MANILA,  November 24, 2004
By Perseus Echeminada - President Arroyo’s dinner chat with US President George W. Bush at the just-concluded Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Chile should boost her plummeting public approval rating in the coming months, her party said yesterday.

Other Arroyo allies also put a positive spin on the opinion poll drop, saying it was expected because of the soaring prices of crude oil these days. They expect the drop to be temporary.

Mrs. Arroyo’s net approval rating dropped from 33 percent in June to only seven percent last October, according to an independent opinion survey conducted by respected pollster Pulse Asia Inc.

"With the renewal of RP-US friendship, President Arroyo’s performance ratings will rise again in the next few months," Isabela Rep. Anthony Miranda, spokesman for the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), told The STAR in a telephone interview.

Bush told Mrs. Arroyo during the two-hour APEC leaders dinner that their countries must keep their "friendship" after bilateral ties were ruffled earlier this year by the Philippines’ troop pullout from Iraq, which Washington strongly criticized.

"It will mean more job and business opportunities. The internal security of the country will get a boost with the continued RP-US military exercises," Miranda said.

US military advisers are currently providing training to Filipino troops in Zamboanga City.

At the same time, however, Miranda dismissed the survey results as irrelevant. "Surveys are only relevant during election time. Right now the priorities are not pogi (approval) points, but how to deal with the problems."

Despite strong protests from allies, Mrs. Arroyo in July withdrew the Philippines’ troop contingent in Iraq to save a Filipino truck driver held hostage by Islamic militants.

Washington said the pullout would embolden terrorists.

Renewed Philippine-US ties would mean more economic, military and other assistance from Washington, Miranda said.

Although the Pulse Asia survey showed that fighting terrorism was among the least concerns of Filipinos, he said better security will boost the country’s business and economic climate.

Filipinos largely disapproved of Mrs. Arroyo’s efforts to hold down inflation, fight corruption, reduce poverty and improve wages, the poll showed.

Miranda and other administration lawmakers mostly blamed the rising world market prices of crude oil for Mrs. Arroyo’s ratings drop, saying the government had no control over crude oil prices.

Eastern Samar Rep Marcelino Libanan and Antique Rep. Exequiel Javier said Mrs. Arroyo’s popularity will go back up once her fiscal and economic reforms begin showing results.

"Despite the criticisms, the President is ready to be unpopular just to be able to pursue survival measures for the country," Libanan said in a statement.

Javier urged the public to be "more supportive and understanding of the President, who has been working hard and sacrificing a lot for the nation’s interest."

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

She vowed to take on "entrenched interests" as well as make tough and even unpopular decisions to avoid a fiscal crisis.

Earlier this month, Mrs. Arroyo said the country was successfully avoiding a fiscal crisis with the expected passage of the so-called "sin tax" bill, which proposes to raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol products.

Mrs. Arroyo is counting on Congress to pass the bill and seven other tax measures that are expected to rake in an additional P80 billion in revenue for the cash-strapped government.

"The bitter pill will definitely cure the high inflation, deficit and poverty problems," Libanan said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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