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Are Filipinos dumb for supporting Duterte?

July 11, 2019


THE anti-Duterte crowd are again scratching their heads, tearing their hair out, and throwing up their hands. Or just getting more smug about being the only sane ones among 105 million Filipinos.

President Rodrigo Duterte satisfaction ratings again hit highs in the June 2019 survey of Social Weather Stations. Extrapolated from 1,200 SWS adult respondents, four-fifths of Filipinos expressed satisfaction with his governance, with 9 percent dissatisfied and 12 percent undecided. Since December, satisfaction gained or held ground in all regions, except Metro Manila; in urban and rural areas, and among all income groups.

Deducting the dissatisfied percentage from the satisfied, Duterte gets a net satisfaction rating of +68, just two points shy of the “excellent” SWS grade of +70 or more, and the highest he has achieved. Only Corazon Aquino at the peak of post-EDSA popularity (+72 in 1986, +69 in 1987) and Fidel Ramos (+69 in 1993) got higher marks.

Notably, too, Duterte’s ratings trajectory in his first three years roughly tracked that of his predecessor’s, Benigno Aquino 3rd. Both leaders saw net satisfaction start in the +60s, dip below +50 twice or thrice, then rebound above +60 as their third year in office ended. But Duterte soared, even with influential pro-Aquino media against him.

The poor, the hoods and the rebels

Those still wondering why the Chief Executive still enjoys popularity despite unsavory manners, continued drug-war killings, and tiffs with Catholic bishops, should check other data.

In Pulse Asia’s poll of top national concerns, economic matters constantly rate the highest: controlling inflation, increasing wages, decreasing poverty and creating jobs. Fighting corruption and crime are next, followed by promoting peace in the country.

And at the bottom, with just 3 and 6 percent of respondents citing them are two issues riling mainly Duterte critics: protecting territory from foreigners and Charter change.

Self-rated poverty fell to its lowest since SWS started measuring it in 1983, sinking to 38 percent of all families in March. This despite recent inflation, which usually pulls households below the poverty line. Self-rated food poverty, the percentage of families who do not earn enough for food needs, also dropped to its lowest, at 27 percent.

Hunger also declined. Families which suffered involuntary hunger in the first quarter of 2019 fell to 9.5 percent. It has now fallen to single digits four times since mid-2004, when a new SWS survey process pushed incidence to above 10 percent after staying below for most of the past decade. All four instances of single-digit hunger happened under Duterte. And things should further improve with food prices moderating.

What about jobs? After hovering between 20 and 30 percent for most of the past 15 years, self-rated unemployment has dropped below 20 percent thrice under Duterte. It was 15.7 percent in December 2017, its lowest since the mid-2004 change in SWS data gathering lifted it well above previous levels.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) also reports a leveling-down of overall joblessness, which combines unemployment and underemployment. It is markedly down to about 20 percent of the labor force. And half of SWS respondents in December and March expect more jobs to be available this year, pushing net optimists to nearly +40 — double the usual level in the past administration.

Fighting crime, of course, is Duterte’s top priority and strongest suit. As the PSA reported, crime tripled under Aquino, from 324,083 incidents in 2010 to more than a million a year in 2013 and 2014. (Discount 2011-12 data, for which police chiefs were investigated and sanctioned due to dubious reporting.) Recent data revision put 2014 crimes at 714,632, still more than double the 2010 incidence.

Since Duterte took over, however, major offenses have fallen about a quarter, according to the Philippine National Police. A global Gallup poll found Filipinos feeling safer on the streets. And in SWS crime surveys, after hitting 8 to 10 percent of families in most of Aquino’s years in power, the percentage of households reporting crime fell to about 6 percent in the past two years.

While narcotics trafficking remains a major problem, 1.3 million users and pushers surrendered, and drug arrests and seizures have tripled. That squeezed the past flood amid the tripling of smuggling under Aquino, from $7.9 billion in 2009 to $26.6 billion in 2014, based on International Monetary Fund data.

Turning to the other peace and order factor, Duterte has shown strong resolve in addressing insurgency and terrorism. The establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has forged peace with the largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). That has allowed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), along with the PNP, to turn its full force against communist and terrorist groups.

Further showing his resolve, Duterte declared martial law and waged all-out war in Marawi, despite warnings about igniting more conflict. His determination to fight threats to the nation even at huge cost, probably led the MILF to continue peace efforts and even join the AFP in offensives against terrorist groups.

Plainly, President Duterte has made Filipinos feel safer than before.

What about cussing and killing?

With all those solid facts and figures underpinning the public support for President Duterte, why do certain groups, mostly educated and affluent, insist that Filipinos are wrongheaded or hoodwinked in backing the President?

For sure, many Duterte opponents are simply in the opposition, and will not be swayed by hard data, or won’t admit it. Others abhor his cussing, his sex-laced comments and actions, and his verbal assault on Catholic clergy and beliefs. Still others find the many thousands of drug-related killings and the friendly relations with China utterly heinous.

These sentiments are understandable, but they are no reason to conclude that the great majority of Filipinos have no sound cause to back the President. One wonders whether those dismissing pro-Duterte public opinion, are privileged citizens living in gated luxury. They are spared the burdens and threats that other Filipinos bear and fear, and for which the people back Duterte in fighting such ills.

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