Survey message: Decline of single-issue presidency
THE WRITING on the wall appeared as the Aquino administration celebrated its success in driving Merceditas Gutierrez to resign as Ombudsman on April 29.
The euphoria over the triumph of presidential pressure to get rid of unwanted government officials seen as standing in the way of President Benigno Aquino III’s campaign to purge corruption in public office did not last long.
On May 3, the government got a rude shock: the 2011 first quarter survey of Social Weather Stations was published by the BusinessWorld newspaper, showing that public satisfaction with the Aquino administration has plunged sharply nationwide, except in Metro Manila. Nationwide, net public satisfaction with the administration’s performance dropped 18 points to 46 in March from 64 in November last year.
The survey, conducted from March 4 to 7, showed that the administration’s net satisfaction rating, compared with that in the survey in November last year, fell by 8 points in the Visayas from 59 to 51; by 20 points in Mindanao, from 67 to 47; and by 27 points in Luzon (excluding Metro Manila), from 69 to 42.
In Metro Manila, however, the administration’s net satisfaction rating was up by a point, from 49 to 50.
By socioeconomic class, the administration’s net satisfaction rating plunged 43 points among the upper and middle class (ABC)—the biggest drop among the classes. The rating dropped by 18 points among the working class D and by 15 points among the poorest class E.
Administration officials tried to show they were not disturbed by the survey. The President’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, was dismissive. He said the survey showed that the people recognized the administration’s efforts on many “fronts,” including curbing criminality and addressing national problems.
“As it stands, it is important to note that satisfaction with the administration remains at near-record levels,” he said.
‘Good news’ campaign
But this mood of complacency was contradicted by the fact that the administration scrambled to start an aggressive program to swamp the public with “good news” about its achievements in a bid to arrest the fall in the satisfaction rating. The Palace communications group was jolted enough to explain the President’s “working style” in answer to criticisms over his “laid-back” posture. Some media critics said the President “was not working hard enough to solve the country’s problems.”
The survey results came on the heels of Gutierrez’s resignation, indicating that the President’s high-profile campaign of trial by publicity to oust the Ombudsman has not appeared to help him in preventing the plunge of his public satisfaction rating.
The message sent by the opinion surveys seems to be that bashing a public scapegoat has not helped in halting the decline of his approval rating. The survey results are screaming that Mr. Aquino has to do more than putting his presidency on the line on the single issue of fighting corruption, encapsulated in the slogan, “If there is no corrupt, there is no poor.”
Examined more closely, this slogan is a simplistic reductionist argument. True corruption has debilitating economic costs, but it takes more than slogans to initiate programs that can create jobs, put money into the hands of the poor to help them cope with inflation.
The surveys suggest that if the President has to arrest the slide of his public satisfaction before it becomes a free fall, his agenda of action and reform has to be expanded beyond the single issue of corruption. Partly to blame for the decline of his rating is the strong public disapproval of Mr. Aquino’s showy purchase of a Porsche sports car.
In a survey, also in March, SWS asked respondents whether the purchase of the car “is not a good example for a president of a country like the Philippines.” Nearly half of the respondents, or 48 percent, agreed that Mr. Aquino was not setting a good example with the purchase, 33 percent disagreed, and 19 percent were undecided.
The survey in March showed signs of lukewarm public reception for social amelioration programs. The satisfaction rating stayed “moderate” for implementing housing programs for the poor, down by 3 points from plus-33 to plus-30, and eradicating graft and corruption, down by 8 points from plus-22 to plus-14.
Other indicators from two surveys showed that the anticorruption—or “straight path”—campaign had not gained ground amid drum beating of the single issue, “No more influence-peddling, no more patronage politics, no more stealing … no more bribes.”
Weak in governance
The Washington-based Global Integrity Report in 2010 gave the Philippines a “very weak” overall rating of 57 in 2010, down from its “moderate” score of 71 out of 100 in 2008 on issues of “good governance, transparency and less corruption.”
According to the report, “The overall score of the Philippines has significantly decreased, primarily driven by a widening implementation gap between its laws on the books and their actual implementation … While anticorruption legislation is strong, the anticorruption agency does not have the ability to effectively deliver its remit.”
The Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd.’s (PERC) latest Asian Intelligence report showed that the Philippines continued to have “a serious corruption problem,” with its overall score in a regional survey worsening even though it did not slip in a ranking of 16 economies.
On a scale of one to 10—with 10 being the worst—the Philippines garnered a score of 8.9, poorer than 2010’s 8.25.
PERC polled respondents on their views on political, institutional and private sector corruption in the Philippines. It said that the magnitude of the Philippines’ problem was “definitely not so large that it has many cross-border implications.”
“The Philippines is, perhaps, the Asian country that has been hurt most by corruption,” the report said. “If one looked at the end of World War II as the starting point for modern Asia, the Philippines today should be the richest economy on per capita basis in Asia and a leader in many fields.”
Corruption remains high
The latest PERC survey put the Philippines in fourth place in terms of political corruption with a rating of 8.27. In terms of institutional corruption, the country was third-worst with a score of 8.50, in a tie with Cambodia.
Asked how effective the system was in terms of prosecuting and punishing individuals involved in corruption, respondents scored the Philippines a 9.75. The government’s seriousness in addressing the problem was scored a slightly worse 8.10. Filipinos were seen as very tolerant of corruption, with a score of 9.21.
With its flagship project locked into the single issue of curbing corruption, the administration is under pressure to show results unless it performs on similarly important issues of economic growth and reducing poverty. Without these results it is likely to end up as a do-nothing government. The surveys show that the Aquino presidency has started to slide downhill for a crash.
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