Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Myth of the Religious vote as "game changers"

Self-proclaimed political analyst Prof. Prospero de Vera is not counting out his boss, Nacionalista party standard bearer Manny Villar. Despite a clear slide in various surveys, the UP public administration professor and Villar’s issues adviser says that Villar has two (2) things going for him: one, the expected public pronouncement of support of the Iglesia ni Kristo (INK) and the El Shaddai and two, the 6-9% of “undecided” voters. De Vera describes these two as “game changers”.

Let’s analyze if what Prof. de Vera told Ted Failon and respected journalist Tina Monsod-Palma is a correct analysis of the real situation in Philippine politics. Will support from the INC and the El Shaddai change the political fortunes of beleaguered Nacionalista standard bearer Manny Villar?

Surveys place Villar at second place, alongside former president Joseph Estrada. Analyzing Villar’s survey rankings from the start of the campaign period, we arrive at a very safe estimate of about 24 to 27% electorate support for Villar, still bigger than Erap’s 18-20%. Translate that into actual numbers, Villar has about 10.08 million “sure votes” come May 10, 2010 elections. This 10 million vote estimate comes from an 80% voter turnout or about 40 million votes.

Villar’s closest rival, Liberal party standard bearer Noynoy Aquino, enjoys 35% to 40% “voter preference support”. Translate that into actual figures, this comprises about 16 million votes, 6 million or so votes bigger than Villar’s.

Now, if De Vera is to be believed, command votes from the INC and the El Shaddai will eventually whittle this 6 million vote difference down to a few thousand or even probably eclipse that of Aquino’s. De Vera says the INC’s 3-10 million membership coupled with that of the El Shaddai’s purported 8 million members will surely clinch Villar the presidency.

First, De Vera’s analysis is faulty simply because he did not take into account that those interviewed by survey companies include members of these two churches. Second, as every researcher knows, command votes will just account between 5-6% difference between Aquino and Villar ; and lastly, even if Villar gets the support of the INC and the El Shaddai, this will surely not be enough given that both groups’ actual membership does not tally with recent studies.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) places the estimated number of INC members at 2.3% of the total Philippine population. This estimate includes minors and it does not say how many actual registered voters among the INC ranks are. It is the single biggest Christian block in the country, about .3% bigger than the Aglipayan church. Compared with the Muslim minority which the CIA places at 5% of the total population, the Iglesia Ni Kristo really commands 2.116 million members only compared with about 4.55 million Muslim votes. The Apologetics website however, estimated INC membership between 3 to 10 million members worldwide, bigger than the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Christian evangelicals comprise 2.8% of the population but they don’t command political influence largely due to its fractured nature. Attempts at unifying these disparate evangelical groups have fallen by the wayside due to the differing views of their leaders.

Clearly, this country is still dominated largely by Roman Catholics which comprise 80.9% of the population or about 73.61 million Filipinos. It is thru this huge block that the El Shaddai claims to have influence, although, the claims of El Shaddai leader Bro. Mike Velarde that his group commands about 8 million religious adherents are simply untrue.

The Iglesia Ni Kristo (INC) is known for its doctrinal belief on “block voting”. According to church doctrines, a member of their church is expected to abide by the decision of the majority. It says that every believer should be one with the church, and that includes political decisions. Nothing wrong with this, I believe, it is doctrinally sound.

This applies also in the case of the El Shaddai, a Catholic group which is categorized as “which has exercised this so-called “religious block voting” since their leader, Bro. Mike Velarde was catapulted to national prominence. Velarde has since positioned himself as a “kingmaker” in Philippine politics.

Now, will public support from both religious groups be enough to clinch the presidency for Villar?

Malou Mangahas wrote a PCIJ article published in 2002 which quoted my Political Science professor Felipe Miranda as saying that the INC block vote is “overstated”. Miranda says that the INC command vote depends largely on the strength of the decision of the head of the INC. Its decisions, however, are sometimes different from existing political reality.

In 1992, the Iglesia Ni Kristo leadership supported the presidential candidacy of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco. Cojuangco lost that election. Fidel V. Ramos won that elections largely by the support of Cory’s Catholic legions and denominational Christian groups. In 2004, the INC supported Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo which nearly lost the elections to opposition leader Fernando Poe Jr. Prior to the elections, Arroyo’s “lead” over Poe was just 4.5 percentage points. The INC endorsement which analysts say translate to a 4-6 million difference could have given Arroyo a landslide win. It did not. Arroyo won over Poe with just a 1 million vote difference. And this largely was due to the Hello Garci operations by Arroyo’s henchmen, not religious command votes.

Officially, the INC claims to have about 5-8 million members throughout the country and overseas. It is the most trusted religious organization in the Philippines and the only Philippine-based religious group to have planted its branches firmly in 180 countries. While its members largely support the religious decisions of its leadership, some members have taken a contrary political stance. In numerous occasions, some of its members went and voted against several candidates whom the Church endorsed.

Given the differing figures, INC block voting at best, is estimated to give its presidential preference about 2 million votes more or less, while the El Shaddai’s actual political influence, at best, is a million or 1.16 million or even less. This stems from the votes cast for Buhay, the partylist organization of El Shaddai last 2007 partylist elections.  

More or less, both groups are good only for 3 to 4 million “command votes”, two million votes less than the 6 million votes difference between Villar and Aquino.

Now, if De Vera is still counting on the ranks of the undecided, actual numbers show that the 6-9% translates to 3 to 3.6 million votes only. Obviously, Villar will simply not get the entire votes of the undecided. More than half of these votes will probably not vote any presidential candidate and only about half of this number will vote for candidates other than Villar. Some will go to Aquino, others to Gordon, Teodoro and even Estrada.


What is alarming is the one given by Prof. De Vera which is the phenomenon of “disfranchisement”. In his interview with Failon and Monsod-Palma, De Vera is banking on the huge number of disfranchised voters. He says that more voters disfranchised, the more likely and bitterly the fight between Aquino and Villar will become. I disagree.

In a scenario like this, disfranchisement will result to a 3 and even a 4-cornered fight. I agree that massive disfranchisement of voters will damage Aquino’s lead and will probably benefit Villar, Estrada and Teodoro. Let’s analyze.

Analysts say 80% of registered Filipino voters will eventually and actually cast their votes come May 10. In a disfranchisement scenario, this 80% or about 40 million, will go down to about 76% or 4 percentage lower. Translated—that’s about 38 million votes.

Aquino’s 6 million vote lead will just be between 4-5 million votes, closer than Villar’s, Estrada’s and Teodoro’s. Disfranchisement will affect the number of Aquino voters more than Villar’s, Estrada’s and Teodoro’s since it is presumed that majority of the votes will go to Aquino’s. The more disfranchisement, the closer the voter difference between Aquino and his rivals. However, De Vera is wrong to presume that only Villar and Aquino will slug it out. It will be a slug fest among Aquino, Villar, Estrada and even Teodoro.

This is likely to happen given the major glitches in the automation plan, the possible outbreak of politically-related violence and the purported plan of several political groups to effect massive disfranchisement in thousands of precincts nationwide.

I observed that the number of voters will actually be even more than 40 million since more Filipinos will go out and vote for their preferred candidates.