, December 10, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang remained untroubled by the reported plunge in President Arroyo’s ratings, claiming that "national confidence is high" in the administration because of the improving economy.

In a statement, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the Palace "appreciates the residual political noise that is keeping the ratings down, but there is no way to go but up as a rising economy and improving political stability buck the trend.

"National confidence is high despite these survey results," Bunye added. "With our positive gains amid ebbing political storms, we are confident that public sentiments will turn for the better in the near future."

He said Mrs. Arroyo is focused on what she can deliver on a day-to-day basis to the people in terms of social services, jobs and enterprise.

Asked to elaborate on "national confidence," Bunye said he meant that Filipinos are generally confident on the country’s economic prospects.

He, however, could not explain why Mrs. Arroyo’s sagging popularity could not keep up with the improving economic indicators.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo prayed for an end to disunity in the country during the solemn ordination rites for three new priests at the Saints Peter and Paul Metropolitan Cathedral in Tuguegarao City in Cagayan on Thursday.

Mrs. Arroyo was accompanied during the late afternoon ceremony by opposition Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, Cagayan Gov. Edgar Ramon Lara, Cagayan Rep. Florencio Vargas and Tuguegarao City Mayor Randolf Ting.

The 90-minute celebration, presided by Tuguegarao Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan, founder and Bishop Protector of the Eucharistic Healers of Mary, coincided with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

"Heal our land and heal our spirits of the rancor that keeps us apart… from hearts torn between Your summons to holiness and the lure of sin. Give us Mary’s faith so that we may do all according to Your Word. Give us Mary’s humility that we make of ourselves Your servants, freed from our slavery to our own selfishness," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She is expected to continue her call for unity and support for her economic programs in another religious activity today in Zamboanga City where she is scheduled to grace the blessing of the Catholic church properties at the St. Joseph Parish Church along Nuñez Street, then attend the pontifical Mass at the Immaculate Conception Metropolitan Cathedral in this city in celebration of the 75th birthday of Zamboanga Archbishop Carmelo Morelos.

A Palace statement said Mrs. Arroyo "hopes to consolidate further the support of the local churches in this southern Philippines city behind her unity and economic drive with her scheduled series of church-related activities."

Her allies in the House of Representatives, Representatives Antonio Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur and Lorna Silverio of Bulacan, said such a drop in popularity "highlights the problems of a presidential system of government where too much focus is put on personalities and not on the efforts of the national leadership in improving the economy and well-being of the people."

"This is a defect of the presidential system, where politics seems to be a way of life. No one has given credit to the President for our economic takeoff as everyone is focused on the hearings in the Senate and the House," said Cerilles, who was environment secretary under ousted President Joseph Estrada and is now an Arroyo loyalist.

The Nov. 4-Dec. 4 nationwide survey conducted by independent pollster Social Weather Stations showed that 54 percent were dissatisfied with Mrs. Arroyo’s performance, while only 24 percent were satisfied, for a net dissatisfaction rating of negative 30 percent.

This is the second lowest net approval rating — the difference between the number of satisfied and dissatisfied — for any Philippine president since the downfall of the brutal Marcos dictatorship in 1986.

Mrs. Arroyo’s net approval rating hit negative 33 percent in May. It climbed to negative 23 percent in August before sliding back down.

The administration had hoped that Mrs. Arroyo’s approval rating would begin to recover since the political crisis brought about by the "Hello, Garci" tapes in June and the opposition’s failed bid to impeach Mrs. Arroyo in September had finally settled down.

Silverio said Mrs. Arroyo’s ratings should eventually go up. "Fluctuating public opinion is normal in an environment of political turmoil that diminishes attention on the administration’s solid gains on the economic front."

Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez believes that Mrs. Arroyo’s approval marks had no other direction to go but up.

He said the rise in the value of the peso, record remittances by overseas Filipino workers, flat gas prices, and the victory of the Philippine team in the just-concluded Southeast Asian Games were among the "feel-good" developments the latest survey did not reflect.

"These good things were not yet in the people’s mood when the survey was taken," he said, adding that a survey taken today would yield different results.

Earlier, Bunye said the economy was on its way to recovery as the political crisis swirling around Mrs. Arroyo was finally bottoming out.

However, the negative public sentiment was apparently not reversed by the Philippines’ strong standing in the just-concluded Southeast Asian Games, which took place during the period when the latest SWS survey was conducted, or by the strengthening peso.

The survey was also conducted three weeks into the implementation of the expanded value-added tax, which is the most crucial part of the Arroyo administration’s economic recovery plan.

SWS interviewed 1,200 Filipinos nationwide for the poll, which has an error margin of three percent.

Malacañang has attributed Mrs. Arroyo’s sagging popularity in the past to her "painful" economic reforms and the opposition’s continuing campaign to force her from office over electoral fraud allegations.

Malacañang blamed Mrs. Arroyo’s "tough decisions to save the economy" for her record-low popularity.

Mrs. Arroyo had said she expected her popularity to take a dip for signing the expanded value-added tax into law to raise additional revenue and erase the huge budget deficit. Malacañang officials predicted that Mrs. Arroyo’s ratings would improve once her economic recovery efforts began to take effect.

SWS suggested, however, that Mrs. Arroyo was hurt more by allegations linking her family to illegal gambling.

Charges that her family was linked to jueteng threatened to drag her into a scandal similar to the one that sparked mass protests and unseated her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, in 2001. — With Jess Diaz

GMA gives out energy conservation awards The Philippine Star 12/10/2005

President Arroyo gave recognition yesterday to eight government agencies for strictly implementing her administration’s energy conservation program.

The agencies that received high scores are the Philippine Economic Zone Authority and the National Transmission Corp., which both garnered a score of 95 percent; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Public Works and Highways Southern Mindanao office; Land Bank of the Philippines and National Power Corp., which all got 94 percent; and the Department of Science and Technology and National Electrification Administration, both with 93 percent compliance.

Representatives of the agencies received a plaque of appreciation from Mrs. Arroyo during yesterday’s National Energy Week 2005 celebration, held at a Seaoil gasoline station along EDSA corner Mother Ignacia Street in Diliman, Quezon City.

The agencies were given five-star ratings based on their strict implementation of energy efficiency and conservation measures provided under Executive Order No. 126 and Administrative Order 110. EO 126 mandates all government agencies and offices to reduce their electricity and fuel consumption by 10 percent.

AO 110 establishes the government’s energy conservation measure, dubbed the Energy Efficiency Spot Check of Government Agencies Program.

Mrs. Arroyo formed an inspection team, headed by Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Waldo Flores and Energy Undersecretary Peter Anthony Abaya, to conduct on-the-spot checks on all government agencies and offices to see if they are complying.

The team began its surprise inspections last Sept. 1.

A total of 67 government agencies and offices in Metro Manila and Region 11 have been inspected since Nov. 9.

According to records of the Department of Energy, at least 11 agencies and offices have failed to implement the required energy conservation measures.

Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla said the first round of spot checks was still ongoing because there are still agencies and offices in the provinces that have yet to be inspected. — Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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