It is no longer surprising when President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr and his vice president, Sara Duterte-Carpio scored identical 86 percent trust ratings in the latest opinion polls done by OCTA researchers.

They were, after all, elected overwhelmingly in the May national elections with the votes of more than 31 million Filipinos, nearly 60 percent of the ballots cast in the elections.

It was unprecedented. No president and vice president have been elected since the 1986 EDSA uprising with a clear majority. Even Rodrigo Duterte, who got very high marks in opinion polls, was only elected by 16 million voters, or nearly 40 percent of the votes cast in May 2016. Duterte’s almost 90 percent approval and trust ratings are still the record to beat.

Sara even had a better performance rating at 80 percent against Marcos’ 78 percent in the OCTA’s “Tugon ng Masa” on Nov. 30. But the country’s top two leaders had excellent trust and performance ratings compared with other government officials, like the Senate president, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and the chief justice.

Marcos Jr and Duterte-Carpio have remained immensely popular despite the country’s poor economic conditions as inflation hit 8 percent in November, a 14-year high, as well as food shortages, including rice, vegetables, and sugar.

Instead of holding the president accountable for the dismal performance of the agriculture sector, Filipinos chose to ignore this as the government began selling rice at P25 per kilo in selected state-owned “Kadiwa” outlets – a clear propaganda.

Selling cheap rice is unsustainable when the country imports 2 million metric tons every year because of insufficiency.

Rice prices will stabilize and may even go down if there is only surplus production and the government provides subsidy to farmers, including farm-to-market roads and post-harvest facilities and efficient transportation.

Marcos Jr must give up the agriculture portfolio and appoint a dedicated and committed farm secretary to improve food production and address the chronic supply problem due to the country’s bigger population, limited farmlands, and perennial weather disturbances.

Marcos can also heave a sigh of relief when the peso inched higher against the dollar in the last couple of weeks from nearly P60 to a dollar. It is now hovering at P55 to P56, while crude prices continued to fluctuate between P60 to P70 per liter.

As the country welcomes the new year, the continued conflict in Eastern Europe would continue to affect the global supply chain as well as food and energy prices.

The biggest threat to the Philippines is the looming power rate increase and power outages after San Miguel Corp. stopped selling its electricity to the Manila Electric Co., cutting by 20 percent power supply to the distributor’s seven million consumers in Metro Manila and adjacent regions.

But poor Filipinos do not care about inflation, the foreign currency exchange rate, and power rates. They continue to praise the president and the vice president in their social media posts.

While it is true some Filipinos are now beginning to blame Marcos for high food prices, like those of onions, rice, sugar and the traditional “noche buena” items this month, many chose to be blind and deaf because of propaganda on social media.

Perhaps, another factor that made the president and the vice president popular despite the economic problems is the continued “ayuda” or dole-outs to the poor.

This is the same formula that kept Duterte afloat at the height of the pandemic. Duterte ruined the country’s economy due to his stringent pandemic response but Filipinos still praised him because the government distributed “ayuda” to those affected by job cuts and business closures.

Duterte’s government also heavily borrowed from multilateral financial institutions, like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the ADB and WB loans went to dole-outs but funds were also lost to corruption. Forget that a large chunk of the pandemic response funds went to some Davao-based Chinese businessmen who sold overpriced face shields and personal protective equipment (PPEs).

As long as the poor continue to get “ayuda,” they will always be satisfied, giving the country’s leaders high marks in approval and trust ratings.

Now, the bulk of survey respondents, whether the opinion poll is done by the Social Weather Stations, Pulse Asia, or OCTA, come from the classes C, D, and E. People from classes A and B who do not get “ayuda” are less represented in the surveys.

Thus, surveys done by these pollsters would show almost the same results because the majority of the respondents come from the same classes – classes D and E.

And these are the people who regularly get “ayuda” from the government. The people who bear the burden of paying more taxes and spend a lot on consumer goods are less represented in the surveys.

No wonder, the president and the vice president get high marks from respondents who are mostly in the classes C, D, and E who benefit from government dole-outs.

In the same OCTA survey, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) scored the third highest among line agencies behind the Department of Education and the Department of Health because of the “ayuda” the people get during natural calamities. The DSWD got 76 percent behind DepEd’s 87 percent and DoH’s 79 percent.

The government has learned a lot from Duterte. Ayuda is the key to get excellent approval and trust ratings from the majority of respondents who belong to the lower income economic classes.