Government News Analysis

High marks for lower crime

Yet again, the Filipino people have spoken in support of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on the criminal elements that for so long have regarded the country – particularly its urban sprawls – as a safe stamping ground for their enterprises. And – yet again – emphatically.

According to a just-released survey from independent pollster, Pulse Asia, 84% of Filipinos approve Duterte’s war. That’s a whopping result. In no uncertain terms, the people are telling him to carry on – to continue routing out the extortionists and the rapists; the thugs and the pushers of drugs, and all who prey on the innocent. Duterte promised his people he’d rid the country of this web of criminals; his people believe he’s delivering. That’s what the poll’s findings say.

And, as if to reassure them, commenting on the poll, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said “The survey result shows once and for all that we are on the right track in fighting criminality. We shall not rest until the day would come that our people feel safe and secure in their homes and in the streets”.

High though this rating is, there’s no real shock; it reflects the vast amount of anecdotal evidence from within the Philippines over the past five months. It flies in the face of what’s continually reported in The New York Times, The Economist, the Los Angeles Times and by the rest of the international mainstream media cabal who have given Duterte no credit for the tumbling crime rate in the Philippines; it explodes the myths perpetuated by the human-rights and civil-liberties groups in the US and the EU and other places from where they push their political agendas.

Responses to press articles denigrating Duterte’s effort and painting him as some vulgar dictator with a Dracula-like bloodlust have always told a very different story. Social media – let’s call it the people’s media as it’s not beholden to governments (though they post there as well in their desperate grapple for influence) – has always had Duterte’s back; and particularly on this issue. Pro-Duterte blogs aside, individual Filipinos have flooded anti-Duterte news reports with pages of comments supporting their president in his battle to clean-up the country.

The war on criminality is an over-arching term and most certainly includes the controversial War on Drugs – the stick with which Duterte’s opponents have sought to beat him relentlessly. Simply put, the illegal drugs industry is run by criminals. This industry is not like energy or telecommunications, or more pertinently, manufacturing; there are no legally binding limits concerning areas of operational activities. There are no neatly defined demarcation lines. A drug trader can’t be sued in a court of law by a firm of extortionists because he infringed the terms of reference of his enterprise and took their business.

And so, in reality – in the world apart from the one where the progressive politicians and their editorialising fawns safely live – most crime is conglomerated. Protection (euphemistically known as ‘insurance’), extortion and blackmail are most certainly part and parcel of drug trading. The narco lords need power and influence to expand their empires. Politicians, at both local and national levels, hold that power and influence. So do judges and other servants of the courts.

Filipinos know all this as well as anyone; let’s face it, it’s been a feature of their country for so long that when a provincial governor or a city mayor has been unmasked as part of some drug ring – shown for the crime facilitator that he is – they simply shrug their shoulders. Scandalous though it is, there’s no shock anymore.

Crime, for the general Philippine public, follows the standard Oxford Dictionary definition – “an action or omission which constitutes an offence and is punishable by law”. And so, the respondents to Pulse Asia’s poll were also evaluating Duterte’s War on Drugs. It would have been foremost in their minds. Unlikely they were thinking about shoplifting, of that we’re sure. Rape and violence in many cases can be traced to drug use or the enforcement practices of drug gangs, and as such is part of the criminality in society which Duterte is endeavouring to wipe out.

This survey’s results also closely mirror – 1% difference – those of the Social Weather Station’s 4th Quarter 2016 poll which was released just before Christmas. In that, a resounding 85% of respondents stated they were satisfied with the administration’s performance in its War on Drugs.

Duterte also received high marks from Pulse Asia interviewees for “Responding to the needs of areas affected by calamities”. Here he got an 80% approval rating.

His response to last September’s Typhoon Ferdie, when he visited storm-struck Batanes, the country’s smallest province, is one reason for that rating. Although Batanes didn’t support Duterte in his run for the presidency (it voted Liberal), he wanted to be there and see the damage for himself – some PHP37 million worth to agriculture alone. There was no politics involved; “We are all Filipinos,” he said, promising that funds would be provided for people and businesses caught up in the typhoon. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Office of Civil Defense had swiftly responded to Batanes plight.

But Duterte and the DSWD in particular have earned high praise across the country for their handling of relief efforts during a host of typhoons including super typhoons Lawin and Karen, and then Nina, the devastating weather system that struck the country’s Bicol Region on Christmas Day.

Of course what stood out in many peoples’ minds during Nina was that Duterte had wasted no time in visiting the area of devastation while his vice president, Leni Robredo – a native of Bicol – was sojourning for Christmas in America. And while Duterte pulled out all the stops to ensure the people got the help they needed, Robredo on the US east coast and the Office of the Vice President in Manila were desperately trying to make hay while the flooding struck. And to most people it looked like what it was – politics. Again, not one of the region’s six provinces came out for Duterte in the election – four voted for independent candidate, Grace Poe; just two for Robredo.

For Duterte, attending to natural disasters, like fighting crime, is not an attempt to win points in a popularity contest. He’s not in that business. His popularity is just the result of doing what he said he’d do – however unpopular that is with his opponents. The Pulse Asia poll ratifies that result.

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