MANILA,  November 23, 2004
Filipinos became more critical of President Arroyo’s performance during the first few months of her second term, with her net approval rating down from 33 percent in June to just seven percent last month, according to an independent public opinion survey.

"All these political and economic problems have taken their toll on the performance ratings of the President," Pulse Asia Inc., which conducted the poll, said in a statement issued yesterday. "The President’s overall approval rating is the same as the lowest ever rating she has received… since she assumed the post in January 2001."

While four out of 10 Filipinos approved of Mrs. Arroyo’s performance in security issues, the poll also showed that public criticism was sharpest on her efforts to improve the lot of Filipinos, especially the poor.

Most Filipinos were also found to be pessimistic about their quality of life with six out of 10 Filipinos saying "they are worse off now than last year."

Reacting to the survey, Mrs. Arroyo’s communications adviser, Silvestre Afable, said the President has "consistently accepted a drop in ratings as the price to pay for doing what is right for the national interest."

"The executive has experienced low ratings in the past and has consistently shown resiliency. While the people are expressing concerns over the social impact of high oil prices and fiscal reforms, we believe that this is not a verdict on overall presidential leadership," Afable said in a statement.

Forty-one percent of 1,200 Filipinos surveyed nationwide by Pulse Asia approved of Mrs. Arroyo’s performance during the last quarter, while 34 percent disapproved, giving a net performance rating of seven percentage points. Twenty-five percent were undecided.

The latest net approval rating is a 26-percentage point drop from her rating in June, in which 55 percent gave Mrs. Arroyo’s passing marks and 22 percent failed her, for a net approval rating of 33 percent. Twenty-two percent were undecided.

Controlling inflation was the public’s highest concern, followed by fighting corruption, maintaining peace, reducing poverty and better wages.

"It is the rising prices of foodstuffs and oil products — an economic issue that hits closer to home — that most preoccupies them at present," Pulse Asia said.

Afable maintained the Arroyo administration was not to blame. "We are reaping the political cost of oil price hikes not of our own making and of putting our fiscal house in order."

Combating terrorism, while a top priority of the Arroyo administration, was among Filipinos’ least concerns. However, 42 percent approved of Mrs. Arroyo’s performance in this department, compared to 28 percent, for a 14-percentage point net approval rating. Twenty-eight percent were undecided.

Forty-four percent approved of Mrs. Arroyo’s performance in maintaining peace in the country while 28 percent disapproved.

On the issue of curbing crime, 43 percent approved while 28 percent disapproved.

In economic issues, 25 percent approved of Mrs. Arroyo’s efforts to control inflation while 54 percent disapproved, 29 percent approved on the issue of reducing poverty while 48 disapproved, 34 percent approved on increasing workers’ pay while 45 percent disapproved, and 36 percent approved on economic recovery while 37 percent disapproved.

However, on the issue of encouraging new investments to generate jobs, 40 percent said they were satisfied while 29 percent said they were not.

On the issue of eliminating graft, a serious problem for the Arroyo administration, 32 percent said the President did a good job while 47 percent said she did not.

"This may be attributed in part to the high-profile corruption charges against Gen. Carlos Garcia," Pulse Asia said. Garcia is undergoing court-martial proceedings for allegedly amassing millions of pesos illegally.

On the issue of restoring public trust in the government, 32 percent approved and 33 percent disapproved. Thirty-five percent were undecided.

The numbers were almost similar on the issue of upholding the law.

The Pulse Asia survey also found that "pessimism remains the dominant sentiment among Filipinos." It found that 60 percent felt they are worse off now than the past year.

"An even bigger proportion (78 percent) considers the national quality of life as having deteriorated in the last 12 months," Pulse Asia said.

"In addition, nearly half of Filipinos (47 percent) say they expect their personal circumstances to worsen further in the year ahead while about two in three Filipinos (65 percent) also express pessimism as regards the country’s state in the coming 12 months."

Pulse Asia conducts an opinion poll every quarter to gauge public sentiment. The latest opinion poll was conducted from Oct. 22 to Nov. 6 and had an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points and a 95-percent confidence level.

Afable said the Arroyo administration is listening closely to the criticisms.

"We acknowledge and understand the sentiments of the public and the government is moving as one to buck the trend. Our anti-corruption campaign takes its toll on errant officials day by day, we are cutting waste in spending and a strong executive-legislative partnership is pulling the train of needed revenue measures," he said.

"In the meantime, we are riding on solid gains in law and order, stopping street crime, cutting the drug trade by half, putting a halt to kidnapping and forging peace in Mindanao," referring to peace negotiations with Muslim rebels.

The Arroyo administration is struggling to rein in a burgeoning budget deficit, which economic analysts warn could throw her anti-poverty program off track.

Rampant tax evasion, corruption, bloated state subsidies and protectionism have been blamed for the government’s fiscal woes.

Mrs. Arroyo said in August the Philippines was already in the midst of a fiscal crisis and introduced a drastic austerity program.

Earlier this month, she said the country was now successfully avoiding a fiscal crisis with the expected passage of a bill that will raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol products.

Mrs. Arroyo is counting on Congress to pass the so-called sin tax bill and seven other tax measures that are expected to rake in an additional P80 billion in revenue for the cash-strapped government. — With Marvin Sy, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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