Business World, 12 June 2012


Public satisfaction with President Aquino has fallen dangerously fast, according to a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey done in May 24-27. Compared to his “honeymoon” score in October 2010, almost two years ago, his net score was down 18 points to +42 (63% satisfied minus the 21% dissatisfied) from October 2010’s +60 (71% satisfied minus the 11% dissatisfied).

In the National Capital Region (NCR), the erosion of public satisfaction was dizzying. Aquino’s score was down 48 points (almost half of adult population) to +18 (48% satisfied minus the 30% dissatisfied) from October 2010’s +66 (76% satisfied minus 10% dissatisfied).

It would be a mistake not to heed the sharp fall in the President’s approval rating. Contrary to a claim by a Malacañang spokesman, the survey results is not seasonal. The numbers from October 2010 up to May 2012 point to a progressive erosion of the people’s satisfaction with Aquino.

It would be premature to speculate on why the public satisfaction with Aquino continues to fall. That will come out in SWS survey results on national issues.

One can’t blame rising prices as one analyst said. Inflation rates have been relatively tame. In fact, inflation rate, from January to March was 3.0%. The SWS survey happened at a time when the oil companies were cutting oil product prices at the pump.

A plausible reason for Aquino’s plummeting approval rating is the rising joblessness and the perception that he does not have a credible program to create more jobs. The number of unemployed has been rising. And the National Capital Region has the highest unemployment rate, and it’s in NCR that Aquino’s satisfaction rating has plummeted the most.

From a policy standpoint, it may be less disconcerting if the erosion in satisfaction rating happened because the President has undertaken politically unpopular, though economically sound, measures. That’s what high “political capital” is for. It provides a necessary buffer so that the leader can take bold measures for the greater good.

But sadly, the political capital is eroded — not slowly, but rapidly even without the benefit of game changing measures. For example, Aquino has not adopted any major tax reform which could prove to be unpopular but is necessary to finance his ambitious spending program. After two years, the tax-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio has barely improved. It remained at 12.5% as of the first quarter of 2012.

That level of tax collection is inadequate to finance the K+12 education program, the universal health care program, and the ‘catch-up’ infrastructure program of the government. A World Bank study argues that tax effort has to be raised by another 5 percentage points in order to finance the government needs consistent with strong, sustainable growth.

But Aquino insists on his no-new-tax policy. A popular pronouncement, yet his satisfaction rating continues to plummet.

Aquino has not acted on the Reproduction Health bill, a bold measure with long-term positive effect but which may be politically costly in the short run. After more than a decade of deliberations, that RH bill has yet to see the light of day. He could have used his political capital to push the RH bill, but he didn’t. [By the way, survey results show that Filipinos favor the bill].

Aquino has failed to use his high political capital to push the Freedom of Information bill.

With a much-depleted satisfaction rating, and a number of critical measures still not acted upon, it would appear that Aquino has squandered his political capital for nothing.

And, by the way, the falling satisfaction rating means that an increasing number of Filipinos were not impressed or had not benefited from the 6.4% GDP growth in the first quarter of 2012. If that surprisingly high growth rate were true, how come Filipinos are increasingly dissatisfied with Aquino?