ECONOMY, NOT  RATINGS  MORE  IMPORTANT - GMA

MANILA
, July 18, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo is more concerned with the rise and fall of the country’s economic indicators rather than the unfavorable ratings she received in a recent opinion poll conducted in Metro Manila, Malacañang said yesterday.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, in a telephone interview, said the Palace will not commission nationwide surveys just to prove that she is still popular.

"The President is more concerned with the economic numbers, which have been favorable lately, as the better indicator that she is doing the right thing," he said. "The President has made it clear that this is not a popularity contest."

Bunye said the local government officials’ expression of support for Mrs. Arroyo accurately reflected the sentiment of the people regarding her administration.

He noted that in last year’s polls, a majority of voters in the provinces were for Mrs. Arroyo.

Bunye challenged survey outfits to poll provinces or cities in the Visayas, which contributed more than half of the 1.1-million vote margin enjoyed by Mrs. Arroyo over her closest rival, the late actor Fernando Poe Jr. In Cebu province alone, the President got more than a million votes of the total of 12,905,808 she received in the May 2004 elections.

The latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey of 579 respondents conducted from July 12 to 15 in Metro Manila showed that 84 percent felt the President should be impeached if she refused to resign while 62 percent responded that Mrs. Arroyo should step down.

Of those calling for her impeachment, 90 percent believe that she cheated in the May 2004 presidential elections.

Only 19 percent said they still had trust in her compared to 52 percent who expressed little or no trust. The figures are statistically similar to results from the SWS June 28-30 telephone survey of Metro Manila residents, in which only 17 percent said they trusted the President and 48 percent felt otherwise.

Despite the results of this opinion poll, Bunye said the government posted its second monthly surplus of P246 million for the month of June after recording a P3.3-billion surplus in April. It also posted a deficit of P67.51 billion in the first six months of the year, or a 15.74 percent improvement from the P80.12-billion shortfall incurred during the same period last year.

Net portfolio investments have reached $87.1 million as of July, while overseas remittances increased by 28.6 percent in May compared to the same period last year, he added.

Bunye said that as another sign of investor confidence in the Arroyo administration, a Malaysian conglomerate had entered into an agreement with the Philippine National Construction Corp. for the rehabilitation and expansion of the South Luzon Expressway.

‘True Sentiment Of The People’

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the declarations of support from local government units (LGUs) are the true sentiment of the people since local officials are elected by and are in constant contact with their constituents.

"Tell me an LGU, except for a few in Metro Manila, that does not support the President," he said.

Salceda said Mrs. Arroyo endeared herself to local officials by not pushing for cuts in their internal revenue allocations, as recommended by economists from University of the Philippines at the height of the fiscal crisis last year.

Instead, Mrs. Arroyo chose to cut lawmakers’ congressional allocations by 40 percent. Salceda said the President is determined to improve her governance.

"It’s policy, not personality, that would put closure to the evolving political crisis," he said. "The new Arroyo is all about a menu of plain vanilla solution aimed at improving ordinary lives."

A day after the SWS survey was released, Bunye and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita debunked its results, saying that "Metro Manila is not the whole of the Philippines."

Bunye cited the negative publicity about Mrs. Arroyo generated by Metro Manila-based media organizations as well as the fact that Metro Manila residents were never fans of the President.

Ermita said media reports highlighting bad news instead of good news apparently contributed to the public’s negative perception of Mrs. Arroyo.

Ermita said the media had always been focused on the negative and not on the achievements of any administration.

He and Bunye also said the results of the survey were a given since the President did not win in Metro Manila in last year’s presidential election.

"This is also traditionally the center of the opposition. But the residents of Mindanao and the Visayas are complaining and asking why only Metro Manila residents are being surveyed. Why don’t they conduct the survey in Metro Cebu or Metro Davao, for example? These are huge centers of population as well," Bunye said, noting that Mrs. Arroyo won in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Ermita said the President would not be brought down by surveys or be forced to resign since she still had a strong resolve to lead the nation. He said Mrs. Arroyo lost in Metro Manila, Central Luzon except Pampanga, her home province, and Southern Tagalog.

Both Ermita and Bunye added the President would just continue with her reform programs despite the nose-diving trust and approval ratings.

Mrs. Arroyo is facing mounting calls to resign and an impeachment complaint has been filed against her in Congress over allegations that she manipulated the results of last year’s presidential election.

Mrs. Arroyo denies the poll fraud allegations and refuses to resign but is willing to face an impeachment challenge.

Opposition lawmakers plan to endorse an impeachment complaint filed in the House of Representatives last month by lawyer Oliver Lozano on the day Mrs. Arroyo admitted phoning an election official.

They had previously shunned this route for fear that Mrs. Arroyo’s allies, who are in the majority, would block it.

The opposition had earlier hoped other forms of pressure such as street protests would persuade Mrs. Arroyo to quit.

At least one-third of the House must vote in favor in order for the case against Mrs. Arroyo to go to the Senate for trial.

The poll also showed that 61 percent believe the controversial wiretapped conversations being investigated by Congress reveal Mrs. Arroyo trying to rig the results of the May 2004 presidential vote.

Only 31 percent believe Mrs. Arroyo’s explanation that her phone calls to an election official were merely a clumsy bid to protect her narrow one-million-vote margin amid a slow count, as the President explained during last month’s public admission of her "lapse in judgment."

Two-thirds of poll respondents also doubt that Mrs. Arroyo was serious about implementing political reforms.

Only 26 percent believe that Mrs. Arroyo’s intentions were sincere in allowing her husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, to go into foreign exile while 64 percent believe it was only a ploy to help her remain in power.

Twenty-nine percent see Mrs. Arroyo’s Cabinet revamp as a serious reform while 66 percent said it is only a means to stay in power.

Thirty-one percent said the President’s plan to amend the Constitution and change the country’s form of government from presidential to parliamentary was a serious reform but 65 percent believe it was a move to keep Mrs. Arroyo in power.

In early June, Mrs. Arroyo announced plans to call a national convention next year to change the Constitution and the country’s form of government to help raise the country’s economic growth rate.

Mrs. Arroyo said she believed a federal, parliamentary form of government would be more effective in enacting reforms than the current unitary, United States-style presidential system with a bicameral legislature.

When asked if they believe Vice President Noli de Castro is capable of running the government in the event that Mrs. Arroyo is forced to step down, 45 percent said he is capable while 36 percent said he is not. Nineteen percent were undecided.

The SWS survey has an error margin of four percent and a confidence level of 95 percent. Respondents were selected in proportion to the population of Metro Manila’s 17 cities and towns.

The SWS began conducting the opinion poll a day before last Wednesday’s huge anti-Arroyo rally in Makati City.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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