Rodrigo Duterte began 2016 with his presidential candidacy in jeopardy because of a disqualification case before the Commission on Elections. The erstwhile Mayor of Davao City will end the year as President with a trust rating of 81% based on the latest survey of Social Weather Stations.
That, however, does not mean that the past six months has been a walk in the park for Duterte. His government’s implementation of the War on Drugs has been criticized here and abroad because of the rising number of deaths attributed to police operations and vigilantes.
In response to that, the President has launched verbal tirades against United Nations and other foreign governments he perceived as critical of his administration – much to the chagrin of career diplomats. There’s also the flak that his administration received for pushing through with his campaign pledge of giving a hero’s burial to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Lastly, the abrupt resignation of Vice President Leni Robredo from his cabinet generated more bad press for him.
Despite all that, the President remains hugely popular. It appears that the controversies are not making a dent on his appeal to the public. In short, Duterte is now essentially a “Teflon President.” And since his public support remains very strong, he is extremely unlikely to reverse course on his policy decisions so far, specifically the conduct of the War on Drugs and his push for the Philippines to have closer ties to China and Russia.
To give you an idea just how durable Duterte’s public support is, let’s go back to mid-April when the video of him expressing regret for not being first in having sex with a slain Australian missionary (“Mayor dapat ang nauna,” he said) went viral on social media. Many speculated that the scandalous remark might derail his presidential candidacy. Instead, three weeks after, he won by over 16 points.
Why? It’s because his supporters stuck with him. “Based on what I’m seeing so far, the flak over Duterte’s rape joke are coming from people who aren’t supporting him anyway in the first place,” I wrote three days after the news broke.
In order to dislodge the front runner, his opponents needed to change the minds of those who are backing him for them to have a chance. That, they failed to do. That episode is instructive of what is happening now. His critics are merely reinforcing the views of those who are already opposed to him. What they need to do is to get out of their bubble and try to appeal to the people who are supporting him.
Let I be misunderstood, I am not saying here that Filipinos should stop supporting President Duterte. A President, whoever he or she is, deserves the public’s support if he or she is doing the right thing. However, when a President is extremely popular among the public, it can be taken as a carte blanche or a blank cheque for him or her to do anything he or she wishes.