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There’s the Rub

Survey says

Edwin Lacierda is confident there’s nothing to worry about. That is his reaction to the latest SWS survey that shows the steepest fall in P-Noy’s approval ratings thus far. Released last Monday, the survey gave government a +29 net satisfaction rating, down from +45 last March.

Surveys are just “a snapshot of the landscape at the time the survey was taken,” Lacierda says. “It varies [all the time]. Is [the current low rating] insurmountable? Of course not. We’re not going to be paralyzed by any survey. Our commitment is there to protect the welfare of the Filipino people.”

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The thing that came to my mind when I read this was the joke about the man who jumped off a 50-story building and was asked how he felt before hitting the pavement. He replied, “So far, so good.”

But of course there’s every reason to worry. A +29 net satisfaction rating from +45 just three months earlier is not a fall, it is a plunge. As snapshots go, look at the snapshots over a one-year period from June 2013 to June 2014. You won’t see a punctured balloon zigzagging erratically, you’ll see Icarus falling to the sea. The figures over that year are: June 2013, +66; September 2013, +56; December 2013, +51; March 2014, +45; June 2014, +29. That’s a series of snapshots of Icarus’ wings melting and what happens after.

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I myself am surprised by the results of the SWS survey. I had expected P-Noy’s ratings to fall after June when he got embroiled in the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) controversy, not before. Before July, the government had some pretty high-profile successes, capped by Barack Obama’s visit and the World Economic Forum for East Asia. The latter in particular highlighted the government’s economic accomplishments, which the delegates near-universally praised. But which, in light of the SWS survey, must suggest a huge disconnect between the international regard for P-Noy’s administration, which remains high, and the national one, which has been steadily falling.

The survey itself lists four things as the source of the public’s disaffection: the government’s failure to put a closure to the Maguindanao massacre, failure to prevent the oil companies from exploiting the consumers, failure to rein in inflation, and failure to ensure that no family goes hungry. Maybe the collective failures in this respect caused the plunge?

Maybe. But I believe there’s something more, as suggested by P-Noy doing well with the E class while doing so poorly with ABC. The reasons were not economic, they were political or moral.

In fact, the period from April to June was also marked by one thing, which was the flood of news related to the pork barrel scam. The news reports were there pretty nearly every day, fueled by Janet Napoles’ and Benhur Luy’s revelations of a second (or third?) list that dragged in more public officials, executive as well as legislative ones.

I was abroad for a few weeks during the period, and the news about the Philippines largely concerned the Napoles scam and the indictment of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla. I wondered if all that didn’t give the casual observer the impression of us being a Ladrones Islands, or a haven of thieves. The immediate effect of it at home was to bring down the approval ratings of Congress, notably the Senate.

The long-term effect of it was to bring down as well the government’s ratings.

Insurmountable? Maybe. But you know people are worried when they assure you they are not. In any case, it will get worse before it gets better. Those who are sympathetic to the government but are not given to whistling in the dark will, and ought to, worry. This plunge took place even before July when the Supreme Court ruled against the DAP and P-Noy refused to let Butch Abad go. Some will see the President’s loyalty to his people as admirable, a lot more will see it as misguided. On the whole, it cannot augur well for the results of the next surveys to come.

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The government’s plunge from June 2013 to June 2014—it’s even steeper when you look at it from that standpoint—suggests to me one other huge disconnect, as huge as the one between the international perception of P-Noy’s administration and the national one. That is the disconnect between the public’s perception of P-Noy himself and his people. The presumption of good faith by that public quite apart from the Supreme Court, in general and not just over the DAP, applies only to P-Noy, it does not extend to his people.

The public for the most part trusts P-Noy enough not to abuse shortcuts. He himself has not been tainted with corruption or accused of it, and very likely never will, however he fears that the Supreme Court ruling opens his entire administration, including himself, to it. Not so his people, particularly with the elections coming up.

I’ve been saying since late last year, when P-Noy’s ratings fell sharply for the first time, that his policy of taking a bullet for his people rather than his people taking a bullet for him was going to take its toll on him in the long run. He won’t be able to raise them to his level of approval, they will drag him down to their level of disapproval. A fall of +66 to +29 is almost unbelievable for a president who continues to be widely regarded as clean and honest and dedicated to reforming the country. A plunge of +66 to +29 is mind-boggling for a president who continues to enjoy a level of popularity. Yet it has happened.

Lacierda says it’s too early to say P-Noy’s ability to endorse his candidate for 2016 has been compromised. That is the least of their worries right now. Though if that candidate continues to be Mar Roxas, trust the approval ratings to go on free fall. P-Noy cannot make Roxas—and Abad—as popular as he is, he can only make himself as unpopular as they are.

Survey says.

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TAGS: Approval ratings, Aquino’s ratings, dap, Disbursement Acceleration Program, Edwin Lacierda, maguindanao massacre, President Aquino, Supreme Court, SWS survey
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