Fri, Apr 30, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Aquino increases lead in Philippines pollster says

REUTERS AND AFP , MANILA

Philippine presidential candidate Benigno Aquino speaks during a campaign rally in Pinamalayan in the central Philippines yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Philippine opposition lawmaker Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino held a 19-point lead over his nearest rival in next month’s presidential election, the biggest margin since December, a poll showed yesterday.

Support for Aquino, the son of the country’s late democracy leader Corazon “Cory” Aquino, hit 39 percent. He increased his lead over main rival Manuel “Manny” Villar, whose approval rating slipped to 20 percent, pollster Pulse Asia said.

Villar, a property magnate-turned-senator, was tied in second place with former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada, who had made steady gains, the poll showed.

More than 50 million Filipinos will choose a president and nearly 18,000 national and local officials in the country’s first automated vote count on May 10.

Analysts say Villar’s ratings have slipped because he is seen as close to unpopular Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband, and for running a lavish election campaign.

Villar has denied any links with Arroyo, whose popularity plunged to a record minus 53 percent last month over allegations of election fraud and corruption during her nine years in office.

The survey involved 1,800 respondents across the country and was conducted on April 23-25. The poll results, which have a 2 percent margin of error, were posted on the Pulse Asia Web site.

MUSCLE MATTERS

Analysts say money, muscle and established political machinery mean more than opinion polls in Philippines elections.

“Surveys are not very good indicators, in view of past records and in view of the system they use, which is not very accurate,” said Benito Lim, political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University.

He said polls did not show issues or the reasons behind respondents’ choices

On Monday, pollster Social Weather Stations issued its own survey results, showing Aquino with a double-digit margin over Villar for the first time since December.

Government candidate Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro remained a distant fourth with a 7 percent rating.

In related news, the Philippines’ defense secretary said yesterday that there would be cheating in next month’s national elections and people were already trying to bribe polling officials.

“I’m telling you that the cheating has [already] begun,” Norberto Gonzales told a gathering of Christian and Muslim religious leaders. “There will be cheating in the coming elections.”

UP FOR GRABS

More than 17,000 posts, from president to town councilor will be up for grabs in the election.

Gonzales did not say who was behind the cheating, but said people had already begun trying to bribe members of the body overseeing the poll, the Commission on Elections.

“Some money is being distributed to some officials already these days,” he said.

Gonzales also said that many civic groups had made dire warnings about how vulnerable the voting system was to cheating, and that he shared these concerns.

“You cannot help but start asking questions,” he said.

The Philippines has one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies, but it is also wracked by corruption and violence.

Arroyo’s victory in the 2004 elections was marred by allegations she sought to manipulate the vote by calling an election official.

Arroyo’s spokesman, Gary Olivar, said Gonzales did not mention his concerns to the president, but conceded he may be correct.

“He is being frank ... in order to prepare people so they can cooperate with the duly constituted authorities,” Olivar said.

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