Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - One candidate now goes by the name "Edgardo Angara," another by "Grace Poe," and still another, "JV Estrada."
In an election where voters clearly put premium on political pedigree, candidates from the two main senatorial tickets are tweaking their names for better recall and, eventually, to improve their chances in the May 13 elections.
Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco, campaign manager of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), on Friday acknowledged the need for candidates to capitalize on the popularity of relatives in politics.
Tiangco noted that no less than President Aquino himself benefited from the popularity of his parents-the late Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino-in the 2010 presidential election.
"I hope the President won't take this the wrong way but a huge portion of those who voted for him did so because of his parents. So he can't say that he didn't benefit from the popularity of his parents," he said on the phone.
Supporting a candidate because of his association with a relative in politics is common among Filipino voters, the congressman said.
"You can't change the habit of the people. If they like your parents, most likely they would also vote for you. At the very least, they would try to know you more," he said.
The name-change appeared to have worked in the case of Representatives Jose Victor Ejercito and Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara.
Ejercito, who now uses his vastly popular father's movie screen surname "Estrada," placed fourth in the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey. Angara, who opted to drop "Juan," said he "went up four percentage points." He's just outside the Magic 12 at 13th place.
Most number of absences
A revelation among UNA's senatorial bets is Cagayan Rep. Juan Ponce "Jack" Enrile Jr. He was tied with another candidate for the 8th and 9th places in the SWS survey despite being among the House members with the most number of absences.
Tiangco rejected the idea that respondents generally confused Enrile with his more popular father, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.
"I know for a fact that it's not the case," he told the Inquirer. "I have known his strategy from the start. He really presented himself to the public early on so that come the actual campaign, people won't be surprised that it's the younger Enrile, not the father, who is running."
On their own merits
Dropping her surname Llamanzares also worked for Grace Poe, daughter of the late action star Fernando Poe Jr. who is running both under UNA and the administration ticket "Team PNoy."
The younger Poe placed 10th and 11th in the SWS survey, up from 20th place last December. Tiangco attributed the improvement mainly to her decision to use only her father's surname.
"People can't really associate Llamanzares with FPJ," he said.
Whether these candidates offer something beyond popular names would be up to voters to scrutinize, said Tiangco, who insisted that UNA bets could stand "on their own merits."
Angara said his improvement in the survey was not necessarily the result of his decision to adopt his father's name in its entirety.
"I went up four percentage points but I'm not sure if that's attributable to the name or the advertisements or the times I've gone around the provinces," he said in a text message.
In Malacanang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte dismissed as unfounded UNA spokesperson JV Bautista's fear that a Liberal Party (LP) victory sweep in the senatorial races might produce a "yellow" or a "puppet Senate"-one subservient to President Aquino.
"The people will vote for whoever they want to vote for," Valte said at a press briefing. "Nobody can dictate on the voters-whether they want it to be purely red, or yellow, or white, or black, it really is up to the voters."
She said the color yellow had always been associated with the President and his mother, Cory Aquino, and added: "Both have stood for good governance and democracy. Only those who wish to go back to business as usual fear it."
Valte was responding to a statement from Bautista that the victory of the administration's 12-member slate would lead to a "yellow Senate," referring to the color associated with the LP.
"If the voters want to vote for particular candidates because they support the reform agenda of the people, that is not for Attorney Bautista to dictate," Valte said.
'New opposition' confusing
The Palace also expressed doubts if UNA could freely call itself the "new opposition," with most of its leaders professing allegiance to Mr. Aquino while attacking the LP slate at the same time.
She reiterated that UNA was "confusing" the electorate by claiming it was not against the President.
Asked if she found anything wrong with the possibility of an administration electoral sweep, Valte said: "Historically, if you look at every election, every side will always say, 'Vote straight because this is our platform' ... There is nothing wrong, at least on the side of the President, with wanting people to vote for those who will help further his reform agenda." With a report from Michael Lim Ubac