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Pork scam devastates Aquino popularity

/ 10:53 PM October 22, 2013

The Congressional pork barrel scandal has taken a devastating toll on the popularity of the “daang matuwid” administration of President Aquino.

According to the results of a third-quarter survey conducted on Sept. 20-23, which were released last week by Social Weather Stations, the President’s satisfaction rating has plunged by 15 points—the biggest  slump it suffered for the year during a season of political turbulence sparked by toxic charges of corruption in the disbursement of legislators’ pork barrel to finance public improvement projects.

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The plunge came at the height of the Moro National Liberation Front’s siege in Zamboanga City and the controversy over the pork barrel scam.

The survey results showed that the President’s net satisfaction rating (the difference between the number of those satisfied and those dissatisfied) dropped to +49 in September, down from +64  in June, and from +59  in March. His net satisfaction rating was gutted in all areas nationwide and in all socioeconomic groups, indicating the scale and sweep of public disaffection that has hit the administration midway in its six-year term.

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Most disturbing was the 26-point plunge in the Visayas, from +74 in June to +48 (one point lower than the national average). The President’s rating also fell eight points to +38 in the  National Capital Region,  and 15 points to +52  for the rest of  Luzon; Mindanao was +52, with a six-point drop. In the 2010 presidential election, Mr. Aquino polled close to a million votes in Cebu. Commission on Elections figures show that Cebu province had the largest number of people (1.8 million) who voted in 2010, while the Visayas accounted for more than eight million voters in 2010, or 21 percent of the total voters.  In the September SWS survey, it appeared that the Visayas, especially Cebu, was leading in the erosion of the President’s popularity.

In the rural areas, where poverty is widespread, Mr. Aquino’s net rating slumped 18 points (higher than the national score) from +70 in June to +52 in September. On the other hand, his rating in urban areas (where the middle class predominates), dropped to +47 from +57 in June. It was among the class E respondents (the poorest sector), where Mr. Aquino’s popularity received the worst beating: It dropped 29 points, to +39 from +68 in June.

This gloomy picture of a shrinking national constituency, from the rich to the poorest, sent shock waves to the administration, pushing it into a near-panic mode in searching for explanations of what went wrong. For a President whose most valuable political asset has been his consistently high popularity ratings (until last month), the across-the-board erosion of this political capital signaled the beginning of the end of the era of a Teflon presidency immune from criticism from a largely laudatory press and a fragile and coopted opposition.

The opinion surveys tell us that, first, the administration has entered a period of discontent and smoldering political unrest, and second, street protesters (such as those who made up the Aug. 26 Million People March at the Luneta) are outraged over the President’s duplicitous stand on their demand for the total abolition of the pork barrel (not only of Congress but also of his huge patronage chest). The streets are in ferment again, as they were in February 1986. The protesters are denouncing the pork barrel as the parent of corruption feeding on taxpayer money.

The President claims that he has ordered the abolition of the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund), yet there is still the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program), a scheme that increased the pork barrel allocations of lawmakers by a total of P12.8 billion in 2011 and 2012 (during Mr. Aquino’s watch). According to the Inquirer reports, the PDAF amounted to P24.8 billion in those two years, and to P24.79 billion this year. Next year’s P25.2-billion allocation and Vice President Jejomar Binay’s P200-million pork barrel were distributed to six different agencies, according to the version of the general appropriations bill passed at the House of Representatives on second reading.

The administration-controlled House realigned the PDAF in response to public outrage over the alleged misuse of public funds and the public demand to scrap all lump-sum appropriations in the national budget. In this realignment, the President emerged with even more expanded powers and resources to disburse patronage funds, undermining the constitutional provision that the legislature holds the power of the purse. The administration has justified the DAP as “a stimulus … designed to fast-track public spending and push economic growth.” This realignment of funds is a shell game that has enabled the President to defy mounting public pressure to abolish the pork barrel system. This trickery has fanned the flames of public outrage, as reflected in the steep drop of the President’s satisfaction rating, which threatens to become an irreversible free fall.

In his double talk, the President is playing a dangerous brinkmanship game which can wipe out his legitimacy and authority to govern effectively. For the first time, the people are holding him accountable for blocking the dismantling of the graft-ridden pork barrel system.

His popularity has sunk into a deep hole from which it is extremely hard to extricate himself. He faces this dilemma: Either he gets rid of the curse of the pork, or he perishes with it.

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TAGS: Aquino popularity, daang matuwid, Million People March, Moro National Liberation Front, pork barrel, pork scam, President Aquino, Teflon presidency
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