MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino's approval and trust ratings have plunged to their lowest ever as public anger over the killing of 44 policemen in a clash with rebels in January hurt his popularity, a pollster said on Tuesday.
The president's poor ratings could have implications for a 2016 presidential election even though he will not be standing.
A police inquiry found Aquino responsible for a bungled mission against a top Malaysian bomb-maker on a southern island that sparked the Jan. 25 clash and put at risk efforts to forge peace with the country's largest Muslim rebel group.
The president's spokesman 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.
A survey by independent pollster Pulse Asia, taken during the first week of March, showed Aquino's approval ratings dropped from 59 percent to 38 percent. His trust rating fell from 56 percent to 36 percent.
The previous poll was in November 2014. His highest trust ratings was 80 percent in October 2010.
"This was the largest decline in both approval and trust ratings in five years," Professor Ronald Holmes, president of Pulse Asia, told Reuters.
"This was the first time the president has failed to gain a majority rating, below the 50 percent level."
Holmes said the president's ratings were affected by the January clash in which at least 18 rebels were also killed.
Presidential communications head Herminio Coloma acknowledged the drop in Aquino's ratings over the bungled security operation.
"The president has repeatedly said that all successes and all failures of his administration land on his doorstep," Coloma told a news conference.
"We are determined to work even harder to continually earn our people's trust and confidence."
Aquino is not eligible for re-election under a one-term rule but prospects for his party's candidate in a 2016 presidential election are likely to be damaged if his popularity is undermined.
Political analysts say the January clash, known as the Mamasapano incident after the place it happened, has blown up into Aquino's biggest political crisis.
"The president has squandered too much political capital on the Mamasapano incident," Earl Parreno of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms told Reuters,
"These ratings will have serious implications in the 2016 elections. An Aquino endorsement may be a kiss of death."
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robert Birsel