The Volatilian™ View

The sport of presidents

The 16th running of the Philippines’ prestigious, sextennial Presidential Stakes and VP Stakes, the feature events on a packed 9 May countrywide race card – two classic clashes run over a gruelling track in traditional heavy going – are underway as a crowd of up to 54.5 million study the form and prepare to make their selections.

With billions of pesos behind the runners’ campaigns, these are the richest stakes races in the Philippines. For these two events alone – the card is bulging with congressional, mayoral, governorship and council races – the stables splashed out PHP2.3 billion on TV ads last year. And based on last year’s spend, it’s estimated that the top four contenders will have disbursed in excess of PHP12 billion by the time the finish line is in sight.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) hosts the meeting with a budget of PHP9bn. And then there’s the prize. The purse for the Presidential Stakes contains the keys to Malacañang, the presidential palace, and close to PHP300 billion in discretionary spending.

FORM GUIDE. Odds quoted are based on the average of each runner’s performance in three February-released polls: the MBC-DZRH ‘Desisyon 2016’ survey, Business World-SWS survey and Pulse Asia survey.

Jojo [Jejomar Cabauatan Binay, Sr.]. 73-yo, b. Paco, Manila. Bloodline: No notable political antecedents; fostered by former president, Corazon Aquino who handed him the mayoralty of Makati in 1986. Stable: United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). Major Stakes won: 2010 VP Stakes; 1988 and 2001 Mayor of Makati Stakes. Handicap: Under investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Philippine Senate over allegations of corruption including graft, misappropriation of funds, unexplained wealth and large real-estate holdings. Connections: Manila Mayor and former president Joseph Estrada and his considerable political machine; Senate Minority Floor leader, Juan Ponce Enrile; House member, Gwendolyn Garcia’s influential provincial political grouping, 1-Cebu; the Suarez clan of Quezon province; disgraced former president Gloria Arroyo (likely). Draw: Centre-Right. Win Odds: 3.1/1.

2016 VP Stakes running mate: Gringo [Gregorio Ballesteros Honasan II], 68-yo, b. Baguio City. Bloodline: No notable political antecedents Stable: UNA. Major Stakes won: 1995, 2001, 2007 and 2013 Senate Race. Handicap: Named by the National Bureau of Investigation and the Commission on Audit as a participant in the 2013 PHP428m Pork Barrel Scandal. Connections: 1-Cebu. Draw: Centre-Right. Win Odds: 17.2/1. Team Motto: “With Binay Life Will Be Better”.

Grace [Mary Grace Natividad Sonora Poe Llamanzares]. 47-yo, b. Jaro, Iloilo City. Bloodline: Adopted daughter of 2004 Presidential Stakes contender Da King, popular actor Fernando Poe Jr. Stable: Independent under the umbrella of cross-party Partido Galing at Puso (Team GP). Major Stakes won: 2013 Senate Race (highest number of votes in a field of 33 runners). Handicap: Restricted in leaving the gate following her disqualification by Comelec under the required 10-year residency rule. (Ban lifted by the Supreme Court (SC), March 8, declaring her fitness to run). Her support for an Anti-Dynasty Bill has deterred political-clan backing for her campaign. Connections: endorsed by the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). Draw: Centre. Win Odds: 2.7/1F.

2016 VP Stakes running mate: Chiz [Francis Joseph Guevara Escudero], 47-yo, b. Manila. Bloodline: Son of former Agriculture Minister and House of Representatives member, Salvador Escudero. Stable: Independent (Team GP). Major Stakes won: 1998 House Race; (2004 House Minority Leader); 2007 Senate Race. Connections: NPC endorsed. Draw: Centre/Centre-Right. Win Odds: 2.5/1F. Team Motto: “No One Will Be Left Behind”.

Digong [Rodrigo Roa Duterte]. 71-yo, b. Maasin, Leyte. Bloodline: Son of Davoa Provincial Governor and former Danao Mayor and Cebu City Mayor, Vincente G. Duterte. Stable: Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). Major Stakes won: 1998 House Race; 1988, 2001 & 2013 Davao City Mayor Stakes; 2010 Davao City Vice-Mayor Race. Handicap: Cited by Amnesty International and the UN General Assembly of the Human Rights Council for condoning and inciting extrajudicial killings. Connections: Cebu’s influential Osmeña clan (one of the country’s oldest and most powerful political dynasties); Cebu’s Durano and Almendras clans; Mindanao’s Muslim and tribal leaders; strong support among Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs); the country’s LGBT community. Draw: Centre-Left. Win Odds: 3.3/1.

2016 VP Stakes running mate: Compañero [Alan Peter Schramm Cayetano], 46-yo, b. Taguig, Manila. Bloodline: Son of former senator, Renato Cayetano. Stable: Independent. Major Stakes won: 1998 House Race; 2007 Senate Race (2010 Senate Minority Floor Leader; 2013 Senate Majority Floor Leader). Connections: Nacionalista Party. Draw: Centre/Centre-Right. Win Odds: 6.1/1. Team Mottos: “Fearlessness And Compassion” and “Change Is Coming”.

Mar [Manuel Araneta Roxas II]. 58-yo, b. Quezon City, Manila. Bloodline: Grandson of the 5th President of the Philippines, Manuel Roxas, and son of Senator Gerardo Roxas. Stable:  Partido Liberal ng Pilipinas (Liberal Party, or LP). Major Stakes won: 1992 House Race; 2004 Senate Race. Last year’s favourite for the VP Stakes, narrowly beaten into second place by JoJo. Handicap: As Interior Secretary, criticised for his handling of relief efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (November 2013) which devastated much of Leyte, leaving 6,340 dead. Criticised for having no role in the chain of command during the failed mission by the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) to capture two terrorists at Mamasapano in Muslim Mindanao Autonomous Region in which 44 SAF personnel were killed (January 2015). Connections: President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino; La Union mayors and Ortega clan; some NPC support. Draw: Centre/Centre-Left. Win Odds: 4.3/1.

2016 VP Stakes running mate: Leni [Maria Leonor Gerona Robredo], 51-yo, b. Naga City. Bloodline: Daughter of Naga City Regional Trial Court Judge, Antonio Gerona. Stable:  LP. Major Stakes won: 2013 House Race. Handicap: Proven runner on the provincial Naga and Camarines Sur tracks, but stamina doubts for this race. Connections: political backing from across the Bicol region of southeastern Luzon; Cebu’s Gerona clan (possible). Draw: Centre/Centre-Left. Win Odds: 4.3/1 (4.4/1). Team Motto: “Continue the Straight Path”.

Iron Lady [Miriam Defensor Santiago]. 71-yo, b. Iloilo City. Bloodline: Daughter of District Trial Judge, Benjamin A. Defensor. Stable: Partido ng Repormang Pantao (People’s Reform Party, or PRP). Major Stakes won: 1995 Senate Race. Handicap: Health worries – claims to have overcome Stage 4 cancer though is unwilling to provide her medical records; underfunded campaign with no backing so far from any of the country’s political dynasties or clans. Connections: n.a. Draw: Centre-Left. Win Odds: 24.6/1. 2016 VP 

Stakes running mate: Bongbong [Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos, Jr.]. 59-yo, b. Manila. Bloodline: Only son of the late Philippine strongman, Ferdinand Marcos and Congresswoman, Imelda Marcos. Stable: Independent. Major Stakes won: 1980 Ilocos Norte Vice Governor; 1983 & 1998 Ilocos Norte Governor;’ 1992 & 2007 House Race; 2010 Senate Race. Handicap: Family association – the Marcos name is still vilified in many quarters. 2014 Pork Barrel Scandal – ordered by the Commission on Audit to return PHP10m, which he channeled to a “livelihood project” deemed to be “illegal and irregular”. Connections: PRP; his mother’s New Society Movement of United Nationalists (or, KBL); La Union mayors and the Ortega clan; solid backing from across the northern political clans; some OFW and NPC support. Draw: Right. Win Odds: 3/1. Team Motto: “Stupid Is Not Forever!”

Sonny [Antonio Fuentes Trillanes IV]. 44-yo, b. Caloocan, Metro Manila – Bloodline: No notable political antecedents. Stable: Independent. Connections: Nacionalista Party; the militarist Magdalo group and the 506,000 card-carrying members of its social-networking sister group, Samahang Magdalo. Draw: Far Right. Win Odds: 19/1 – completes the VP field.

At the March marker, Grace is the Presidential Stakes front runner with Jojo and late-entry, Digong, racing virtually neck and neck. Both are strongly in contention. Mar is back in the field while Iron Lady (the only runner with form in this race, coming second to Eddie [Fidel V. Ramos] in the 1992 Presidential Stakes), is trailing with a great deal of ground to make up. JoJo and Mar both have course and distance form with previous VP Stakes runs. In the 2016 VP Stakes, Chiz and Bongbong are showing good early speed and have broken from the pack. Leni is off the pace in third followed by a lagging Compañero with Gringo and Sonny looking out of condition, out-classed and out of the running.

While it’s too early to call these races, in the Presidential Stakes Grace and Jojo are well set, though Digong could surprise. In the VP Stakes, Chiz has settled well and is in a strong position to win post to post. Bongbong, though, has plenty of stamina for a testing race of this distance and will remain strongly in contention all the way to the line. Daily Double odds favour Grace & Chiz. Digong & Bongbong is the outside bet.

But this is a tough course with a long history of surprise winners. The 2010 VP Stakes, for example, had 2016 Presidential Stakes contender, Mar, the clear favourite at 1.6/1, but after a late blistering run JoJo got to the line to win by a nose – 727,084 votes ahead, the narrowest margin in all 15 runnings of the event.

And if previous Presidential Stakes runs are anything to go by, we can expect objections and calls for Comelec stewards to conduct an inquiry into the results. This was the case in the hotly contended 2004 clash when GMA [Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) won in a photo-finish over Da King. The winning distance was just 1,123,576 votes. Claims that the race had been fixed were overruled by Comelec (itself cited in the race fixing) and the result was upheld.

At the end of the day it’s a horse race. But once all that has been dealt with and the quid pro quos (portfolios and other appointments and possible amnesties for campaign support and contributions) have been satisfactorily concluded, the real horse trading will begin as stables switch allegiances in an effort to get their hands on the reins of power in a reconstituted Congress from which the likely runners of the 2022 stakes races will emerge.