MANILA, MARCH 29, 2011
 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Aquino accepts the drop in his public approval ratings as shown by the results of the latest surveys conducted by polling firms Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS) and vowed to work harder to deliver his promise of change in the country, Malacañang said yesterday.

Last week, Pulse Asia reported that based on a survey it conducted from Feb. 24 to March 6, public approval of the Aquino administration dropped to 74 percent from 79 percent in the survey conducted last Oct. 20 to 29.

A survey conducted by SWS from March 4 to 7, on the other hand, showed that Aquino’s net satisfaction rating among Filipinos went down to 51 percent from 64 in November.

It also showed that 48 percent of the population disapproved of the President’s purchase of a luxury vehicle last year.

When the purchase of the Porsche caught public attention, Aquino explained that he did not purchase it brand new and used his own money to buy it.

Palace Communications Group Secretary Herminio Coloma said Aquino would not question the conduct of the surveys by the polling firms, both of which he considers to be reliable.

“He trusts (in the surveys) and his response is to strive harder to lift up the country from its hapless state before, and he also called on his Cabinet members to strengthen their programs in addressing the needs of the people,” Coloma said in an interview with radio dzRH.

Coloma also disputed claims that the purchase of the Porsche greatly contributed to the decline in Aquino’s approval ratings.

“We don’t believe that. That is the opinion of a few. We think that the more relevant are the specific issues (and) the ones that really interest the people,” Coloma said.

In another interview, with state-run radio dzRB, Coloma said the President has instructed the members of his Cabinet to submit their accomplishment reports for the first quarter of the year and inform the public about these.

“This is to fulfill the President’s pledge about important points in his program for the Filipino people. The administration wants the people to know that all of the initiative that this government has been doing is a response to their needs,” he said.

Aquino’s allies in the House of Representatives likewise defended the decline in his approval ratings.

“As always, Filipinos are very impatient and they also have very high expectations,” said Kasangga party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco. “The Chief Executive is really more action-oriented. We must give him more time and support him.”

Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo said the decline in Aquino’s approval ratings in the recent surveys is the “usual effect of good governance anchored on doing what is right and not what is popular.”

Sen. Francis Escudero, an ally of the President, said the administration should not be discouraged by the results of the surveys.

“The Palace should not be affected too much by this and should instead be encouraged to work even harder, given the difficulties that the world is facing right now,” he said.

Escudero, who recently topped the Pulse Asia awareness survey for senators, said the surveys are only samples of public opinion.

“It is only a snapshot of our people’s opinion and should serve as a guide to the Palace as to what they should do down the road,” he said.

Sen. Loren Legarda noted that the surveys were made when the country was confronted with the problem of repatriating Filipino workers from Libya, possibly influencing the opinion of respondents. - With Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero


By Kenneth Roth, Executive director, Human Rights Watch - As the son of a revered former president and democracy icon, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino inherits the hopes for change that the Philippine people put in his late mother, Corazon, following the “People Power” revolution of 1986.

But as he takes office, President Aquino also confronts his country’s enduring tragedies. Security forces and their proxies have killed hundreds of left-wing activists and political party members, outspoken clergy and human rights advocates with almost complete impunity in recent years. “Death squads” in Davao City and elsewhere have been killing target suspected petty criminals and other marginalized residents. And powerful local politicians violently eliminate their opponents and prying journalists, without penalty.

When the number of killings dropped sharply in 2007 and 2008, after much condemnation by human rights groups and international pressure, many hoped the problem simply had gone away. But the massacre of at least 58 people attributed to a ruling family in Maguindanao in November 2009 reminded the world that nothing really had changed. Already, since June 9, when Aquino was proclaimed the winner of the presidential election, three journalists and a key witness to the Maguindanao massacre have been killed.

Successive governments in Manila have, at best, failed to combat the killings. Governments have sometimes excused these attacks, citing the need to fight communist insurgents and Islamist militants. But that is no excuse for government atrocities. Noynoy Aquino’s legacy as president may very well hinge on his success at ending this bloodshed and bringing those responsible to account.

During his campaign, Aquino offered lofty rhetoric about the importance of justice, ending the killings, and abolishing private armies, but so far he has not articulated specific steps to combat these problems. Unless he moves swiftly with clear and effective policies, he risks replicating the deeply troubling records of his predecessors.

First and foremost, Aquino should immediately initiate the comprehensive reforms necessary to end impunity for serious abuses. He should order the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate police and military personal at the command level who have been implicated in killings. He should also make clear to the police that they are required to pursue vigorously any crimes committed by government officials and police officers or be themselves the target of a criminal investigation.

Second, Aquino should take immediate steps to create an independent, accessible, and properly funded witness protection program. Witnesses make or break a case in the Philippines, where their testimony is often the only evidence that links a suspect to the crime. Yet, in a country where witnesses in political cases are often at great personal risk, the government does painfully little to protect them. The June 14 murder of a key witness to the Maguindanao massacre, whose pleas to the government for witness protection were ignored, was only the latest example of the consequences of this policy of neglect.

Third, Aquino should make good on his promise to address one of the underlying causes of killings: the proliferation of so-called private armies - armed groups beholden to local politicians. Unfortunately, Aquino may have an unduly narrow understanding of the problem. When I met with him in April, he told me that his promise to abolish private armies did not extend to disbanding paramilitary forces that fall outside police or military chains of command, contending they are needed as “force multipliers.” The Maguindanao massacre demonstrates that supposedly “private” armies are often composed of government-endorsed militia, including police and paramilitary forces. A promise to abolish private armies is empty if it excludes addressing the government forces that fall outside police or military chains of command.

National security should never be built on forces that have such a long record of atrocities. Aquino should start by rescinding Executive Order 546, which has been interpreted by local governments and police as authority to arm these private armies. And to prevent mayors and governors from using soldiers and police for their personal interests, he should submit a priority bill to Congress to ensure that security forces answer exclusively to the military or police chain of command rather than to local government officials.

All leaders want to leave positive legacies, and Aquino has pledged to better the lot of ordinary Filipinos. Ending the killings and bringing under control the forces responsible for them would certainly be an achievement the Philippine people would long celebrate.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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