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Analysis

Massacre devastates Aquino poll ratings

The Aquino administration was devastated on Tuesday by the latest poll survey showing that the President’s approval and trust ratings have dropped to their lowest depths since he was elected in May 2010. The plunge is a result of the Jan. 25 massacre of 44 Special Action Force commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

According to the Pulse Asia survey conducted on March 1-7, the President’s ratings plummeted 38 and 36 percent, respectively, the lowest he has scored since his performance was first rated in October 2010. This was the first time he has posted national nonmajority approval ratings during the past five years. The results came as the administration continues to be battered by widespread criticism holding him responsible for the slaughter of the SAF commandos by guerrillas led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is seeking the establishment of a Bangsamoro substate in Mindanao.

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In the March 2015 survey, around one in four Filipinos were critical of the President’s performance (23 percent) and distrustful of him (27 percent). The ratings came as the results of various investigations of the massacre were released.

The first one was by the Philippine National Police board of inquiry, which released this week a report which found that the President broke the chain of command by allowing the then suspended PNP director general, Alan Purisima, a personal friend, to take part in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus, an operation to arrest high-value terrorists given sanctuary by the MILF in areas under its control. A draft report by three Senate committees, released yesterday, found the President “ultimately responsible for the Mamasapano mission” that led to a daylong clash between the SAF contingent and Moro guerrillas, resulting in the massacre.

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OPINION

The Pulse Asia survey put the results that gutted Mr. Aquino’s popularity against the following background of events when it conducted the review: the Jan. 25 encounter in Mamasapano; the President’s absence during the arrival of the bodies of the slain commandos at Villamor Air Base; the conduct of simultaneous investigations by the PNP board of inquiry, Congress and the Department of Justice to determine what really happened in Mamasapano and who should be held accountable for the death of the 44 commandos; and the inquiry into the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ failure to coordinate with the SAF team following accusations that the military did not extend assistance to the beleaguered commandos in the encounter with the Moro guerrillas.

Amid the unresolved questions over the massacre, calls were aired by a number of senior bishops of the Catholic hierarchy, student groups and civil society groups for the President’s resignation, for his perceived incompetence in handling the crisis of confidence and lack of transparency in crisis management.

The survey delivered strong signals that the administration had squandered much political capital, weakening Mr. Aquino’s hands in coping with the most serious crisis to beset his presidency in the twilight of his term.

While the severe erosion of his popularity has little impact on the survival and longevity of his regime, as he is disqualified from standing for another term, it cannot be discounted that the erosion of his political capital would reduce him to a lame-duck president unable to influence and put in place successors who would ensure the continuity of his program as well as governance policies.

In simple terms, with his ratings depleted, Mr. Aquino’s endorsement of any candidate would have no weight, indeed would be worthless, and would be a “kiss of death.” The surest way then for the opposition to beat the President’s heirs apparent in 2016 is for them to ride the anti-Aquino bandwagon.

Wait until the administration takes another battering from the Senate’s final report on the Mamasapano debacle. Supporters of Vice President Binay are surely waiting for the demolition broadsides from the Senate investigation.

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TAGS: 44 Special Action Force, Aquino, Aquino administration, Maguindanao, Mamasapano, Moro guerrillas, President Aquino, Pulse Asia survey
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