MANILA -- Malacañang contested Saturday speculations linking President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the decline of Nacionalista Party (NP) standard bearer Senator Manuel Villar in a new Pulse Asia survey.

Deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said the survey never expressly pointed out Villar’s decline in the presidential race was due to the “Villarroyo” factor.

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“The pollster should have asked the respondent the reason for picking a particular candidate but it did not, so there is no reason to say Villar’s rating declined because of his link to Mrs. Arroyo,” Saludo said in a radio interview.

Besides, he said, it is natural for candidates’ ratings to rise and fall in different surveys.

Saludo also reiterated his call to voters not to put too much weight on surveys, saying they should instead base their choices on track record and performance.

In Pulse Asia’s latest survey, which was conducted from February 21 to 25, Liberal Party bet Senator Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III garnered 36 percent of voter preferences, while Villar got 29 percent voter support.

Former President Joseph Estrada of Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) got 18 percent, followed by Lakas-Kampi-CMD bet Gilberto Teodoro Jr. whose standing improved by two-percentage points from five percent in January to seven percent in February.

Senator Richard Gordon's rating, meanwhile, remains unchanged at one percent, while Senator Consuelo "Jamby" Madrigal's rating dropped by 0.2 percentage points from 0.5 percent in January to 0.3 percent in February.

“Senator Aquino enjoys a significant lead in the National Capital Region (40 percent) and among the upper socioeconomic classes ABC (43 percent) and D (36 percent), but shares the top spot with Senator Villar in Balance Luzon (33 percent Aquino; 31 percent Villar) and Visayas (39 percent Aquino, 38 percent Villar) and among the poorest class E (36 percent Aquino; 33 percent Villar),” Pulse Asia said.

But it added that given the survey’s error margin, nearly as many voters in Mindanao chose Senator Aquino (38 percent) as former President Estrada (31 percent) as their presidential bet.

“Compared to the January 2010 survey, voter support for Senator Aquino is virtually unchanged. On the other hand, voter preference for former President Estrada improves (by six percentage points) while that for Senator Villar declines (by six percentage points),” it said.

The camp of Villar said Friday that it “welcomes” the results despite showing the senator trailing Aquino.

“We welcome the latest Pulse Asia results and we vow to work harder next time. It’s still two months away before elections. Our seven-point deficit is recoverable compared to the 24 percentage points lost by the closest rival,” NP senatorial candidate and spokesman Gilbert Remulla said in a statement.

Meanwhile, televangelist Bro. Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas said his latest rating at two percent is “quite improbable.”

His party said Villanueva’s rating was already at two percent before the official start of the campaign, and the presidential bet gathered crowd support especially during sorties.

“After visiting key cities and provinces, even Hong Kong where Bangon Pilipinas gathered the biggest crowd for a political rally at Chater Road in February, the Party just cannot simply believe that ratings would still remain at two percent,” Bangon Pilipinas said.

The Pulse survey likewise showed Aquino's running mate Senator Manuel Roxas II leading the vice presidential race with 43 percent, which is four-percentage points lower than January's 47 percent; followed by Senator Loren Legarda with 27 percent from 28 percent in January; Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay with 15 percent from 13 percent in January; and former Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Bayani Fernando with four percent from two percent in January.

Lakas-Kampi vice presidential bet Edu Manzano's rating remained unchanged with two percent along with former secretary Perfecto Yasay with one percent.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Charito Planas said despite the low ratings of the administration bets, she would continue to focus on her governance work and leave the campaign to the party and its candidates confident that they would be able to do a good job on their own. (JMR/Sunnex)