This week an inconvenient truth emerged – inconvenient at least for those who continue to gun for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, his administration and the policies which they are energetically pursuing. It came in the form of a survey conducted by non-partisan social-research provider, Social Weather Stations. What it showed was that the country’s now 143-day-old government has been given high approval ratings in two areas which its critics, domestic and foreign, will have a problem reconciling – the anti-narcotics war, “excellent”, and the promotion of human rights, “very good”.
‘How can that be?’ they’ll ask. Rivers of blood in the streets; prisons resembling the Black Hole of Calcutta, a fear virus run rampant in the population like the Spanish Flu? ‘How can that be promoting human rights?’ And in a ‘very good’ way? And this war on drugs – a blanket licence to kill; the body count rising like yeast. The conduct of all that is “excellent”?
So let us help them out. It’s about perception. Those surveyed have approached their assessments in a very different way to the critics whose political leanings negate all objectivity. Of course, the spectacle of lifeless bodies lying in the streets, or the human crush in the jails is no more pleasing to them than to Duterte’s opponents. But what they were being asked to evaluate was their satisfaction levels on the government’s policies in these areas. In other words, after taking account of the dark side of the war on drugs, they concluded that the country’s drug problem is being properly addressed and that society is starting to benefit as a result.
The survey approached respondents in each of the three island regions of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. We can guarantee that there are drug-plagued barangays in all these areas which, if surveys had been conducted there, would have registered scores in the high 90s.
The fact though – and this is what those respondents took into account – is that Duterte’s campaign has caused the street price of methamphetamines to sky rocket. Drugs have become scarce as a result of the arrests and shootings and the dismantling and destruction of drug mills around the country. The mass surrenders from within the drug culture has decimated the narcotics industry’s sales force, hitting distribution hard. These are all good effects and society is gaining from them; as are the human rights of the victims of drugs.
Furthermore, the prickly subject of the human rights of those who were part of the drug culture and have lost their lives in this war, far from making it more difficult to gauge the campaign’s success, made it easier – even accepting that innocents were also among the fallen. The general population has little sympathy for those who prey on the young and the addicted. Frankly, to most, the human rights of drug bosses and their pushers are of little concern.
The question many ask is this. How could those who are so vocally opposed to this campaign have stayed so silent while this chemical poison erased and damaged multiples of the lives that have been lost in trying to halt the free flow of narcotics? And right there is another reason for supporting Duterte’s campaign – the decades of neglect that allowed a drug culture to grow and flourish like fungus in a damp, dark cave.
The survey also tested responses to a number of other areas which questioned the government’s effectiveness. Here’s the Duterte administration’s Governance Report Card. Campaigning against illegal drugs: score, 78; rating, ”excellent”. Promoting human rights: +63; “very good”. Promoting the welfare of overseas Filipino workers: +62; “very good”. Fighting crime: +58; “very good”. Eradicating graft and corruption: +57; “moderate”. Fighting terrorism: +55; “very good”. Defending the country’s territorial rights: +53; “very good” +53. Distributing lands to deserving tillers under land reform: +53; “good”. Reconciliation with Muslim rebels: +42; “good”. Reconciliation with communist rebels: +39; “good”. Ensuring that no family will ever be hungry: +37; “good”. Fighting inflation: +33; “good”.
Of these results, Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin M. Andanar said they show that “our people are seeing the efforts of the President and his Cabinet to help achieve the vision for the country. For the past three months, the Duterte administration has been finding ways to make both ends meet: alleviating poverty while encouraging business, eradicating illegal drugs and criminality while pursuing peace and order,” he added.
These are big and difficult issues and there will never be an absolute view. But Duterte isn’t looking for that. To him this isn’t a popularity contest; it’s actually one of the main reasons why the people made him their president. They know he can deliver and they will continue to stand by him, and – to the consternation of those who repeatedly denounce him – his poll ratings will continue to be high.