Amid the flurry of allegations of rights violations and iron fist rule, the world is now taking notice of President Rodrigo Duterte’s record-breaking mandate in the country with one Middle Eastern publication enumerating the reason why the Chief Executive is “the world’s most popular leader.”
The article appeared 27 October in daily English broadsheet Gulf News which is published from Dubai and distributed throughout the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other Persian Gulf countries.
The topmost reason Gulf News cited for Mr. Duterte’s ever rising popularity is the faith that Filipinos keep with Mr. Duterte.
“There’s record unemployment in the Philippines. People are facing hunger due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Despite the pandemic woes, or perhaps because of it, Filipinos have kept faith with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, whose popularity has gone through the roof this year. He scored a record 91 percent public approval rating in a survey taken in September (released early in October),” the newspaper indicated.
It added that the President remained popular amid the crisis, noting that Mr. Duterte’s record approval rating is the highest for the Philippine strongman so far, “perhaps the highest for any leader in the world (Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating was 60 percent in July 2020, according to the Levada Center).”
The Pulse Asia poll was the first on Mr. Duterte conducted in the wake of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.
According to Gulf News, “the results stunned his critics and analysts. For his supporters, it was an affirmation that Duterte is the only leader able to steer the country in these difficult times.”
Among the factors cited in the article is Mr. Duterte’s perceived honesty. “We trust the president because he is honest. Remember when he returned a Rolex given by a tycoon? That alone makes him trustworthy,” Gulf News quoted businessman Jose Gaw, who runs a 35-year-old furniture business.
Gaw’s shop was shut for several months and has struggled since reopening. “His sentiment is shared by many in the country of 110 million inhabitants,” according to the report.
Tough means decisive
Mr. Duterte’s reputation of being tough on drugs, smugglers and corruption also contributed to his record-high popularity.
For years, drug dealers and protectors, especially among the police, have ruled the streets of the Philippines. Mr. Duterte’s “war” on drugs, though flawed in many ways, was welcomed by a great majority of Filipinos, who had been exasperated by its destructive effect on youngsters.
The publication noted that when Duterte named and shamed five “narco-generals” — all are senior police officers — the nation was shocked.
“But it was the sort of strongman ways that Filipinos had been waiting for all along. On several occasions, Duterte had personally overseen millions of dollars worth of smuggled luxury cars ‘Ferraris, Lamborghinis’ getting crushed. It was Duterte’s message to smugglers and their cohorts at the Philippines customs bureau.”
Not a dent
“Dire numbers and projections did not make a dent in Duterte’s approval ratings, which by some measures, is currently the highest worldwide,” according to the newspaper.
The adverse numbers that was being referred to include the expected contraction in the economy by 7.3 percent this year, “the second-worst performance in the region behind Thailand and a dramatic fall from the average six percent growth seen over the past decade.”
The result in the September poll even topped the survey taken in December, “when his approval rating already stood high at 87 percent. The September results showed another four percent jump in Duterte’s approval rating.”
The survey results underlined Mr. Duter\te’s unshakable popularity, it noted. The results, according to Gulf News, also reflected the resilience of a generation of leaders seen as populists, such as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who have maintained high levels of public support despite criticisms of their responses to the pandemic.
The UAE-based daily added that Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program also contributed to his popularity since the program was seen as an “antidote to years of neglect of infrastructure.”
Also cited was a separately released survey by Pulse Asia, conducted in mid-September where Mr. Duterte scored an even higher approval rating of 92 percent in terms of his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, while his overall administration garnered an 84 percent approval rating.
“Duterte’s key political allies, namely Senate President Vicente Sotto III (84 percent) received high approval ratings,” the report noted.
The report concluded that Mr. Duterte’s constitutionally-mandated single six-year term ends on 30 June 2022. “The 2022 election will decide his successor. Buoyed by popular support, Mr. Duterte is consolidating his base and cementing his legacy. He has to handpick a successor. Duterte’s daughter Sara, is the most likely candidate,” it explained.
“Currently the Mayor of Davao City, Sara is Duterte’s eldest daughter who, like her father, is also a lawyer,” according to the article.