A mid the growing disenchantment with President Benigno Aquino 3rd, reaching a high point last week with the launch of the so-called National Transformation Council (NTC) grouping religious, civil society, political and other sectoral entities, it may be timely to reprint portions of a three-part article published a year ago pondering the question: Can Aquino fall? The excerpt follows:
The first part of this article, published on Monday, recalled that the Arroyo government not only survived political and economic crises unlikely to be repeated in gravity and combination. It even managed to lift economic growth, nearly zero the budget deficit, and strengthen the peso. Hence, the current regime should weather much lesser problems, especially with its broad public, political and media support, and far greater budgetary resources.
But there is one notable vulnerability Aquino may have: unlike his predecessor Gloria Arroyo and like the ousted leader she succeeded, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the incumbent Chief Executive has a Vice-President in the opposition, open confrontation with the Catholic Church, and potential restiveness in the military. The big question then is whether VP Jejomar Binay, Catholic bishops, and disgruntled generals would join forces for regime change, as they did in 2001.
[Note: The anti-Aquino forces now count many bishops among its members, including NTC stalwarts Davao Archbiship Emeritus Fernando Capalla, former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, and outspoken Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles. NTC has openly declared that it is time for Aquino to resign.]
Then as now, the key is popular discontent. Are Filipinos and the leaders they heed dissatisfied with President Aquino and his government to push in large numbers for his removal? In recent opinion polls, most of the 1,200 randomly selected adults indicate enduring trust, approval and satisfaction with the Chief Executive. But do these surveys truly reflect public sentiments?
Aquino critics discount them, claiming that polling outfits have shown favor. For one thing, they skirt issues where public views probably oppose his position, such as distributing his family’s Hacienda Luisita, firing close associates tarred in controversies, presidential work habits, and most recently, pork barrel abolition. In contrast, both Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS) were quick to survey issues unfavorable to the past administration, like charter change and corruption.
Besides surveys, media is also far more supportive. Top newspapers and broadcasting networks have been far more favorable toward Aquino than Arroyo or Estrada, never harping on negative issues like unabated smuggling, and quick to bury scandals such as the alleged extortion from a Czech railway company (remember that?).
Bottom line: Due to contrasting attitudes toward previous and present regimes, media and pollsters may not be properly reflecting people’s sentiments and views, being perhaps too negative in the past and too positive today. Hence, the need to look at other indicators in gauging how people regard the Aquino administration.
In light of his campaign slogan, “Kung Walang Corrupt, Walang Mahirap,” how does he rate in fighting corruption and poverty? In Pulse Asia’s Ulat ng Bayan surveys of presidential performance in key national issues, respondents rating Aquino Good and Very Good totaled 61 percent in August 2011 and June 2013. Yet Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer reported that 62 percent of those polled found corruption unchanged or worse under Aquino between those two years.
On reducing poverty, Pulse Asia again found the same Good and Very Good ratings in 2011 and this year. Yet in SWS’s hunger incidence polls, respondents who said they missed at least one meal in the past three months jumped from 15.1 percent in June 2011 to 22.7 percent two years later. Severe hunger was even more alarming; it more than doubled from 2.0 percent to 5.4 percent over the same period.
Plainly, his approval ratings are not reflecting how Filipinos really feel about the corruption and poverty woes on which he campaigned for their vote.
[Note: The recent three-part article on Aquino’s real score in reducing corruption and poverty, published August 18, 20 and 22, detail more recent data buttressing the view that his administration has not only failed to deliver on its anti-corruption and anti-poverty agenda, but has made things worse on both campaign advocacies.]
Of course, it’s one thing to be unhappy with one’s lot, and quite another to march on Malacañang. Amid anti-Arroyo rallies in October 2005, Pulse Asia asked respondents if they would support or join protests if a president were proven — not just believed — to have cheated in elections. Only 22 percent would join, while 41 percent would neither support nor join. For the 78 percent not joining, main reasons were: other more pressing concerns (48 percent), no expected improvement despite regime change (24 percent), and lack of credible alternative leadership (18 percent).
While the survey seemed to show unwillingness to take grievances to the street, in fact, the numbers suggest that if Filipinos saw hope for real change, most may rally. Two out of five non-joiners might wave placards if there were credible leadership and real reform prospects.
That’s a third of respondents. Add the 22 percent already willing to protest, and that’s a critical mass of as much as 55 percent of the extrapolated population.
Indeed, Filipinos did rise up twice in president-toppling numbers when leaders were seen as dishonest, and there were acceptable successors (both women, as it turned out). Could it happen a third time?
Several ingredients, all tough to find, must come together for the EDSA kettle to boil. First, President Aquino must be widely seen as corrupt or dishonest. As with any politician, many unsavory things are said about him and his regime, from jueteng ties through shooting buddy Rico Puno, to the sixfold jump in smuggling with customs bagmen of his associates recently denounced. Then there’s the Metro Rail Transit extortion, the tripling of pork barrel starting 2011, and Aquino’s ties to its alleged queen Janet Lim-Napoles. No doubt, the beleaguered opposition is digging for more dirt.
As for an acceptable alternative, Vice-President Binay remains popular. His 78 percent approval rating in Pulse Asia’s June-July survey tops national leaders, even Aquino’s 73 percent. [End of excerpt]
Thus, the only remaining question is: What will the military do? Of course, as in Thailand, once that question is answered, that would pretty much decide Aquino’s fate.