MANILA, March 31, 2005 (STAR) President Arroyo’s approval rating has fallen to its lowest level since she took power in a popular uprising in 2001, a research group disclosed yesterday.

An independent opinion poll conducted from March 3-16 by respected pollster Pulse Asia Inc. found Mrs. Arroyo’s approval rating to be 38 percent.

This was "her lowest approval rating since she assumed the presidency in January 2001," Pulse Asia said in a statement, noting the figure was 41 percent in October and 55 percent in June.

Her disapproval rating remained at 34 percent in March, the same level as in the October survey. "Among the country’s top five government officials, the President posts the lowest approval rating and the highest disapproval rating," Pulse Asia said.

The survey of 1,200 adults nationwide — with an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points — also found approval ratings of less than 30 percent for the Arroyo administration in priority areas such as controlling inflation, reducing poverty, fighting corruption and rebuilding the economy.

Sixty percent of those surveyed in March said their lives had worsened in the past year while only 14 percent said things were better, Pulse Asia said.

Forty-five percent said they expected their lives to get harder in the coming year while only 20 percent said they thought things would be better.

Mrs. Arroyo’s top aides earlier blamed rising oil prices and inflation for a steep drop in her popularity, saying they expected this to happen.

They also attributed the drop to unpopular decisions made by Mrs. Arroyo to keep the country’s struggling economy afloat.

Mrs. Arroyo is imposing several new taxes to bridge a chronic budget deficit that economists warn could deteriorate into a fiscal crisis and derail her anti-poverty agenda.

Yesterday, Malacañang officials shrugged off the latest plunge of the President’s approval rating, saying it will bounce back once Mrs. Arroyo’s economic reforms begin to take effect.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said running the country "is not a matter of popularity."

"Let’s hope that the rating of the President would improve just as soon as we have a favorable action from both houses of Congress, especially the Senate as a result of this three-day special session," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo called for a three-day special session, which began yesterday, to enable the legislature to pass the expanded value-added tax bill.

"Governance is indeed a very tedious process and administrations even in powerful countries like the United States suffer the same fate. Everything that a president does would not necessarily mean that it is with the OK of the people affected," Ermita said.

A similar survey from mid-October to November by another pollster, the Social Weather Stations, found that 40 percent of respondents were satisfied with Mrs. Arroyo’s performance and 46 percent dissatisfied.

Mrs. Arroyo was swept to the presidency by a military-backed popular revolt in 2001 that ousted her graft-tainted predecessor, Joseph Estrada. In May, she won a second term against movie star Fernando Poe Jr.

The Pulse Asia poll also showed that most Filipinos are pessimistic about their quality of life, with six in 10 saying they are worse off now than last year.

The rate is the same as in the previous survey in October. But in the latest poll only 14 percent said they were faring better now than they were last year, down from 17 percent in October.

The rest of the respondents said they were faring the same as last year.

"Almost one in two Filipinos (45 percent) expects to be worse off next year," Pulse Asia said. "These findings indicate that Filipinos continue to be more critical of the national situation than their personal circumstances."

But the March survey showed a decline in the percentage of Filipinos who consider the country to be worse off now than last year, with 69 percent in March compared to 78 percent in October.

There was also less pessimism about the country’s prospects next year, with 59 percent saying the country would be worse off — down from 65 percent in October.

The survey also found low approval ratings for the Arroyo administration in 11 of 14 priority areas such as reducing poverty and fighting corruption.

The administration drew the lowest approval rating in controlling inflation, at 20 percent, an area that Filipinos considered the most important.

The government also scored low — 22 and 21 percent, respectively — on the issues of reducing poverty and bridging the budget deficit.

Twenty-three percent gave their approval in the area of curbing corruption — considered the second most important national concern in the poll.

The administration got a 31-percent approval rating in the area of maintaining peace in the country, considered the third most important concern.

Despite the Valentine’s Day bombings and threats of more attacks by Islamic militants, fighting terrorism is the lowest among Filipinos’ concerns — even less important than the issue of restoring public trust in the government and its officials. — AFP, Aurea Calica

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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