JULY 22, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - Malacañang is looking at the bright side of recent surveys showing 27 percent of Filipinos do not believe that President Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address on Monday will be truthful.

Amid the dire expectations, presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor said it was still an improvement because the figure of unbelievers went down from 45 percent last year.

"This is despite the poverty and other problems that we have," Defensor said.

In the case of believers, Defensor said the figure increased from 13 percent to 16 percent.

He said the figures were significant because they were recorded despite the low popularity ratings of Mrs. Arroyo, which were attributed to her pursuit of implementing fiscal reforms amid the political storms she had to weather, specifically allegations of cheating in the elections that affected her credibility.

"Although the confidence (level on Mrs. Arroyo) is still negative, these improvements in figures are quite substantial already," Defensor said.

"This means the people are beginning to see her efforts to make the country better," he said.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the President’s SONA on Monday would focus on the super-regions and their development rather than rooting on issues of Charter change or political reconciliation that the opposition and critics are expecting from her.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo read her first draft of the SONA during a Cabinet meeting last Tuesday. The speech lasted about 32 minutes, he said.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo would like to improve the SONA speech and lengthen it to 45 minutes.

As to the expected reaction from critics and the opposition, Bunye said it would be up to them if they decide to boycott the SONA.

Bunye, however, appealed for "mutual respect and civility" since the event happens only once a year.

Critics led by former President Joseph Estrada, through his wife Sen. Luisa Ejercito, along with the other opposition members are still free to deliver their own versions of the SONA as part of their rights, Bunye stressed.

Bunye noted the opposition figures deliver their traditional counter-SONA in the halls of Congress.

"But there is only one SONA and that is the President’s," he said.

The presidential spokesman claimed Mrs. Arroyo made the consultations with her Cabinet officials and local executives for the SONA.

"We should listen to what the President has to say. This is one SONA that will be very full of details," he said.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo would highlight in the SONA the reliance in the local government units for regional development as well as national and local partnership to distribute power to the countryside.

Based on the July 2006 Ulat ng Bayan national survey, Pulse Asia reported a decline in the number of respondents who do not believe Mrs. Arroyo would deliver her promises in the SONA – from 45 percent in July 2005 to 27 percent in July this year.

This was most manifested among the residents of Metro Manila, where the heart of the bureaucracy is situated and exposure to opposition sentiments is high.

However, the number of respondents who were undecided on whether the SONA would be truthful or otherwise went up from 42 percent in 2005 to 56 percent in 2006.

The sentiment was expressed by 46 percent to 63 percent of Filipinos from various parts of the country culled across socio-economic classes.

Pulse Asia said this sentiment was most pronounced in the Visayas region where Mrs. Arroyo enjoys strong support.

The huge percentage of non-believing Filipinos in the President’s SONA in 2005 at 45 percent was attributed to the prevailing political situation at the time of the survey.

In July last year, Mrs. Arroyo struggled to regain her political career when 10 of her Cabinet members resigned and joined critics led by former President Corazon Aquino and Senate President Franklin Drilon calling on her to quit.

Even Congress exerted pressure against the President when it conducted a spate of inquiries on the alleged involvement of her family in illegal gambling on top of the "Hello Garci" wiretap recordings controversy implicating her in fraud in the 2004 elections.

In contrast, the headlines were favorable to the administration when this year’s survey was conducted from June 24 to July 8.

This was the period where Mrs. Arroyo declared an all-out war against the communists and when she signed into law the repeal of the death penalty statute.

The President also earned high points when she approved a P25-wage hike for workers in Metro Manila as she survived a coup attempt allegedly staged by a left-right alliance on Feb. 24.

No real sentiment

Surveys don’t almost always reflect the real sentiments of the people, a senior House leader said yesterday in reaction to a recent Pulse Asia survey showing that Filipinos doubt the truthfulness of what President Arroyo may say in her State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.

"Surveys sometimes differ from reality, like perception which may be far from the truth. For those who won’t believe the President’s SONA, proof is never adequate. But for those who believe, proof is not necessary," said House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles.

The Davao City congressman, an ally of Mrs. Arroyo, said the government is not bothered at all by the survey, as it is not "something that would affect the government’s programs and policies."

"Surveys could be biased, even on the mere presentation of the poll questions themselves, and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments of the people or the majority," Nograles said.

He said he expects Mrs. Arroyo to deliver a speech that would give "utmost focus on legislative actions to address an energy crisis and an impending crisis in the Middle East."

"She is also expected to outline her administration’s desire for increased government investment in the regions outside Metro Manila and for more meaningful reforms through Charter change," he added.

Nograles underscored the need for a feasible solution that would address the oil crisis issue, particularly in light of the looming prospect that oil prices may rise by as much as P8 per liter.

Pulse Asia’s July 2006 Ulat ng Bayan national survey showed a decline in the number of respondents who do not believe that Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA this year will be truthful — from 45 percent in July last year to only 27 percent this month. — Delon Porcalla

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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