Jan 2, 2013

Philippines - Countdown on Aquino’s decline begins

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The countdown on the decline of the Aquino administration began three days before the New Year. On that day, the newspapers published the December 8 to 11 Social Weather Stations survey showing President Benigno Aquino III’s net satisfaction rating plunging by 12 points from his +67 rating in August, just five months ago.

SWS released the survey results in the face of claims by the administration that it had posted impressive economic gains during the past year, on the basis of which it made optimistic forecasts on growth in 2013.

The plummeting ratings showed that public opinion was not disposed to give the administration a thunderous applause for its claims of economic success. According to the SWS survey, first published by BusinessWorld, the president’s net satisfaction rating fell from plus 67 per cent in August to plus 55 in December. The August rating of plus 67 represented a rebound from the plus 42 the president obtained in May.

The president’s annual average rating was plus 53, matching his 2011 score. According to SWS, the president’s latest score (plus 55) was nine points lower than his plus 62 in 2010—the highest recorded annual average rating so far in his three years in office.

The SWS said the president’s ratings fell in all areas, socioeconomic classes and genders. By geographical region, the president’s ratings slumped from plus 70 to 54 in Luzon outside Metro Manila, plus 59 to plus 43 in Metro Manila, plus 76 to plus 64 in the Visayas, and plus 61 to plus 57 in Mindanao.

The results of the December survey draws a picture of the general decline of the president’s net satisfaction ratings during the past three years, an erosion that has taken place against the propaganda bombardment that the administration was running the country well with his “daang matuwid” (straight path) anticorruption campaign, even as it has been neglecting economic and social reform programmes intended to reduce poverty.

The SWS tried to cushion the impact of its surveys on the erosion of the president’s net satisfaction ratings by couching these with misleading words, such as: despite the plunge of the president’s ratings, it rated his performance in the last quarter of 2012 “very good”.

SWS considered “very good” the president’s net satisfaction of plus 53. The Palace promptly echoed SWS definitions, and said that the president’s performance rating was “very good” even with the dip of 12 points in August. Despite the Palace’s self-rating, the surveys clearly show that the decline has been gaining momentum, and unless it is reversed soon enough, the only way to go is downhill, accelerating into a free fall. The surveys have fuelled a countdown on the fall of the Aquino regime.

The decline was belittled by a Palace spokesperson who dismissed it as, “something we do look at, and we think that it still shows the president enjoys a very wide margin of support among the people. Excellent to very good—that’s nothing to cry about.” But the important point to note is that the ratings have been falling—not rising—and there is no basis to claim that the president still enjoys broad approval of his performance.

Another spokesperson, among at least three in the Presidential Communication Operations Office, presented a different explanation of the decline. Secretary Herminio Coloma, head of the multi-mouthed propaganda office, said, the country still faced a “very massive poverty problem”, and the ratings would serve as “guideposts and alert signals” for the administration.

The festering discontent manifested by the survey results signals possible electoral setbacks for the administration as it faces a mid-term elections in May for members of the House, provincial governors and municipal officials and half of the Senate.

President Aquino, in his New Year’s message, expressed concern over the prospects of his administration enjoying continued electoral support in the May mid-term elections which he had previously referred to as a referendum of his three-year performance. In his message, the president called for “a tighter unity” in the face of the May elections.

He said he expected the people would be more critical in choosing the leaders they would elect. Although he did not mention the surveys, it was clear he was bothered by the poll results.

He said the country needed leaders “who will nurture the reforms we have sown”. He said 2013 would be a “critical stage” for the dministration’s campaign for long-term development and good governance. He emphasised the importance of voting for the right leaders to the Senate.

The administration is fielding 12 senatorial candidates on the back of his political machine, the Liberal Party, that is being challenged by an opposition coalition, the United Nationalist Alliance which is spearheaded by Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and former President Joseph Estrada.

A rift has opened between the UNA and the administration over the heavy-handed actions of the administration in suspending Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, allegedly for “abuse of power” just months before the elections. Binay has warned the administration against forcibly evicting Garcia from the capitol, where she has dug in, disobeying the suspension order. The siege is becoming increasingly volatile. A showdown can explode in the face of the administration’s electoral campaign.

Amando Doronila

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