MARCH 15, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo is unfazed by the latest scandal to hit First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, saying she is focused on governance and the economy.

In a pooled interview following a televised roundtable discussion on the country’s declining debt in Malacañang with some of her economic managers, Mrs. Arroyo said she is not bothered by negative publicity or unfavorable ratings.

"All I can say is that I will do my best and God will do the rest," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Pointing to her 73-year-old "ordinary person" guest, she said: "And when Aling Agueda (Savellano) says that she gets cheaper medicine, avails of PhilHealth and see waterworks are being constructed, and her electric bill is lower by P500, I feel that the sacrifices I’ve made that made me very unpopular are well worth it."

Asked how she is coping with the latest attack on her husband whom she sent to the United States for a few months in 2005 to avoid the scandals, Mrs. Arroyo said her strategy is "focus and discipline."

A certain Maria Celia Virginia Suarez, claiming to be the First Gentleman’s former mistress, allegedly posted in her blog that she was filing a disbarment petition against Mr. Arroyo for alleged immorality and corruption.

The Supreme Court and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) certified that no disbarment petition has been filed against Mr. Arroyo, who branded the blog as fabricated.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said it is not surprising that Mrs. Arroyo is taking the latest intrigue in stride as he expressed suspicions that the new scandal involving her husband was election-related.

"She’s a politician and she knows what it takes to be where she is and she understands that these things (intrigues) happen and she’s used to it," Ermita told reporters.

GMA ratings up slightly – SWS By Helen Flores The Philippine Star 03/15/2007

President Arroyo’s net satisfaction rating has slightly improved but remains in the negative.

The Social Weather Stations (SWS) 2007 first quarter survey showed that Mrs. Arroyo’s satisfaction rating increased by five percentage points, from 34 in November to 39 recently.

However, her net satisfaction rating – the difference between the number of satisfied and dissatisfied – is still in the negative, though it improved from –25 last March to –4.

SWS said the net score of –4 percent was so far the best Mrs. Arroyo has gotten since October 2004.This makes Mrs. Arroyo the least popular of four presidents since democracy was restored in 1986, the SWS said.

Mrs. Arroyo told reporters on Tuesday her unpopularity was due to her pushing economic reform programs, "|including a drive to increase government revenues through an expanded value-added tax.

The SWS poll conducted from Feb. 24 to 27 showed that 39 percent of the 1,200 respondents were satisfied, while 43 percent were dissatisfied with the President’s performance.

Mrs. Arroyo’s national net rating has been consistently negative for two and a half years, from third quarter of 2004 to fourth quarter of 2006.

The survey firm did not cite any factors that caused the slight improvement in Mrs. Arroyo’s ratings in the most recent survey. It merely noted that the new result is a slight improvement from the 34 percent satisfied and 47 percent dissatisfied in November 2006, and the 37 percent satisfied and 48 percent dissatisfied in September 2006.

"It is President Arroyo’s best score since October 2004, when her two-and-a-half-year negative net ratings began at –6," the SWS said.

However, Mrs. Arroyo’s net satisfaction rating worsened in Metro Manila at –24, compared to –16 previously.

In the February survey, 28 percent said they were satisfied with the President’s performance and 53 percent said they were dissatisfied.

Satisfaction with the President’s performance was neutral in the Visayas, at +1 net satisfaction (41 percent satisfied and 40 percent dissatisfied) compared to net –7 (38 percent satisfied and 45 percent dissatisfied) last November.

It was also neutral in Luzon (outside Metro Manila), at net –2 (40 percent satisfied and 42 percent dissatisfied) compared to net –16 (33 percent satisfied and 49 percent dissatisfied) previously.

The President’s net satisfaction rating in Mindanao is net zero now with (42 percent satisfied and 41 percent dissatisfied, correctly rounded) compared to –12 (33 percent satisfied and 46 percent dissatisfied) in November.

The SWS said Mrs. Arroyo’s net satisfaction rating is less negative in urban areas and neutral in rural areas.

"Those satisfied with the President went up to 37 percent in February from 29 percent in November, while those dissatisfied went down to 45 percent from 51 percent, moving her urban net satisfaction rating to –8 from –21 in the previous quarter," the SWS said.

In rural areas, the SWS said those satisfied jumped from 40 percent to 42, while those dissatisfied dropped to 40 percent from 43 percent, moving her rural net satisfaction rating to +1 from –3, which is neutral in both cases.

Mrs. Arroyo’s net satisfaction rating also turned positive in classes ABC, the SWS said.

"President Arroyo’s net satisfaction rating turned positive among the middle-to-upper classes ABC, with the latest score at +7 (44 percent satisfied minus 37 percent dissatisfied) compared to –14 (33 percent satisfied minus 47 percent dissatisfied) in the previous quarter," the SWS said.

It, however, became less negative among the class D, at –3 now (40 percent satisfied minus 42 percent dissatisfied, correctly rounded) compared to –9 (36 percent satisfied minus 45 percent dissatisfied) previously.

This was also the case among class E, with Mrs. Arroyo’s net rating going up to –8 (37 percent satisfied minus 45 percent dissatisfied) in February compared to –25 (30 percent satisfied minus 54 percent dissatisfied) in November 2006.

The SWS said both men and women became less dissatisfied with the President’s performance.

Among men, satisfaction with Mrs. Arroyo increased to 38 percent in February from 34 percent in November, and dissatisfaction went down to 44 percent from 48 percent, bringing the latest net satisfaction rating up to –6 from –14 previously, the SWS said.

Among women, those satisfied with the President went up to 40 percent from 34 percent, while those dissatisfied went down to 42 percent from 47 percent, moving women’s net satisfaction up to –2 now from –13.

The survey was conducted using face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adults divided into random samples of 300 each in Metro Manila, the balance of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It has a sampling error margins of plus or minus three percent for national percentages and plus or minus six percent for area percentages, the SWS said. GMA: No regrets In a recent interview with BizNews Asia magazine, President Arroyo also said she is focused on reducing the government’s fiscal deficit and attaining the goal of a balanced budget by the end of her term in 2010 and that she has no regrets remaining on this course.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, for his part, said the slight improvement in the President’s ratings means that the programs of the government now have an effect on the general public.

Sen. Ralph Recto, who is running for re-election under the administration ticket Team Unity, said the survey results indicate the drift in public perception and should serve as a guide to action and a barometer on how well a government performs.

"These surveys show our shortcomings and even our strengths. It is better for us to know the problem now and act on it than be sorry later," he said.

Genuine Opposition candidates, however, downplayed the President’s improved ratings.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Mrs. Arroyo should not even brag about it because her approval ratings remain in the negative.

"If its negative to negative, I don’s see any improvement," he said, adding that the SWS survey, along with the results of the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) survey that showed the Philippines as having the most corrupt government in Asia, should signal the President to reassess her style of governance. – With Marvin Sy, Christina Mendez, AP, Reuters

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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