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Ostrich syndrome

By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:16:00 10/07/2010

Filed Under: Benigno Aquino III, Ratings

PRESIDENT AQUINO reported to the nation yesterday the ?significant? accomplishments of his first 100 days in office, diminished by a 23-point slump in the satisfaction rating for his administration.

The Social Weather Stations had published on Wednesday the results of a survey conducted from September 24 to 27, a month after the August 23 hostage-taking debacle. The results showed that the President?s net approval rating dipped to +60 percent from +83 percent net trust rating just before his inauguration on June 30. The net satisfaction rating is the difference between the percentage of the satisfied and dissatisfied. The survey showed 71 percent of the respondents were satisfied with the President?s performance, while 11 percent were dissatisfied.

The survey came as a rude wake-up call and confirmed observations that the hostage fiasco has eroded the administration?s popularity more deeply than it would admit. The survey was the first taken within 90 days of the Aquino presidency. Although SWS described the net satisfaction rating as ?very good,? it also discounted it, saying that President Aquino?s score is not the highest initial rating for a Philippine president.

It pointed out that the President?s score is higher than the +53 percent of his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, in May 1986, five months after the February People Power Revolution, and much higher than the +24 of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in March 2001. Not of very much help in comforting Mr. Aquino or in restoring his self-confidence is the finding that his score just matches that of Joseph Estrada (+60, September 1998) and is surpassed by Fidel Ramos (+66, September 1992).

Mr. Aquino won by a landslide in the May 2010 election, with a plurality of more than 40 percent, slightly higher than the plurality of Joseph Estrada, who also won by a landslide in 1998. Ramos scored a high net satisfaction rating, although he was elected in 1992 with only 24 percent of the vote, subsequently building up post-election legitimacy. The recent survey on Mr. Aquino?s performance showed how fragile and insecure is the popular base of the Aquino presidency and how vulnerable it is to destabilizing political and even economic events. The results did not give the President much room for complacency.

The results appeared to have been so unsettling to the President they prompted him to scramble in search of ?accomplishments? he could cite in his report on his first 100 days. He had to postpone the release of the review of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee report on the bungled rescue effort by the national and city governments and the Philippine National Police to free 22 Hong Kong tourists held hostage by a dismissed Manila policeman.

The President held in abeyance the issuance of the complete IIRC report until after his first report today on his achievements in his first 100 days, a ritual for all Filipino presidents, modeled on the tradition of the US presidency. The other important reason for the postponement of the release of the IIRC report is that it would draw attention to the bungling and incompetence of the national government, the Manila city officials and the PNP in responding to the hostage crisis.

Not only was the inept handling of the hostage crisis being blamed for the rescue fiasco and the slump of the administration?s popularity rating. The hostage fiasco was the first international embarrassment of the new administration.

Also, the administration has come under a torrent of criticism over allegations by a senior Catholic Church prelate that persons personally close to the President, in particular Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno, had received bribes from operators of jueteng (a form of illegal gambling). Puno has denied these allegations.

Despite the political turbulence that has rocked the administration early in its term, the President has remained virtually unscathed, as evidenced by his continuing high?albeit diminished?satisfaction rating. He has not been accused of corrupt dealings, and surveys indicate that the sharp slump of the President?s net satisfaction warns that, if it remains unchecked, it could cascade into a landslide. Problem is, administration officials highlight portions of the SWS survey results showing the President?s high ratings among all socio-economic classes, particularly classes D and E (the poorer classes). A Malacańang spokesperson, in fact a minor functionary, gloated that these results meant that all classes ?are responding well to the programs of the President primarily to reduce poverty and to fight corruption.?

The administration touted its own report on another nationwide survey conducted by the government?s Philippine Information Agency (PIA). The ?feel good? report listed the strong points and shortcomings of the President in his first 100 days. The survey found that the bungled hostage-rescue operation, the perceived weak leadership and corrupt officials in a divided Cabinet were the President?s ?top three weaknesses.? The survey listed what it claimed as his strongest points??his credibility, simple lifestyle, anticorruption campaign and good governance.?

These strong points are claimed to have more than made up for his perceived weaknesses. The PIA survey failed to give us an explanation of or a clue to what the SWS found as the most alarming finding?the two-digit downhill slide of the President?s satisfaction rating. Here, we see the classical symptom of the syndrome of the ostrich burying its head in the sand.

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