Filipinos unhappy with Marcos' handling of inflation problem — survey

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
Some shoppers [keep their mask on/remove their mask] at a public market in Marikina City on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022 following President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr's suspension of the mandatory policy on face masks in outdoor settings on September 12.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — Majority of Filipinos are unhappy with how President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is handling the country’s inflation woes, a problem that could shake his administration’s popularity if left uncontrolled.

A nationwide survey of 1,200 adults from September 17 to 21 showed 42% of respondents believe Marcos is doing a bad job in controlling inflation, while 31% said they were satisfied with the government’s actions to tame rising prices, polling firm Pulse Asia reported Thursday.

That yielded a net approval rating — or the difference between the approval and disapproval scores — of -11%, the only area where Marcos received a negative performance rating.

He got positive net scores in other areas, receiving the highest ratings in responding to the needs of areas affected by calamities (+75%) and controlling the spread of COVID-19 (+74).

Interestingly, the president also netted positive performance ratings in creating more jobs (+47%), boosting wages (+46%) and reducing poverty (+13%) despite public dissatisfaction with his management of the inflation problem.

But the rapid price increases remain a sore point for the new administration.

Results of the September survey showed 66% of respondents ranked inflation as the top national concern that Marcos should tackle first, trumping other problems with corruption, law enforcement and pandemic response.

That reading was 9 percentage points higher than 57% who gave the same response back in the June round of the opinion survey. Pulse Asia explained this means public concern on inflation has become “more pronounced”.

‘Growing threat’

Sought for comment, Anthony Lawrence Borja, political science professor at the De La Salle University (DLSU) in Manila, said inflation appears to be “a growing threat” to Marcos’ popularity.

But Borja added: “Inflation’s negative impact on Marcos’ popularity might be reduced by: (1) the capacity of Filipinos to excuse him by blaming other actors from economic managers to foreign governments; (2) high approval in relation to other pertinent economic issues like job creation and increasing salaries; (3) ‘maghigpit ng sinturon’ mentality or an endemic sense of resilience and survival sans the government.”

Government data showed inflation sizzled 6.9% year-on-year in September, the hottest in 4 years. This, as supply chain disruptions believed to be a byproduct of the pandemic are worsened by a crashing peso.

The Marcos Jr. administration’s economic team admitted that the government would likely miss its 2-4% annual inflation target this year. They said it is only in 2024 that inflation is forecast to return to the state’s target. To fight inflation, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has so far raised rates by a total of 225 basis points this year to temper demand and bring it in line with limited supply.

Meanwhile, there were discussions about continuing the cash aid and fuel subsidies implemented by the previous Duterte administration, although fiscal constraints could force Marcos to stop these programs next year.

It remains to be seen whether Marcos would resort to populist cash handouts to save his popularity, which would be a big problem for his economic managers who must strike a balance between meeting the administration's short-term political needs and sustaining growth. For DLSU’s Borja, the chances that such a scenario would happen in the future would “depend on whether approval towards the government addressing other economic issues collapses.”

“Specifically, if hyperinflation becomes a real possibility, and if the mismatch between personal income and the price of basic necessities becomes intolerable… Albeit, before the year ends, he (Marcos) might be compelled to project an idea of security to the general public,” Borja said.

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