MANILA, Philippines-A 36-per cent drop in President Aquino's approval and trust ratings to their lowest levels in the aftermath of the botched counterterrorism operation that cost the lives of 64 Filipinos could have implications for the presidential election next year, analysts said on Tuesday.
"An Aquino endorsement may be a kiss of death," Earl Parreño of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms said after an opinion poll found that Aquino suffered the biggest declines in his ratings since he came to power in 2010.
Asked whether the President's political capital and endorsement power in 2016 had dwindled because of the Mamasapano incident, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said it would be the people who would "express their will through the ballot."
Coloma said the President declared as early as Feb. 6 that he was responsible for the 44 SAF members who were killed in the operation targeting terrorists.
"The President has repeatedly said that all successes and failures of his administration will land on his doorstep. He believes that in time the truth will set us all free. We are determined to work even harder to continually earn our people's trust and confidence," Coloma said at a press briefing.
Aquino is not eligible for reelection under the Constitution but prospects for the presidential candidate of his Liberal Party in the general elections in May 2016 are likely to be damaged if his popularity is undermined.
Aquino saw his approval rating drop 21 percentage points from 59 per cent in November last year to 38 per cent this month, results of a Pulse Asia survey showed. His trust rating declined 20 percentage points from 56 per cent to 36 per cent.
Ronald Holmes, president of Pulse Asia this was the largest decline in both approval and trust ratings in five years.
He added that this was the first time Aquino has failed to gain a majority rating, below the 50 per cent level.
Aquino's highest trust rating was 80 per cent in October 2010.
The latest nationwide survey used face-to-face interviews with 1,200 respondents aged at least 18 years old. It had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.
Holmes said the President's ratings were affected by the Jan. 25 clashes in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
The survey was conducted from March 1 to 7, five weeks after the clashes where 44 police commandos, 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and three civilians were killed.
The commandos killed the Malaysian-born terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan," but his Filipino deputy, Basit Usman and Amin Baco, alias "Jihad," a member of the Southeast Asian terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah, managed to escape.
A police inquiry found Aquino responsible for the bungled mission against Marwan that sparked the clashes and put at risk efforts to forge peace with the MILF, the country's largest Muslim rebel group.
The President's spokesperson has rejected the police findings saying Aquino was not part of a civilian agency chain of command and he had no responsibility for the botched mission.
Aquino, the Commander in Chief, has defended himself against public outrage over his refusal to take responsibility for the Mamasapano debacle.
Instead, the President put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Director General Getulio Napeñas, the sacked commander of the Special Action Force (SAF), whom he accused of feeding him false information.
Parreño said that Aquino "has squandered too much political capital on the Mamasapano incident."
Pulse Asia said 39 per cent of respondents expressed indecision and 23 per cent disapproved of Aquino's performance. Thirty-seven per cent said they were undecided on whether to trust him while 27 per cent said they distrusted him.
Results of the survey also showed Aquino's approval ratings eroded in Mindanao (down to 45 per cent from 67 per cent), the Visayas (41 per cent from 68 per cent), Metro Manila (26 per cent from 49 per cent) and the rest of Luzon (36 per cent from 54 per cent).
Likewise, his approval ratings declined sharply among Classes ABC (down to 35 per cent from 59 per cent), D (35 per cent from 59 per cent) and E (47 per cent from 57 per cent).
His trust ratings dropped in Mindanao (45 per cent from 62 per cent), the Visayas (40 per cent from 62 per cent), Metro Manila (24 per cent from 49 per cent) and the rest of Luzon (34 per cent from 52 per cent).
Trust in the President also dipped among Classes ABC (34 per cent from 57 per cent), D (34 per cent from 57 per cent) and E (42 per cent from 52 per cent).
Earning back trust
Malacañang said the President had taken personal responsibility for the botched Mamasapano operations and assured the public it would continue to explain to the people the incident so Aquino could earn back their trust and confidence.
He said the President understood the sadness of the family members of the SAF commons and continued to listen to the people's sentiments.
Asked what President Aquino could do to earn back the people's trust, Coloma reiterated that the Palace would continue to let people understand what the government was doing, including its reform programs.
He said Aquino would continue to perform his duties until his term ends in 2016.
"The President and the administration are praying that people will understand what is happening," he said.
Asked whether Aquino would apologise, Coloma said what the government was doing was to continue explaining to the people.
Loosen grip on allies
The steep fall in Aquino's ratings due to the backlash from the Mamasapano fiasco will loosen his grip on his allies and put in peril his priority bills in Congress, according to Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.
Colmenares said the President's record-low ratings would spur his key political allies to abandon him.
"It will be all downhill from here. With his responsibility and accountability for the pork barrel, DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program), Edca (Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement) and the Mamasapano incident, it would be best for President Aquino to resign and face the consequences of his actions," said Colmenares.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said the President's poor performance in the latest Pulse Asia survey showed that he was on a "death spiral."
"I think it has come to a point where people will tend to disbelieve everything he says," Romualdez, independent minority bloc leader, said in a press conference.
Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said the President was virtually in a "free fall" after the Mamasapano fiasco.