In four days we will know who is the winner in the mayoralty race in General Santos City. But unlike the last four elections, predicting the victor here is no easy job.

If the power issue has become a thorn in the side of re-electionist mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio, the latest poster caper against her rivals could become a game-changer.

Her lone opponent Ronnel Rivera, who topped the 2010 race for city councillors despite running as independent, was forced into defensive mode after 10 alleged supporters were caught Tuesday evening hauling away torn candidate posters of the Achievement with Integrity Movement (AIM), Antonino-Custodio’s party.

Rivera, running under the Pacquiao-founded People’s champ Movement-UNA, denied giving any orders to anybody to to remove posters but the Antoninos are not letting him get away lightly after weeks of placating angry residents over the pestering power outages in the city.

The triumvirate, from left, of Rep. Manny Pacquiao, his brother Rogelio and mayoralty candidate Ronnel Rivera is trying to dislodge the Antoninos. Pic: Edwin Espejo.

Three weeks ago a company purportedly doing a market profile survey was said to have included voter preferences for mayor in the city.  While the survey was not officially released, the numbers – as shown to this author – painted a very grim picture for the incumbent.  The survey covered six of the city’s most populated barangays.  The undecideds were at a negligible 3.5 percent of the voters and it included Lagao which is a bastion of settlers and old timers.  Original settlers and residents in the city tend to go for the status quo. The survey suggests voter preferences even in the conservative districts of the city to be defying traditional conventions.  We are not at liberty to release the figures and the name of the company that did the survey due to source confidentiality but the results should have reached the camp of AIM if their intelligence people are worth their salt.

But the flurry of offensives from the camp of the Antoninos suggests they have done their job.  On April 27, President Benigno Aquino III made his second visit to ostensibly campaign for his senatorial slate.  It, however, turned into an all-out endorsement of Custodio with a noticeable presidential poke at her opponent.

Re-electionist Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio needed a presidential push from Pres. Benigno Aquino III to propr her re-election bid.FOTO BY RONALD VELASQUEZ

No matter how the Antoninos will deny it, they exerted their influence over the business community to issue a statement blaming the power outages on the electric cooperative to deflect the heat from Custodio. 

It was followed by the arrival of Kris Aquino and re-electionist Sen. Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero and a ‘show of force’ from the fishing industry.

In the week heading into the elections, AIM is repeatedly airing on local TV portions of the speeches of the president and Custodio.  AIM has launched an all-out offensive. 

Custodio said they have padded their lead over Rivera in recent days and the poster antic was a desperate move by her rivals.  (A source earlier said the Antoninos also did their own survey where Darlene is said to be enjoying a slim 3-point lead over Rivera, a negligible figure if the margin of error is factored in.  The said survey cannot be independently verified).

The Rivera camp, on the other hand, is in a ‘protect the lead’ mode and reportedly told political leaders and campaigners to “hold the line.”

Many conceded his strong challenge left the Antoninos fending off his challenge. But he may be losing the propaganda war heading into the homestretch.

Unlike in 2010 when Rivera flooded TV with commercial spots, he appears to be abandoning the propaganda blitz and relying on the ground-level machinery his camp has built over the last three years.

His campaign appears to have peaked and the momentum suddenly brought to a screeching halt.

Conversely, Antonino may have regained lost ground.  The re-electionist mayor even admitted that the president’s personal endorsement gave her run a timely push.  She said anybody having a popular president on his or her side will have a decided advantage.

The momentum shift however may no longer sway the decided voters.

Could it be a battle for the undecided?