, May 24, 2024

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Empathy and Picking Fights


  •   3 min reads
Empathy and Picking Fights
Inday Sara Duterte Official Facebook page

In the face of public dissatisfaction, the President and the Vice President gave contrasting responses

By Joey Salgado

Historically, the public extends to the new President and his administration wider latitude to, well, mess up a bit during the first two to three years of his term. Quarterly surveys conducted by reputable pollsters reflect this extended honeymoon mood.

With the exception of former President Arroyo, declines in survey numbers for a sitting President during this period are generally marginal (they are within the survey’s margin of error), or insignificant (less than seven per cent).

While the public has been tolerant, if not forgiving, of administration missteps and the occasional eye-brow raising behavior of some high government officials in the last two years, there are limits to what it can tolerate, especially when they are hungry.

The double-digit decline in the trust and approval ratings of both the President and his Vice President in the latest Pulse Asia survey is unprecedented. For now, it’s a wake-up call. If the results remain the same, or plunge deeper, by the fourth quarter, it could be seen as an  indictment, and a warning of a potentially landmine-filled engagement with the public in the months leading to the 2025 mid-term elections.

Frustrated and Hungry

The Pulse Asia survey was conducted amid rising prices of basic food items and deliberations on the national budget involving staggering amounts of government money. Talk about a perfect storm.

FBenjr123, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The disconnect between daily economic realities and a government awash in cash yet unable to provide temporary relief is at the core of public dissatisfaction. During hard times, ordinary Filipinos see government not only as a consoler but as a provider, their leaders dispensing both comfort and sustenance.

For a frustrated and hungry public, even a fraction of the proposed 2024 budget would be enough to alleviate their conditions until prices stabilize. It’s a simplistic belief, but that is a belief that is hard to dispel.

Interestingly, the President and the Vice President gave contrasting responses to the survey results and the attendant criticisms. There is a divergence, at least in public, in how they respond to unfavorable media coverage, online criticisms, and public expectations.

With High Prices Come Higher Expectations

President Marcos Jr. acknowledged that the 15 per cent drop in his approval ratings was an indication of public frustration over rising prices.

“It’s not surprising. People are having a hard time. Bigas ito, eh. Ibang usapan pag bigas… I completely understand it, and that's why we're working very very hard to make sure that this comes up again-- not because of the survey, that's not important to me,” he said in an interview.

On October 5, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) issued a statement enumerating the “series of measures” to address rising prices in light of the latest inflation figures. The PCO also cited the optimistic assessment of the country’s economic managers anticipating “a moderation” in rice prices.

Everything’s Political

While the President acknowledged the validity of public sentiment, the Office of the Vice President ignored the survey results. No official reaction was given. Instead, public statements centered on the controversy over intelligence and confidential funds, transforming it into a personal and political battle.

Rappler

Those who opposed secret funds were tagged as enemies of peace and by extension, enemies of the people. Online supporters targeted not only the usual pet peeves - the Makabayan bloc and the remnants of the “pink” army - but also the President, the First Lady, and the Speaker, who is a cousin of the President. The controversy was framed as a demolition job, with the intent, they claimed, of enthroning a Marcos relative in 2028.

The controversy could have been managed better. Foregoing intelligence and confidential funds, which was the initial track, could have provided an easy exit. It could have reframed the issue. With China’s incessant incursions, the transfer of funds to the Coast Guard could have been supported. A proposal could also have been made to transfer a portion to the Social Welfare Department’s amelioration programs for the poor.

These would have conveyed empathy, and it would have made good optics. But instead, they resorted to hate mongering and personal attacks. They decided to pick a fight. OId habits do die hard.


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