Saturday, April 25, 2015

No, Sonny, It’s Not Media’s Fault

In our view, [the President’s lower satisfaction rating] is mostly media-related. We are hoping that through disseminating correct and truthful information, Filipinos can thoroughly understand the position of the government.
— Presidential Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma
Blame media — that was one thing this writer strictly avoided as a Palace official facing negative coverage in the Arroyo administration. Sure, the press banners bad news, since people pay more attention to them than good news they need not worry about.
But criticizing coverage is almost sure to worsen it. Media won’t tone it down and thus appear to give in to pressure. Newsmen may even ratchet up attacks to show their independence, if not their irritation.
It’s very different under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who has openly taken issue with top media people and entities. As guest of honor of broadcaster ABS-CBN in 2012, Aquino criticized top anchor Noli de Castro. Last August, Aquino took another swipe at the former vice-president.
Like his boss, Presidential Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma blamed media for the steep fall in the administration’s net satisfaction ratings as polled by Social Weather Stations in March. In particular, he pointed to coverage of the massacre of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Yet net satisfaction has been falling well before the January 25 killings, from a high of +66 percent in June 2013. It dipped to the previous low point of +29 last June, but recovered a bit in September and December to about +35. But in March, the percentage-point difference between satisfied and dissatisfied plunged to +19.
Now, is that 47-point drop in barely two years — the largest decline in a quarter-century of SWS net satisfaction ratings — just due to nasty media? Come on.
It’s not just Mamasapano
To be sure, Mamasapano was behind the minus-50 dissatisfaction grade for the question on resolving the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre with justice. Many respondents evidently confused the Special Action Force bloodbath three months ago with the nearly six-year-old election-time carnage.
There was a sharp 22-point drop to +15 since September 2011 in the issue of “telling the truth to the people.” Plus: net satisfaction in “restoring peace in Mindanao” since 2012, and “reconciliation with Muslim rebels” since last June eroded by 19 points. “Fighting terrorism” was down by 17 points from September, and “rehabilitating areas damaged by conflict in Mindanao” by 13.
Now, if President Aquino did not authorize a suspended crony police chief to run a dangerous assault into rebel areas in the middle of a controversial peace process with those insurgents, then blamed everyone else but himself for the resulting bloody mess, even getting Cabinet members, legislators, military and police generals to cover up his guilt, media would have no Mamasapano debacle to report and lambast.
Moreover, other issues unrelated to the botched mission also saw declines since last year. Net satisfaction for “helping disaster victims”, “helping the poor”, and “providing jobs” all fell by 10 points since last September. “Eradicating graft and corruption” lost 12, while “promoting the welfare of OFWs” or overseas Filipino workers declined by 8 points. Inflation improved by 10 points, but remains at minus-8 net satisfaction.
In sum, even setting aside Mindanao issues, Filipinos are less satisfied with the government on Aquino’s slogan issues of poverty and graft. This despite the economy’s vaunted growth, the tens of billions of pesos spent on monthly conditional cash transfers (CCT) for the poor, and endless presidential rhetoric on Tuwid na Daan. What gives?
Is CCT getting to the poor?
SWS’s March survey results on hunger, poverty and employment may offer some indications of why citizen satisfaction with Aquino’s slogan concerns of poverty and corruption dropped. Before then, here’s something most media missed which may be one big reason for gripes over destitution and sleaze.
Since 2011, Aquino has turned his predecessor’s CCT program of monthly stipends for poor households (HHs) into the most high-profile pillar of his anti-poverty campaign.
Under his watch, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program has trebled into a P40-billion-a-year initiative assisting a reported 3.8 million families.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development distributes CCT to families listed under the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS) database of 5.25 million poor HHs. DSWD requires that recipients comply with conditions such as keeping children in school and visiting health clinics.
But in recent years, things have happened which may make people, especially the very poor targeted for aid, wonder if the government is backpedaling. The 2013 Commission on Audit report on DSWD said thousands of families outside the poorest areas targeted by CCT, got stipends. To quote the COA report:
“The ranking as to poverty incidence of provinces or municipalities was not totally considered in the selection of beneficiaries to be covered under Sets 1 and 2. Additional provinces under Set 1, with lower poverty incidence, were given preference over those provinces with higher poverty incidence without any document to prove that those selected were more deserving than the others.
“For Set 2, not all municipalities selected were within the established poverty incidence cut-off. Thus, provinces with high concentration of poor households were either not covered or not equitably covered as percentage coverage per province widely varies from 1.02 percent to 124.29 percent.”
If poor communities see aid meant for them going to others, they would think Aquino’s avowed thrusts of alleviating poverty and eradicating corruption are not being served. Especially when anomalies happen in an election year.
DSWD had rejoinders to COA’s criticism, but also took steps to address concerns, according to a top department official. Unfortunately, those remedial measures slashed CCT last year.
In his report on rising poverty in early 2014, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan cited a P6.5-billion fall in CCT disbursements. That’s one-third of the P20 billion budgeted last January-June — just when food prices soared amid the drop in imports due to ports congestion.
Now, is that media’s fault, too?

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