Kiss of death in 2016
Four days after President Aquino delivered his fourth State of the Nation Address on July 22, Pulse Asia released the results of its June 20-July 4 survey that showed the President and Vice President Jejomar Binay continuing to enjoy high approval and trust ratings from a large majority of Filipinos.
According to the survey, Binay got a 78-percent average approval nationwide, ahead of the President’s 73 percent. Both the President and the Vice President received a “big” trust rating, nearly the same—77 percent and 78 percent, respectively. In the May senatorial elections, the two men were antagonists: Mr. Aquino fielded the Team PNoy ticket and Binay put up the United Nationalist Alliance. Team PNoy won nine of the 12 seats in contention, giving him and his Liberal Party majorities they didn’t have in the 2010 election that swept Mr. Aquino into the presidency.
The survey showing the President and Vice President running neck and neck in public trust and approval reveals nothing new in Philippine politics. Historically, since the Commonwealth years, vice presidents have generally garnered more votes than presidents running on the same party ticket. What prompted Pulse Asia to release its survey results after the Sona, we have no idea. Whatever the reason, the results are instructive in that they tell us that Binay has a national constituency of his own that could be good for his presidential ambitions, and that he does not have to depend on the endorsement of the President for a successful campaign in 2016.
The results also suggest that Binay could be the rallying figure of the opposition, more than Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada or Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who is now in his sunset years in politics. (The same survey showed that Enrile received an approval rating of 54 percent and a trust rating of 53 percent.) It’s hard to say that the high ratings of the President can translate into huge support for his hand-picked would-be successor in 2016.
Given the volatility of shifting alliances and enormous issues confronting the administration over its performance, as spelled out in the Sona, it is not beyond contemplation that an Aquino endorsement could be a kiss of death in 2016.
But what is more important is the need for an opposition that can offer an alternative set of policies, programs and priorities other than heavy doses of self-righteous sermons on good governance as the driver of “inclusive” economic growth that leaves no sector of society, especially the poor, behind.
I have never seen a president since the Commonwealth who had more tirelessly reminded the people how honest he/she is as the incumbent. Most of the past presidents just tried hard to be honest, and they delivered economic results without claiming these were due to good governance. The late Ramon Magsaysay is the president with the most unsullied record in rectitude in public office. He broke the back of the Huk rebellion, curbed military abuses in the anticommunist campaign, purged the Bureau of Customs of corruption, and set a high standard for integrity in public service. But never was he heard to say, “I’m an honest man, follow me.” Go to the archives if you don’t believe me. He just acted honestly. And the public believed him.
In the same Pulse Asia survey, there are findings that point to the vulnerabilities of the administration despite its high approval and trust ratings. The survey found that the majority of Filipinos gave the President a good or passing grade on the handling of 11 national issues. He was given an average passing grade of 80 out of 100 selected issues. The survey covered 11 national concerns such as management of the economy, increasing peace in the country, controlling fast population growth, and fighting graft and corruption.
Mr. Aquino received the highest mark in “strengthening political institutions, such as the electoral system and relations between branches of government.” The finding on relations between the three independent and coequal branches is hard to believe. The relentless action for the impeachment and removal of then Chief Justice Renato Corona left the Supreme Court’s independence weakened relative to the political branches. Congress, which initiated the impeachment charges, came under tremendous pressure from the President in his all-consuming drive for the Senate to convict Corona of the impeachment charges. Among those surveyed, 50 percent gave Mr. Aquino a grade of Good (80-89), 18 percent gave a grade of Lowest Pass (75-79), while 17 percent gave a grade of Very Good ((90-99).
For “management of the economy,” 49 percent gave Mr. Aquino a grade of Good (80-89) while 20 percent gave him a grade of Very Good (90-99). He got the grade of Lowest Pass (75-79) from 17 percent of those surveyed.
The President’s lowest grade was for “reducing poverty of many Filipinos.” Only 33 percent gave him a grade of Good (80-89), 15 percent gave him a grade of Lowest Pass (75-79), and only 14 percent gave him a grade of Very Good ((90-99).
A large majority gave Mr. Aquino’s performance in “fighting graft and corruption” a Good (36 percent) or Very Good (25 percent). His average grade for all 11 issues ranged from 75 to 80. There was little change in his grade compared to a survey in August 2011.
This denotes stagnation, not much to crow about—unless the administration pushes very hard to lift the level of its performance.