There have been several instances when President Duterte arguably went out of tune and delivered unacceptable performances, but why can’t they just hit the gong on Digong? Why do critics fail to make an impact strong enough to affect the President’s popularity? We don’t know. For now, nobody really knows. It’s difficult to explain and specifically attribute the source of Duterte’s ostensible political invincibility. Still, we can cite some possible reasons and perhaps Duterte’s critics can learn from these.
No, this doesn’t aim to help ill-intentioned critics in bringing an administration down. This is more of an attempt to help those with sensible opposing views in efficaciously conveying their message to help the President realize that he should also rethink some of his declarations and actions.
Truth be told, the oft-maligned dilawan taunt from diehard Duterte supporters partly makes sense. It doesn’t have to fully make sense or be fully truthful. It’s enough for it to partly hit home to significantly weaken any criticism against the President. Don’t expect strong words against Duterte to resonate if they come from the likes of Jim Paredes, Leah Navarro, Manolo Quezon III, Edwin Lacierda, and the stalwarts of the Liberal Party. For many, there’s the thought that these yellows just want to be back in power. Maybe the names listed here are not the ones wanting to get back their clout but it’s difficult to refute the idea that those who were once in power want to be back in power.
It does not matter if the so-called yellows are really plotting something to get rid of the current administration and be back in power. For most Filipinos, especially Duterte’s voters and non-voters of Mar Roxas who wanted change, a yellow comeback is perceived to be worse than the current government. It doesn’t matter if most of the politicians Duterte fans refer to as yellows have actually already changed colors and are now behind Duterte. It doesn’t matter if PDP-LABAN, the President’s party, is actually the original yellow party as it was the party created out of the merger between Ninoy Aquino’s Lakas ng Bayan and Aquilino Pimentel, Jr.’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP).
The moment a Duterte critic calls out flaws in Duterte while expressly or implicitly adulating Aquino, the criticism evaporates into irrelevance. It’s the same with criticisms coming from known Aquino supporters. Frankly, Aquino’s supporters would do the country a favor if they keep their silence for a while. It would be better if they emulate ex-President BS Aquino’s 1-year vow of silence. The more they talk, the more they remind people about the reasons why they dislike the previous administration so they forget that they are about to doubt Duterte.
2. The lack of credible and convincing anti-Duterte figures
Staunch Duterte critic Senator de Lima may not really be involved in the Bilibid drug trade but her credibility is arguably already close to being in tatters. Senator Trillanes may have made a solid attack as he forced Duterte to admit his BPI accounts but he still lacks charm and his coup involvement is going to forever be a burden. It didn’t help that he went low with that microphone-offing stunt. Vice-President Leni Robredo, on the other hand, has been very cordial with Duterte that she even disappoints some of her own followers. She also does not have a very convincing win as VP, even assuming that there was no cheating involved. Her trust and satisfaction ratings aren’t as high as Duterte’s, even with the latter proceeding with one blunder after another over the past months.
Recently, ex-President Ramos expressed his disappointments in the Duterte administration but as the past two administrations have shown, he is not really that relevant. This is not to underestimate the former president but simply a thoughtful observation. We’ve even seen several comments attacking him for being hugely responsible for the rise of Duterte.
We doubt ex-President BS Aquino could be that strong anti-Duterte figure. We are convinced he is one of the major reasons why Duterte rose to power. If only he did better, Duterte wouldn’t have had the opportunity to convince voters that he could be the better new leader and the real option for meaningful change. Also, this early, his credibility is already being attacked as there is a plan to reopen the Mamasapano massacre investigations.
3. Inability to match the solid Duterte propaganda machine
Admit it, the Duterte government’s propaganda machine is immense, especially online. Just head to Facebook, Twitter, the comment sections of news sites and blogs, and even YouTube. Most of what you will find are pro-Duterte posts. Yes, even YouTube is dominated by Duterte supporters. Load the YouTube homepage from any computer in the Philippines and you will rarely see it lacking the section that recommends pro-Duterte videos made more conspicuous by their misleading or spinning-laden big texts in the thumbnails. Just recently, there’s this persistent video that bears in its thumbnail the following: “Duterte’s Answers Will Make You Proud to Be Pinoy.” In YouTube, the videos uploaded by the official accounts of established media outlets are easily overwhelmed by those created by pro-Duterte YouTube accounts.
It’s easy to spot these propaganda posts online. They are made by newly created accounts that virtually lack “friends” or followers. They are made by accounts that don’t have real interactions with accounts used by real people. We don’t want to call these posts an act of “trolling” but…. Just learn something from this good read: The 8 Common Troll Strategies.
This is not to say that every pro-Duterte post online is from the government’s official propaganda arm. There is definitely a multitude of those posted by real people. The point here is the Duterte government’s propaganda machine is not just the Malacañang communications group and those allegedly being handsomely paid to promote the positives and deflect the negatives online. Ordinary Filipinos who keenly believe in a good future with Duterte are also part of the solid Duterte propaganda machine. Duterte’s popularity is not only manufactured by online propaganda; there are hordes of real people who zealously support him. We would say it’s similar to what ex-President Aquino allegedly had, but bigger and more eager.
After going over a number of anti-Duterte Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and posts in comments sections, we can somewhat conclude that anti-Duterte forces have yet to organize and are far inferior in numbers and “skills” (especially in being aggressive and well-coordinated). Of note, most avid Duterte supporters don’t hesitate to show their faces while most critics are not as ready to forego the conveniences of anonymity.
4. Lack of adeptness in attacking issues that resonate with the public
It’s not just the size and persistence of the Duterte propaganda that make the president popular. It appears the Duterte camp also understands issues really well. Degrading relations with traditional allies? Extrajudicial killings (EJKs)? DDS? Ridiculous pronouncements that require reinterpretation from the government’s mouthpieces? Most Filipinos are not as concerned with these as they are with the drug and crime problems that they really have first hand experiences with. Duterte’s cursing and inappropriate behavior? The most probable retort: Where did the propriety of former presidents take the country?
Anyway, regarding EJKs, Duterte critics should realize that this is not something most Filipinos can relate with. Even the term is not that relatable. Add to this the fact that the most vocal EJK critic, Senator De Lima, is far from popular, almost not winning a seat in the senate. The Duterte camp even managed to convince many that there was indeed a De Lima sex video, even though it turned out that there was none and the ones being circulated online and peddled in DVD on the streets are fake. Most tend to agree that the innocent lives wasted are just part of the inevitable collateral damage. Proof: the videos of killings wherein bystanders ignore those who get shot and just pass by dead bodies as if it’s commonplace seeing corpses or half-dead bodies lying on the streets. It seems that for many, these people deserve to be killed and the whole grim experience is just part of the cleansing process. Unfortunately, not many realize how an emerging culture of apathy and tolerance for killings (thinking they’re just drug-related) is bound to eventually haunt society.
EJKs, death squads, offensive behavior, badmouthing, flip-flopping, being hypocritical, accusations without evidence, associating with the Marcoses, and being suspiciously friendly with China are no kryptonite to Duterte. For now, the issues that would be more relatable to people are jobs and salaries as well as the dire consequences of forsaking the west to do a pivot towards China. Why aren’t critics calling out the unfairness and highlighting the suspiciousness of promising salary increases only to the PNP and AFP? Why are most of the posts from critics limited to mocking every misstep of Duterte and his followers instead of establishing a strong voice to attack issues that matter? Seriously, this recent attempt to ask Facebook to suspend the Mocha Uson Blog is just cringeworthy.
Continued in Part 2
This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)