MANILA, July 7, 2005
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - Public opinion is just about split down the middle over whether or not President Arroyo should resign, a recent survey showed.

A survey by Pulse Asia Inc. commissioned by opposition groups identified with deposed former President Joseph Estrada showed that Filipinos were "split" and indicated there was still "no runaway majority opinion" to support calls for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation.

Pulse Asia research director Felipe Miranda drew these conclusions yesterday from survey findings indicating that the President garnered what he warned were "record-breaking" highs of disapproval and distrust ratings at 46 percent and 53 percent, respectively.

The President reacted to the survey results with a brief speech delivered during a meeting with local officials of San Andres district in Manila: "Everything I do is for the good of your future."

Mrs. Arroyo said she is working hard for the betterment of the people as she thanked the local officials and audience for their support. She also vowed to continue her economic reform programs, announcing that the government has allocated P600 million for the government’s micro-financing program.

She also urged the public to take advantage of the loans made available under the micro-financing program so they can fund small businesses and improve their lives.

Malacañang has refused to be rattled by the survey results. "One thing we have to remember about these surveys is that these reflect the public’s perception and not necessarily the truth," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said.

"We are confident that, in due time, it will be clear to the public that the President did not cheat and that her family is not involved in jueteng," Bunye said.

He also said there is no reason for Mrs. Arroyo to be replaced by Vice President Noli de Castro, Estrada or opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson: "The public must again remember that the President is the duly elected president and that (without) irrefutable proof of wrongdoing, there is no reason for her to be replaced."

"The presidency is not necessarily a popularity contest because there are so many things that the President has to do, some hard decisions, some bitter pills (to swallow)," he added. GMA’s loss, Estrada’s gain? Mrs. Arroyo’s loss may well become Estrada’s gain, Miranda said, because 37 percent of Filipinos now trust Estrada over Mrs. Arroyo, whose trust rating was recorded at 20 percent.

Miranda said Estrada had a much lower level of distrust, at 31 percent, relative to Mrs. Arroyo’s distrust level of 53 percent.

"In a simple match-up, one-on-one — Arroyo versus Estrada — 42 percent of all respondents see the (Estrada) as the more trustworthy (one); only 26 percent give (Mrs. arroyo) their nod," Miranda said.

He said Estrada’s improved political stature may be gleaned from 30 percent of the respondents, who now believe that it is right for him to be reinstalled as president should Mrs. Arroyo resign, be impeached or be ousted by another people power revolt.

Mrs. Arroyo assumed office at the end of the EDSA II people power revolution after Estrada went on an "official leave of absence" on Jan. 20, 2001.

Estrada’s ouster took place after private prosecutors walked out of the Senate impeachment trial on the jueteng payola scandal involving Estrada.

Miranda said the so-called "juetengate" and the "tale of the tape" scandals were "a double whammy" that "clearly have taken their toll on the Arroyo presidency."

"President Arroyo might well be former President Estrada’s best resource in effecting his remarkable political resurrection," he said.

The survey results were based on field interviews, done in English, Tagalog and translated into local dialects, among 1,200 respondents who were 18 years old and above.

According to Pulse Asia, the survey respondents were equally distributed into four geographic areas in the National Capital Region (NCR), Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Citing the survey results, Miranda said 48 percent of Filipinos surveyed now believe Mrs. Arroyo should not continue in office, with only 26 percent disagreeing.

Should the President step down from office, he said, over half of the survey respondents believe "better leaders" are available to replace her.

Among those deemed best by the respondents to lead the country under the ouster scenario are: De Castro (30 percent), Estrada (19 percent), and Lacson (16 percent). Mrs. Arroyo trails last with eight percent.

Some 42 percent of the survey respondents said Mrs. Arroyo is a most "unacceptable" national leader, followed by former President Fidel Ramos (39 percent); and evangelist Eddie Villanueva, who ran but lost in the May 10, 2004 presidential elections (31 percent).

De Castro said in a statement that the Pulse Asia survey results indicating that he is the most acceptable successor to the President came as a "surprise" gift for his 56th birthday.

He said he is "pleased that the people have reaffirmed their trust and confidence in (my) competence as a national leader." De Castro is in Hong Kong with his family to celebrate his birthday and is scheduled to return to the country tonight.

De Castro told The STAR his birthday wish: "I will be truly happy when I see our nation united and rekindling in their heart the Bayanihan spirit and helping each other overcome the obstacles towards economic progress."

He earlier said that while he will never initiate or support any impeachment complaints against Mrs. Arroyo, neither will he oppose such a move.

The Pulse Asia survey was conducted from June 20 to 23 — just days before Mrs. Arroyo made a televised public apology for her "lapse in judgment" on June 27.

The President sought the public’s forgiveness for having called up an election official regarding the results of the 2004 presidential race, saying she was merely trying to protect her votes.

While she did not name the official with whom she spoke, Mrs. Arroyo referred to the wiretapped telephone conversation between her and a man widely believed to be former Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

These allegedly wiretapped telephone conversations were exposed by Alan Paguia, a former lawyer of Estrada.

"(Mrs. Arroyo’s) non-transparent admission and the apology that accompanied it came after the last field interviews had been completed and, thus, did not affect public sentiments regarding her political person or her national administration," Miranda said.

The "juetengate" controversy, meanwhile, stemmed from revelations made by witnesses presented by Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, who said certain national and local officials and personalities received jueteng payola, including First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and presidential son, Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo and brother-in-law, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio "Iggy" Arroyo.

Miranda said the survey indicated that a "sizeable majority" of 64 percent believe that high government officials and an even bigger majority of 78 percent say there are members of the President’s family who were involved in and benefited from the illegal numbers game.

"Only three other Arroyos with at least 60 percent of the public distrusting them exceeded (the President’s) national distrust level (53 percent) and a controversial Comelec commissioner (Garcillano) is only marginally lower (50 percent)," Miranda cited.

Copies of the 14-page survey titled "Filipinos at Yet Another Crossroad of History" were furnished to media yesterday, a development which caught Miranda by surprise when ABS-CBN’s radio station dzMM interviewed him about its results.

"While Pulse Asia does not rush to publicize the names of those who (ask) it to undertake commissioned or dedicated surveys, it readily shares the identity of principals or survey sponsors upon request by legitimately interested parties," he said.

No compromise

"It bears noting that the present survey (was) commissioned by a principal closely identified with the political opposition, a fact that in no way compromises the academic integrity of the survey," Miranda said.

While he refused to identify this "principal" during the radio interview, Miranda assured the public that Pulse Asia has proven over the last 20 years that it engages in "independent" research and survey activities.

Based on these survey results, Miranda said Estrada’s "marginally improved trust ratings posted significant gains among those in Metro Manila (plus 11 percent) and income classes A, B and C (plus eight percent).

"Greater public appreciation for his aborted administration has been noted earlier, in comparison with the heightened public disaffection with the Arroyo administration," Miranda said.

He added that another seven percent of respondents would have Estrada as a transition president until elections are held and a new president is duly elected.

Yet another three percent contemplate Estrada’s political role as the overall leader of all groups now opposing the Arroyo administration, Miranda said: "These figures suggest that the former president may already have about 40 percent of the public — a truly impressive multitude — ready to consider a leading role for (Estrada) again in this nation’s political drama."

The release of the survey and Miranda’s interpretations of these results came a day after Estrada formally renounced his bid to return to the presidency and vowed to support "whoever is destined to be the new and popular leader" chosen by the Filipino people.

Time to step down?

An obviously elated Estrada welcomed the survey results but said that he only got a copy of them yesterday.

"I think it is time for Gloria to step down peacefully to avoid bloodshed and violence," Estrada said, recalling that he did the same thing when he went on "official leave of absence" from the presidency.

"Even as I knew that the greater majority of the Filipino masses were solidly behind me then –as they continue to be now –I could not bear to see Filipino fighting and shedding the blood of a fellow Filipino," he said. "My heart was torn between a sense of duty to fulfill my unfinished obligation to the millions of Filipinos who elected me as their legitimate leader and my sincere desire to save the many lives that would have been lost in a bloody encounter."

Because of these survey results, Estrada said he may change his mind on his decision not to regain the presidency and instead support a proposed "civilian council" transition body.

"If it’s the call of the people, who am I to refuse them? But as of now, whoever the people choose, I will support," he said. "But if they choose me, who am I to deny our people’s clamor?"

Estrada said De Castro cannot be considered Mrs. Arroyo’s constitutional successor, since De Castro’s election will be declared null and void due to massive election fraud and cheating as implied in the GMA-Garci recordings.

Estrada was reached by The STAR yesterday noon before his discharge from the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan where he stayed for two nights for a battery of medical examinations, traction for his arthritic spine and treatment for slight bronchitis.

Meanwhile, administration lawmakers in the House of Representatives defended the President, saying the survey "does not reflect the true sentiments of the people," especially in the countryside, where Mrs. Arroyo "won convincingly in the last presidential election."

Leyte Rep Eduardo Veloso and Cebu City Rep. Antonio Cuenco said in a statement that "while three out of five persons who were interviewed had expressed dissatisfaction with the President, this does not reflect the true sentiments prevailing among our countrymen, especially in our districts."

Admitting that the President lost in the balloting in Metro Manila, with the exception of Las Piñas City, Veloso said "Leyteños are strongly behind the President. Just because there are educators in Metro Manila who want her to resign does not mean we, in Leyte, as well as our countrymen in other parts of the country also want her to resign."

Cuenco said the President won overwhelmingly in Cebu, Cebu City, Iloilo, Iloilo City, Bohol, Biliran, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Bacolod City, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Davao City, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Bukidnon and Tarlac.

"Had the (Pulse Asia) survey been conducted in Cebu and Cebu City, the results would have been entirely different and in (Mrs. Arroyo’s) favor," Cuenco said.

"It is only in Manila that they cause trouble and, even then, only a few people take the bait," he said in Tagalog. "People in the provinces are calm and focused on their jobs and everyday activities. Politics is not their concern."

He also expressed optimism that the President’s ratings would improve in the next round of surveys: "Her sincere apology earned for her more respect and public support." — With Aurea Calica, Pia Lee-Brago

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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