Public satisfaction with Philippines leader Aquino falls to lowest level

Public satisfaction with Philippines President Benigno Aquino plunged in the first quarter this year to its lowest ever, but half the population still wants to see him finish his term.

A new survey released on Monday by the polling firm Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed that Mr Aquino's net satisfaction rating sank from +39 in December to just +11 last month.

The highest rating the president has ever received was in August 2012, when it stood at +67.

SWS came up with +11 by deducting the percentage of the population who say they are dissatisfied with Mr Aquino's performance - 36 per cent - from the percentage who are satisfied - 47 per cent.

Mr Aquino's satisfaction rating was at 63 per cent in December.

The SWS survey compared with an earlier poll by another survey firm, Pulse Asia, that showed less than half the population trusts Mr Aquino and approves of what he is doing.

Mr Aquino has been heavily criticised for a police operation to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Hir, alias Marwan, in the far-flung town of Mamasapano in southern Philippines that led to the deaths of at least 60 people, including 44 police commandos.

Reacting to the SWS survey, Mr Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma said the rating actually marked an improvement.

He said the president's satisfaction rating in the SWS survey - 47 per cent - was higher than Pulse Asia's 38 per cent.

He said SWS conducted its survey from March 20 to 23, three weeks after Pulse Asia's.

Mr Aquino spent those three weeks explaining his position in the Marwan raid, disclosing how little accurate information he knew and insisting that he was misled by a close friend who was among those who oversaw the operation, the former police chief Alan Purisima.

"It is possible that, having gathered more information about current events - and having been able to know and understand better the president's position on the Mamasapano incident - the people gave the president a higher satisfaction rating in the SWS survey (47 per cent) than the performance approval rating that he obtained in the Pulse Asia survey (38 per cent)," said Mr Coloma.

He added that half the population prefer that Mr Aquino finish his term, and that 16 per cent of the respondents remain "undecided".

"This represents an opportunity for reaching out to those who are undecided or ambivalent in their sentiments towards the president and the administration and eventually winning them over," he said.

Analysts believe that with more than half the nation disappointed in his performance and with his own allies distancing themselves from him, Mr Aquino has been effectively reduced into a "lame-duck" president.

Elected president in June 2010, Mr Aquino has about a year left before he steps down.

rdancel@sph.com.sg