Last September, after the biggest rally under President Benigno Aquino 3rd—the August 27 anti-pork barrel demonstration at Rizal Park—a three-part article in this space argued that he will serve out his term despite rising unrest.
Having gone through the turbulent years of the Arroyo administration, this writer believed that if the past government could weather far greater political, economic and social challenges, the present one, helped by high growth, hefty revenues and still good approval ratings, stood an even better chance of lasting its full six years.
Still, the article hedged, never say never. Could President Aquino see a rapid downward spiral in public and political support? Yes, if there are more monumental debacles. Especially if those support-sapping events cause hardship for major sectors and regions, and torpedo confidence and support among powerful and influential entities like the political and business elites, the Catholic Church, the military, mainstream media, and leading foreign allies.
Ratings plunge – even before DAP ruling
The latest Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia surveys, conducted less than a month ago, reported Aquino’s lowest ratings in his four-year-old presidency.
Polled June 27-30, Aquino’s net satisfaction rating plunged to +25 percent, down by nearly half from +45 percent in March. Those satisfied dropped 11 points to 55 percent, while the dissatisfied group surged nine points to 30 percent. And that was before the July 1 Supreme Court decision voiding the Disbursement Acceleration Program.
In all regions and income strata, satisfaction is down and dissatisfaction up since December. In Metro Manila, whose views influence the rest of the nation, net satisfaction seesawed: +22 percent in December, +33 in March, and just +6 in June. And for the most affluent and informed ABC class, net satisfaction of +32 is less than half December’s +68. For D, the biggest social stratum, net satisfaction also halved to +22 percent, from +45 in December and March.
For those who track chart trends, the net satisfaction graph line has broken through the apparent support level of +40 percent, from which it bounced back after past declines. That may augur further falls as public sentiment seeks another support level.
Covering June 24-July 2, Pulse Asia’s Ulat ng Bayan poll saw those expressing approval in Aquino’s performance down by one-fifth to 56 percent, from 70 in March, while disapproval nearly doubled to 14 percent. Trust fell even more, from 69 percent in the first quarter survey to 53 percent in the latest. Now, nearly half the nation distrust or doubt Aquino. And that is before the full impact of the DAP ruling, as noted by Pulse Asia research director Ana Maria Tabunda.
Looking at approval ratings on key issues, the two main drags on Aquino’s approval ratings are corruption and prices and jobs. In Pulse Asia’s accompanying survey on national government performance, there were substantial increases in disapproval for the administration’s efforts in fighting graft and in the economic issues of inflation, job creation, worker’s income, and poverty alleviation.
In sum, more Filipinos have misgivings about reducing poverty and corruption —the most important issues for Filipinos, and the two pledges in Aquino’s election slogan.
More economic troubles ahead
What’s ahead for the Aquino administration? As it tries to persuade Filipinos that it knows the law better than the Supreme Court, three major problems look set to emerge.
First, the economy is slowing, as reported in the first quarter data. Gross domestic product rose 5.7 percent, down from 7.7 percent in January-March 2013 and 7.2 percent for the whole of last year.
The main growth drivers of 2013, public and investment spending, are both slowing dramatically. Government consumption expenditures increased just 2.0 percent, a fifth of the 10 percent first quarter 2013 pace, while fixed capital formation, up 7.7 percent, was just one-seventh of the nearly 50 percent surge in January-June 2013.
Sectoral data point to more economic woes for lower-income groups. Agriculture managed just 0.9 percent growth, less than a third of the same quarter a year ago, with fishing, the livelihood of some of the poorest communities, contracting 3 percent. Construction, a leading employment generator, also hit the skids: a mere 0.9 percent up against 31.1 percent a year ago.
And things look set to get worse. Already, the past half-year has seen price increases in basic commodities, spurred in large part by the drop in imports due to draconian restrictions on trucks hauling cargo. Typhoons are further hurting economic growth, destroying crops and interrupting power for industry.
The problems may escalate even more this week with the Bureau of Customs poised to crack down on importers who missed its firm July 31 deadline for accreditation. As announced in BoC’s full-page ad last Wednesday, a quarter of all importers have not applied for accreditation. And by latest count, only a third of them are accredited.
Imagine the impact on prices, supplies, jobs, commerce and industry if two-thirds of the estimated 15,000 importers nationwide have to stop shipments for lack of accreditation. As one seasoned Customs official remarked, it’s nothing short of economic sabotage.
And legal ones, too
There’s more. Two internationally publicized agreements could hit the dirt, with immense repercussions for President Aquino and national security. As mentioned in “A nation consecrated to Mary: Upheaval again?”, published July 9, the Bangsamoro Agreement could unwind, and hostilities with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front reignite if the MILF rejects the Palace-revised Bangsamoro Basic Law draft.
If the bill isn’t filed when Congress opens this week, Muslim separatists may again threaten or stage attacks, as renegades did when a 2008 accord was ruled unconstitutional.
The other potential fiasco is the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allowing increased deployment of US forces, as well as access to Philippine military bases. EDCA opponents, including former senator and fellow Manila Times columnist Rene Saguisag, argue that the accord is grossly disadvantageous to the Philippines and should go through Senate ratification.
If the Supreme Court agrees, it would not only further hurt the President and the administration’s stature, but also stir doubts among his American supporters. US backing is crucial not only for foreign aid and investment, but also the crucial loyalty of the armed forces, where its top source of military aid and training wields huge influence.
In arguing last September that Aquino would serve out his term, this column didn’t count on self-inflicted debacles like violating the Constitution and constricting economic activity. Hence, it could well be wrong.