President Aquino has this supreme belief that a political economy is mostly the economic part—undisputed growth figures enough to impress the impresarios of good economic housekeeping. That the markets, thriving and booming and free, will not only help elevate him into the pantheon of great Filipino leaders. The bullish markets and growth rates will also be his shield against his critics and his political enemies. On the wrath of the people, he has this unshakeable view: improve the economy and avoid stealing from public funds and there will be no massive outrage from his governed.
There was no precedent to that governing thesis. No administration in our contemporary history, except the administration of Mr. Aquino, has achieved growth year–on-year at a scale and scope that was enough to impress the Davos/ MBC crowd. The administration of Mr. Ramos, while it got puff pieces on its “emerging dragon” status, succumbed to an epic fail at its later stages, the failures came mainly from the brutal wages of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.
Does not a leader with sustained growth rates and credit upgrades to his credit, plus no known massive bank accounts, get the love of his governed?
Just more than a year before exiting the presidency, it is time to ask this question. Has Mr. Aquino validated his governing thesis? Before we answer that, let us review what Mr. Aquino has accomplished to back up his governing philosophy.
The sustained growth under the Mr. Aquino’s administration is for real. While much of the developed world is mired in stagnation, and a 2 percent growth rate is considered decent enough, Mr. Aquino is underwhelming at a 5.7 percent growth rate. The parachuting members of the international financial press, who usually measure leadership based on GDP growth and stock market surges, have been duly impressed. And to them, Mr. Aquino goes by the name of a “wonk” or “ reformer” or “ technocrat.” The Philippine central bank governor and finance secretary have earned praise as well. They belong to the list of “best central banker” or “best finance minister.”
The Davos crowd and the Makati Business Club have run out of words in the process of praising Mr. Aquino.
So, the question is this. Have all these things endeared Mr. Aquino to his governed?
The latest Pulse Asia survey, which was clearly toned down in some parts to avoid portraying a sinking presidency, placed the presidential approval rating at 38 percent and his trust rating at 36 percent. It was the lowest rating of Mr. Aquino since the first trust and approval poll on him in Oct. 2010. Avoiding candid words, the Pulse Asia people just said “it was the first time the president got a non-majority trust and approval rating.”
How do you translate that timid polling jargon into simple English? That only 36 percent trust Mr. Aquino. The rest are either ambivalent about him or find him not worthy of the people’s trust.
That only 38 percent approve of his actions and words as president. In the hearts and minds of most Filipinos, he is a goner.
Why did the trust and approval ratings of the darling of the Davos crowd and the Makati business tycoons come crashing down to such perilous low? Nothing has crashed with his cherished figures: GDP, credit upgrades, the bullishness of the exchange. Corporate profits have been a race to the top, as we can glean from the recent business reports. In fact, more Filipinos have entered the list of the Forbes list of global billionaires, which was just released a few weeks ago.
Mr. Aquino is in sync with the Davos crowd and the Makati Business Club. But most Filipinos are invisible to his government. The fact that his sustained growth has failed to spread prosperity and economic opportunity across the board, that tangibles did not come to the vulnerable at all, made it easy for the vulnerable to show their dislike for Mr. Aquino, once the opportunity to express that dislike arose.
Ok, of course we all know what happened. That opportunity to state their true feelings toward the presidency did arise. The weak and the vulnerable that Mr. Aquino never cared for saw the bungled Mamasapano affair as the chance to air that general discontent. And they did, which showed in the softened survey of Pulse Asia.
It is bound to get worse, not better.
That Mr. Aquino refused to budge from his perch of hubris, resorting to threatening words instead of expressing oneness and solidarity with his people, and in the aftermath of an epic fail on his part at that, will surely translate into rock-bottom trust and approval figures. Right now, political scientists have pointed out to the immediate impact of low trust and approval ratings—the presidential candidate of Mr. Aquino will eat dust in the 2016 polls as his endorsement will be a “ kiss of death.” The putative LP standard bearer, in that same Pulse Asia survey, will get just 4 percent of presidential votes.
It is a day of true reckoning for the President of the 1 percent.