. was given the opportunity to hold a press conference at his detention cell to announce his support for Liberal Party presidential candidate Benigno ‘Noynoy' Aquino Jr.

The press conference was patently and obviously scripted. Late last week, Andal Jr. arrogantly displayed a rubber bracelet on his wrist bearing the color and name of another presidential candidate, Nacionalista Party's Manuel Villar. Villar, of course, has been accused of being the ‘secret candidate' of Arroyo.

Military sources said one of Villar's senatorial candidates, Gilbert Remulla, allegedly visited Ampatuan clan patriarch Andal Sr in his military ward in Davao City. What transpired during that meeting was never made public.

The Ampatuans are known political allies of the Arroyo government. The Ampatuans delivered crucial votes for Arroyo in the 2004 general election. Until the Maguindanao massacre, the Ampatuans have been recipient of unmatched favors from the Arroyo government with over P10 billion (US$222 million) in aid and other projects.

The sudden turnaround of Andal Jr. in supporting Aquino is apparently aimed at denting Aquino's lead over Villar and obviously a frenetic attempt to control the damage done by his earlier endorsement of the Nacionalista Party bet. Despite Ampatuan's own statement, Aquino supporters are implying that the endorsement was a setup.

More so now that a resurgence of protest and indignation is flaming across the country over the April 17 decision of Arroyo government Justice Secretary Alberto Agra to drop Andal Jr's brother Zalday Ampatuan and brother-in-law Akmad Ampatuan from the murder case arising from the massacre.

Frankly, there is no other way to look at this deplorable scheme to muddy further the mudslinging ways of the May 10 presidential elections. Andal Jr's endorsement would undoubtedly become a kiss of death. But who dies? And the most important question to ask is how, if Andal Jr. does deliver the kiss of death to the candidate of his choice, he will benefit after the election.

Edwin Espejo blogs at Asian Correspondent