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Why Philippines President, Criticized Abroad, Has Record High Approval

FILE - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his 4th State of the Nation Address at the 18th Congress at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, metropolitan Manila, Philippines, July 22, 2019.
FILE - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his 4th State of the Nation Address at the 18th Congress at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, metropolitan Manila, Philippines, July 22, 2019.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's approval rating hit a new high because of his anti-crime work and populist appeal across class lines, a survey shows.
While many nations and groups around the world criticize him, Duterte earned a net satisfaction rating of 68 in the second quarter of 2019, according to a July 8 public opinion survey by Manila area research institution Social Weather Stations. The rating marked a new “personal record high,” the president said on his office website. He had scored 66 in March as well as in June 2017.

The president fared well in the heavily watched survey of 1,200 adults because his anti-crime campaign has made people feel safer in urban neighborhoods, common Filipinos and scholars in the country say. Duterte, elected in 2016, got there in part by letting police shoot drug crime suspects on the spot, outraged overseas rights groups believe.

Duterte also makes sense to common people because of speech and demeanor that cast him as a political outsider, analysts say. Fast economic growth has given him a boost, they observe.

“The way he presents himself is that he speaks street language,” said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman. “He looks like a person who does things immediately, even of course at the expense of rule of law.”

Anti-crime wave

Duterte vowed after taking office to eradicate major crimes within three to six months. The 74-year-old leader has acknowledged personally killing criminal suspects while mayor of the second-largest Philippine city, Davao.

On the presidential office website, Duterte once swore he would “eradicate everyone involved in the illegal drug trade."

Crime decreased to 115,539 incidents logged in the first quarter this year, down 3.3% from the same period of 2018, domestic media outlet BusinessWorld says, citing police figures.

Populist aura

The Middle class resents the failed promises of previous presidents, adding to their satisfaction with Duterte, Atienza said. Past administrations were lighter on crime, including corruption.

The middle class is solid, thanks to economic growth of more than 6% every year since the president took office.

“Duterte has created an aura for himself. It’s probably quite difficult to knock down,” said Eduardo Araral, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school. “He is seen as an ordinary guy, (an) outsider.”
Criticism from domestic political opponents tends to raise his popular appeal, casting him as an “underdog,” Araral said.

Condemnations offshore

New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch has estimated there have been more than 12,000 extrajudicial killings under Duterte, nearly double an official figure of 6,600. Teenagers are among the dead. “The Philippine government’s brutal ‘war on drugs’ has devastated the lives of countless children,” the group said in a June 27 report.

Western governments as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have questioned the extrajudicial killings since 2016, sparking sharp rebuttals from Duterte.

He called former U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, a “son of a whore” in 2016 over Obama’s comments about the Philippine anti-drug campaign. Duterte later apologized for the remark.

A lot of people in the Philippines want the U.N. Human Rights Commission to investigate the extrajudicial killings even if Duterte himself gets high satisfaction ratings, said Renato Reyes, secretary general of the Manila-based Bagong Alyansang Makabaya alliance of leftist causes.

“We would rather look at how people stand or at how people rate the policies of the government rather than look at the overall quote, unquote, 'satisfaction and approval ratings,'” Reyes said.

Three-year honeymoons

Three previous Philippine presidents also posted high net satisfaction ratings in the first half of their terms. They were Fidel Ramos, Corazon Aquino and later, her son Benigno Aquino. Ratings for all three fell in the second half of their terms, Social Weather Stations data show.

Duterte acknowledged the second-quarter approval figure without suggesting a reason. He must step down in 2022 due to the country’s limit of one term per president.

“As always… if you are satisfied with my work, then I’m happy. If you are not satisfied, then I’ll work more,” Duterte said July 9 in a statement on the presidential website.