He may not win the Diplomat of the Year Award, or grace the cover of TIME magazine as Man of the Year; he might not even be Mr Popular with the US, the EU, the UN, the NGOs or anywhere else in the alphabet soup of the global establishment, but in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is very much the man for his people.
A survey carried out by Social Weather Stations (SWS) – the country’s leading public-opinion polling organisation – showed that 76% of those interviewed were satisfied with the president’s performance to date; just 11% were dissatisfied and 13% have yet to make up their minds. SWS polled 1,200 people nationwide, 24-27 September, to discover that Duterte has the highest approval rating of any president, with the exception of his close friend and confidant, Fidel Ramos, Duterte’s envoy to China who is spearheading efforts to procure a solution to the territorial dispute surrounding a ring of rocky outcrops in the South China Sea.
Duterte and his team will take solace from the SWS findings – particularly in the face of the seemingly endless onslaught of international criticism over Duterte’s war on drugs. “The president seems to be off on a very good start,” said Presidential Spokesperson, Ernesto Abella. “The people trust what he is doing.”
Although the question to those surveyed was bland – basically were they satisfied or not satisfied with the president’s performance during his first three months in office – respondents would inevitably have taken into account the main thrust of Duterte’s administration to date; the bloody drugs crackdown. The conclusion from this then is that the president has the backing of the vast majority of the electorate in seeing that war through to the end.
And that should tell the international community just how important defeating illegal drugs traders is to the general Filipino population. It shows clearly that when they delivered Duterte with a landslide victory in the May presidential elections – throughout his campaign he vowed to defeat the drugs menace and break the back of criminality in the country – they were not responding on some momentary whim; they weren’t simply mesmerised by his fiery rhetoric. They wanted him to fulfill that promise then and they still want that – and by whatever means he sees fit. Duterte has said that his crime war will be pursued for at least 12 months.
This dynamic makes it difficult for the US and its allies in the anti-Duterte alliance to satisfactorily build a movement against the president within the Philippines, which is the usual method for toppling what they regard as a despot. But the peoples’ movement here is solidly behind Duterte. The chances of a Philippine Spring are slim to zero. Geopolitics with sinister undertones
In these circumstances there would be a great deal of risk if it was ever shown that the US had a hand in trying to remove the most popular Philippine president in history. If that happened, resentment towards the US would stiffen even more and any chance of getting the “special relationship” back on track would have been completely blown – probably for all time. It would look as if the country’s former overlord was wanting to turn the clock back to the colonial past.
From the other side of the coin, what the SWS survey has done is to reinforce for the administration that the course it has chosen is the right one; that the scale of bloodshed is acceptable, and that the people will settle for nothing less than a complete abolition of illegal drugs in their country and the eradication of criminal elements in their society.