Manila, June 27, 2003 (Star) With Filipinos approving of the way the government handled the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis, President Arroyo’s net performance rating shot up to 14 percent in the second quarter of 2003 from a record low of -14 in the first quarter, a new Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed.

The SWS survey was conducted from May 28 — more than a week after the Philippines was stricken off the World Health Organization’s list of SARS-affected countries — to June 14.

During this period, SARS was the most-followed news by the public (72 percent), overshadowing even the US-Iraq war (64 percent), the fight against Muslim rebels (55 percent) and the terrorist acts in the Philippines and the Estrada plunder trial (both 52 percent).

For this, 46 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with the President’s performance while 32 percent said they were dissatisfied. This is a stark contrast to the results of a similar SWS survey conducted only three months ago from March 10 to 25, which showed only 34 percent satisfied and 48 percent dissatisfied with Mrs. Arroyo’s performance.

SWS said Mrs. Arroyo’s new rating of 14 percent is about average for the period since she took office in January 2001.

At Malacañang, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye noted with satisfaction the results of the new SWS survey.

"You know the stand of the President on surveys. The President says popularity comes and goes. These favorable popularity ratings come and go. So she would rather concentrate on doing her work," Bunye said.

The public also gave the administration the highest score for the fight against SARS among 14 subjects on which the government’s performance was graded. A large majority (69 percent) said they were satisfied with the way the crisis was handled compared to only 12 percent who said they were dissatisfied. This gives the national administration a net satisfaction rating of 58 percent.

Positive net satisfaction scores were also obtained in other areas such as in helping disaster victims, 47 (from 35 in March); caring for Filipinos in the Middle East danger zones, 38 (from 31); fighting terrorism, 28 (from 7); foreign relations, 28 (from 15); protecting human rights, 28; helping the poor, 27 (from 14); reconciliation with communist rebels, 23; fighting common crimes, 19 (from —4); reconciliation with Muslim rebels, 19 (from 7); helping Mindanao, 11; telling the truth, 8 percent.

However, there are two areas where the public seemed consistently dissatisfied with government — fighting inflation, -9 (from -26 in March); and fighting corruption, -12 (from -24).

But the overall general performance rating of the government is 23 percent, a strong rebound from the —3 net rating in the March survey. The latest survey found 50 percent satisfied and 27 percent dissatisfied with the national administration.

Bunye belied speculations that the latest anti-drugs campaign of Mrs. Arroyo was aimed at boosting her popularity rating even more in the next quarter and build upon it so she can officially declare her change of mind to run in next year’s elections.

"The projects of the President, these honest-to-goodness drives of the President, especially those aimed at what are perceived to be serious problems of the country, are not survey-driven," Bunye argued.

According to SWS, in addition to the SARS situation and the positive performance scores in other areas of concern, the increase in public satisfaction with Mrs. Arroyo’s performance was also due to reduced fears of adverse consequences of the Iraq war and to improvements in several Quality-of-Life indicators, which the SWS will report in due time.

Net satisfaction with Mrs. Arroyo rose the highest in middle to upper ABC classes (from one percent in March to 47 in June). It also improved a lot in the mass D class (from -13 to +7) and the very poor E class (from -23 to +20).

Her rating was reported favorable in Metro Manila (18), the rest of Luzon (12) and Visayas (35). But for Mindanao, it was still unfavorable at -4, although already an improvement from the -14 rating last March.

As reflected in the survey, public attention to non-SARS related topics was also high. About 42 percent of the public closely followed the news on moving the school opening to September, 38 percent watched out for candidates for the 2004 elections, 35 percent followed the revival of the Kuratong Baleleng case against Sen. Panfilo Lacson, 28 percent were tuned in proposals to amend the Constitution.

Other topics of interest to the public were pyramid scams (25 percent), proposal to create a new tax authority (22 percent), landlord’s use of force to obstruct agrarian reform (21 percent) and protests against Bt corn (16 percent).

Meanwhile, a resident opinion pollster in Malacañang told The STAR yesterday that Mrs. Arroyo’s popularity rating, which has slowly picked up since January, was generally supported by the Filipino people when the President declared her intentions not to run in 2004.

"People are really sick and tired of politics which has not taken us any steps forward. And this Cha-cha is one of such politics-related issue which the President has kept herself away from," the pollster, who requested not to be named, said.

The survey, the pollster added, showed the people’s satisfaction with the President’s focus on the pressing priorities and problems of the country. — With Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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