LIBERAL Party standard bearer Senator Noynoy Aquino zoomed past rival Nacionalista Party bet Senator Manny Villar in the latest survey conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS).

In a poll commissioned by paper BusinessWorld, Aquino benefited from a six-point drop for Villar to post a voter preference of 37 percent against the NP bet’s 28 percent.

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The March 19-22 poll result is a reversal of the February survey that showed the front runners in a close race (Aquino - 34 percent, Villar - 32 percent).

Former president Joseph Estrada, meanwhile, went up four points from the previous survey to secure the third rank with 19 percent.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD bet Gilbert Teodoro, however, remained in the single digit territory with a voter preference of six percent.

In fifth place is Bagumbayan standard bearer Senator Richard Gordon with three percent, while Bangon Pilipinas’ Bro. Eddie Villanueva lost a point to two percent.

The rest of the candidates received less than one percent voter preference, namely: Ang Kapatiran bet JC De Los Reyes (0.3 percent), Pangmasa bet Nicanor Perlas (0.1 percent) and independent candidate Senator Jamby Madrigal (0.04 percent).

Votes for disqualified Kilusang Bagong Lipunan candidate and financial consultant Vetellano Acosta were categorized under the undecided and others.

Should not be confident

Aquino’s rise was attributed to a marked improvement in terms of both geographic and socio-economic class.

The LP bet dislodged Villar in the Balance of Luzon (35 percent versus 30 percent), and among the class ABC (45 percent versus 17 percent) and class E (33 percent versus 31 percent).

LP General Campaign Manager Florencio “Butch” Abad said Aquino's consistent lead in pre-election surveys was an indication that "the Filipino people continue to believe in Senator Aquino's ability to bring about a clean and compassionate government that will put an end to corruption and alleviate poverty."

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Economic Reform (Iper), however, cautioned Aquino not to be comfortable yet with the lead as the campaign season heats up with only 42 days left before the May 10 election.

“Noynoy (Aquino) still fails to excite non-Edsa voters,” he said, referring to the 2.3 million first-time voters who were born after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.

Ghost of 'Villaroyo alliance'

When asked about Villar’s poor showing, Casiple said recent allegations tagging the senator as the “secret candidate” of unpopular President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has taken its toll on his candidacy.

“Villar may have been kissed by the GMA kiss of death,” he said in a text message.

San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito, meanwhile, thought of a simple reason for Villar’s latest drop: he is a fake opposition member.

“Filipinos are in search of a sincere leader,” Ejercito said in a statement. “That is why in spite of the many ads of Villar and his projecting himself as a member of the Opposition, he is still falling in the surveys. People can see that he is not really ‘mahirap’ and that he is not really opposition.”

In a Naga radio interview, Villar said he “welcomed” the results, saying Aquino’s lead is still on the single-digit territory.

“I learned about it (survey result) but it is ok for me. The lead is still at single-digit, as long as it’s single digit, I’m ok,” he said.

Villar added that they have to make campaign adjustments to shore up his ratings. “We study all surveys. We accept them and we try to improve and know our shortcomings. It’s still a long way to go, we have enough time.”

In the same interview, the self-made billionaire admitted that the negative issues hurled against him could have turn-off voters.

“Possible. In the past few months, there has been intense black propaganda thrown at me, plus concocted lies. But these are ok for me, I can fully explain on these (issues),” Villar said.

Erap reaps the result

For Casiple, the real “winner” of the latest survey is Estrada who managed a four-point gain nationwide, highlighted by additional six points in his turf Mindanao, five points in the rest of Luzon, four in Metro Manila, and a steady score in the Visayas.

“Erap (Estrada’s nickname) reaps the result,” he said.

Estrada’s spokesperson Margaux Salcedo, meanwhile, attributed the former president’s improved ratings to his campaign sorties.

“We have been visiting at least seven towns in one province per day, sometimes two provinces in one day. His strategy has always been to talk directly to the people,” she said in a statement.

The method used is similar to the February 24-28 survey where respondents were asked to cast their “vote” in a ballot containing alphabetical list of the candidates’ name and nicknames.

The question asked was: “Kung ang eleksyon ay gaganapin ngayon, sino ang pinakamalamang ninyong ibiboto bilang Presidente, Bise-Presidente, at mga Senador ng Pilipinas? Narito ang listahan ng mga kandidato. Paki-shade o itiman po ang naa-angkop na oval katabi ng pangalan ng taong pina-kamalamang ninyong iboboto (If the elections were held today, whom would you most probably vote for as President, Vice President, and Senators of the Philippines. Here is a list of candidates. Please shade the oval beside the name of the persons you would most likely vote for).”

Roxas maintains lead

In the vice presidential race, Aquino’s running mate Senator Mar Roxas still enjoyed a commanding lead over closest pursuer NP bet Senator Loren Legarda despite a three-point slide in his vote preference rating.

Roxas got a score of 42 percent, while Legarda received 25 percent, just four points ahead of Estrada’s running mate Mayor Jejomar Binay who got 21 percent.

Ratings of the other vice presidential bets, meanwhile, hardly changed from the previous survey, which hovered at less than five percent.

Bagumbayan’s Bayani Fernando remained at three percent, tying with administration bet Edu Manzano who picked up one percentage point.

Bangon Pilipinas’ Perfecto Yasay jumped to one percent from 0.4 percent previously. Ang Kapatiran’s Dominador Chipeco was unchanged at 0.4, while the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan’s Jay Sonza dropped to 0.3 percent from one percent.

SWS said five percent of the respondents voted for others or were undecided.

Binay said Monday that he is encouraged by his showing in the latest SWS survey, adding that he is confident the numbers will continue to rise before the May 10 election.

“The survey result is an encouragement. I believe the voters would like to see real change in the way government works and are scrutinizing the track record of each candidate,” Binay said.

“Our people see the need for a new government that is anchored on genuine concern for the poor. They are also looking for leaders who show their concern not through campaign promises but their actions,” he added.

He said his improved rating would serve as an inspiration to work harder to reach out to the electorate.

This is the second time Binay has cut the lead of Roxas since January, when he gained five points on the LP candidate.

Binay also gained seven points on NP’s Legarda, cutting her lead by 66 percent - from 11 points in January to only four points.

He noted that both Roxas and Legarda slipped by three percentage points each while he gained four percent, narrowing down Legarda’s advantage to four percent and Roxas to 11 percent.

Old names dominate

In the tight battle for Senate seats, reelectionist and comeback senators dominated the field. The top 12 is as follows:

1. Senator Bong Revilla – 53 percent

2. Senator Jinggoy Estrada - 52 percent

3. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago - 44 percent

4. Senator Pia Cayetano – 42 percent

5. Former senator Franklin Drilon - 36 percent

6. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile - 35 percent

7. Former senator Tito Sotto - 33 percent

8. Former senator Ralph Recto - 30 percent

9. Representative Bongbong Marcos - 30 percent

10. Senator Lito Lapid - 26 percent

11. Former senator Serge Osmeña III - 25 percent

12. Former congressman Gilbert Remulla - 24 percent

The latest survey, which was conducted days before the start of local campaign, had a sample of 2,100 registered voters, with random samples of 300 in Metro Manila and 600 each in the Balance of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. It has a margin of error of plus/minus 2.2 percent.

The official campaign period for the local races started last March 26. (Virgil Lopez/With AH/Sunnex)