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President Duterte has the trust of 91% of the nation, according to the latest Pulse Asia poll. No other President has had an even remotely comparable rating.
As incredible as that is, it is not explained. Pollsters don’t feel any need to explain. True, theirs is an undertaking designed to be objective to the point of chore-like — they only ask and count — and there, supposedly, lies their credibility precisely. But that’s no blanket excuse. Anyone serving up so incredible a trust rating for a President who has so obviously messed up had better explain themselves.
Actually, this is the second time Duterte has rated that high, exactly that high. The first was in July 2016, in a poll taken, also by Pulse Asia, in the first week of his six-year term, when he had done nothing yet, let alone done anything that might serve as a basis for whether he deserved any measure of the people’s trust at all. Without a baseline, a survey might seem pointless, but this one has proved useful, to me at least, in reinforcing my own suspicions about certain defining aspects of the national character.
In any case, it has become customary to take a trust poll for a President as he begins his term, and invariably it turns out a high mark. Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, got the next highest (85%), and arguably may have risen to it. It’s easy to put down such leaps of trust to the universal tendency of everyone loving a winner. But, in our case, there’s nothing playful about it; it is seriously, even desperately, wishful. It speaks to a culture in which everyone is looking for a patron, although again there surely are other factors in play here. And, if Duterte deserved any of the trust that he polled even before he could begin to perform as President, I can think of only one sensible, fact-informed explanation: he was picking up where a well-performing predecessor left off.
Aquino posted a strong and steady economic growth, more than 6%, and a decline in poverty of more than 4%, to 21%. He inspired a sense of security against crime unfelt, as the polls showed, under previous presidencies. He had projects completed or already going or planned or contracted out or otherwise all set to be started. And he left more than a trillion pesos in the treasury to give his successor a strong head start, which should have made it difficult for Duterte to do badly, even if he just carried on.
Alas, he is not the type. The certified narcissist in him pushes him irresistibly toward making a big mark for himself, and the habits he formed as a dictatorial provincial-city mayor for more than 20 years before becoming President only compound his dangerous compulsions.
Duterte disparages Aquino and his family and mocks their partisans, and idolizes Ferdinand Marcos, under whose martial law regime the Aquino patriarch, Ninoy, was murdered. He said that his predecessor, Ninoy’s son, had ignored the one problem driving the nation to ruin and, by doing so, allowed it to grow into such critical proportions that an authoritarian hand like Marcos’s became needed to defeat it. He meant drugs, and made them the target of an obsessive war that has cost the lives of tens of thousands, mostly users, peddlers, and other small fry, and opened opportunities for corruption among customs sentries and policemen.
His count of those involved with drugs in the country was, at 4 million, more than double Aquino’s 1.8 million, itself cross-validated with numbers from international drug watchers. For his war, pursued on his oft-repeated cry of “Kill, kill, kill!,” Duterte has been taken to the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.
Duterte did not stop at treason in trying to discredit Aquino. About as soon as the Philippines, on the representation of the Aquino government, was granted, in an arbitral ruling, its claim on the territorial waters west of it, Duterte ceded them to the defeated rival claimant — China.
The repercussions have been untold and continue to ripple. China has entrenched itself militarily in those strategic and marine- and mineral-rich waters, plundering them for itself and chasing away everyone else, including Filipino fishermen who have lived off those waters all their lives. The intrusion has since pushed inland. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese from the mainland — possibly many more, the official corrupt tendency being to understate their number — have come on instant visas to set up or run or work in enterprises exclusive to them and not excluding criminal ones.
The Chinese influx has expanded opportunities for bribery for immigration, as the war on drugs has done so for the police and for customs. Meanwhile, the usual sources of corruption have continued to lend themselves to the usual price padding, ghost payments, unnecessary expenditures, and cronyism.
The still raging coronavirus pandemic has presented itself as especially exploitable. Congress has passed extra budgets to cover the cost of the emergency — fighting the scourge, caring for the afflicted, aiding the families of those furloughed or entirely deprived of their livelihoods — but complaints abound of hijacked or otherwise unreceived aid. Possibly the biggest money scandal occasioned by the pandemic is that involving the state insurer PhilHealth: nonexistent, fraudulent, and other irregular payouts over the years, although most significant in these pandemic times, have been driving it to bankruptcy.
Is anyone surprised that the Philippines rates the worst at managing the pandemic and, because of that, stands to suffer the worst economic setback among Southeast Asian nations? It’s no help either that Task Force Coronavirus is dominated by former military and police generals untrained in public administration, never mind public health and other suitable specialist disciplines.
The primacy of the security establishment is in fact the single fearsome hallmark of the Duterte regime, more fearsome than his cooptation of Congress and the courts. Soldiers and policemen now collect salaries doubled by Duterte and moreover are expressly assured of his protection, including presidential pardon.
Indeed, Duterte no longer has to declare martial law, as did Marcos; he has made himself a de facto dictator. Under his regime, critics are imprisoned summarily or taken to court on implausible charges or have their organizations closed down. A newly passed Anti-Terrorism Law is being questioned widely in the Supreme Court for its great potential for witch hunts and other indiscriminate applications.
If, in the face of all that, Pulse Asia still insists on standing by its 91% trust rating for Duterte, it is being too cavalier and mechanical for any noble service or purpose. How can it close its eyes to the all too palpable fear, hunger, and joblessness that combine for a general feeling of desperation among the people to be rescued?
Desperation does not breed trust, only the thinnest hope. – Rappler.com