Duterte after 100 days

President Duterte is not really an eloquent speaker. He likes to speak extemporaneously . His speeches are long, meandering and rambling. He says nearly the same thing over and over again: If you were to watch all his speeches you would see the same topics and issues like: (a) The war against drugs; (b) The fight against corruption and inefficiency in government; (c) The peace process; (d) The reactions and ripostes to criticisms.  Mix into this what has been called his habit and tactic of using vulgar phrases and hyperboles. Then you can easily imagine the chagrin and protests from those watching. Indeed the discussion and exchanges across the FOURTH ESTATE (traditional media) the FIFTH ESTATE/(internet and social media) — the 4th and 5th Estate —  continues to be lively, colorful and in certain instances nasty. Yet despite this war of opinions,  Duterte still enjoys high satisfaction, trust  and approval ratings based on the latest result of a national poll by the SWS. and Pulse Asia

  1. So, Why Is Duterte Still Popular?

FirsT, This could be explained by the Philippines Internet Penetration Rate, which is the percentage of a country’s population that has access to the Internet. Based on most studies around forty-seven to fifty percent (47-50 percentage) of Filipinos can access to the Internet. This is one of the forms of the DIGITAL DIVIDE. This digital divide has an implications in the popularity of Du30 in the surveys because: (a)The image and discussion of Du30 on-line only represents a part and not the whole part of the country and (b) The bridging of this digital inequity is consistently and continuously changing the Philippine cyberverse,  making it more heterogenous, colorful and lively as we see now.

SECOND, Then there is of course the words and actions of the Du30 and his government. This then leads us to next question.

  1. What has Duterte done?

FIRST, the Duterte government has been delivering on a number of its election promises. ONE, There is the executive order giving the citizens’ upon request access to government documents and records — a Freedom of Information decree.  For years the Freedom of Information Act was stalled by Duterte’s predecessors. Duterte’s FOI directive though is still a work in progress, FOI inclusions and manuals for the different department are still being worked on and there are challenges that would make it difficult to gain access to documents requested. Still the FOI directive is there and FOI law is forthcoming from Congress. It is progress. TWO,  another campaign promise that has generated a lot of interest and discussion is the burial of the late President Marcos in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. The case whether Marcos will be buried or not is now awaiting the judgement of the Supreme Court. This particular promise has generated controversy amidst a contesting sea of divided opinion, one must note though that instead of forcing the issue the government has allowed the process to continue and has participated in it.

As for the rest of the President’s campaign promises it would seem that it is being acted upon. Du30 does this through his subsidiaries and this brings us to the the next point.

SECOND, The composition and performance of Duterte’s government. Du30’s cabinet is a mix of trusted individuals plucked from different groups of political persuasions.  They are old hands in government service like Dominguez while number of them come with impeccable credentials like Taguiwalo . Except for a minority, most seem to be doing their jobs well and represent themselves well before the 4th and 5th Estate. An example of is the Department of Agriculture where inroads have been made in making water irrigation free to the farmers. Other departments and agencies need to do more work and improvement for example Department of Transportation under Tugade has already extended the duration of the driver license but has yet to solve and work on critical and visible solutions to the traffic problem. Another department that seems to be lagging behind is the Department of Foreign Affairs, specifically in matters of communications — which is more critical now because the President is crafting a more independent foreign policy and of course challenges — like the South Chine Sea.

Subsidiarity and empowering alter egos works well if the alter-ago is competent and exemplary. However, If the alter ego is incompetent and not exemplary then he or she will be detrimental and disastrous for any president. Fortunately, for this President those lagging behind are in the minority but they do need to catch up.

One campaign promise that  the President seems to be mentioning always is the War on Drugs.

THIRD, Duterte’s War on Drugs and criminality. The President has resulted in an increasing number of fatalities, collectively around 3,000 and it will rise. Criticisms sprang and rose  from the unsolved murders and the collateral mortalities from the drug war. While it is true that this is a troubling growing phenomenon it is also true that it has also resulted in a lower incidence of crime nationwide. This might explain the (a) acceptance, (b) satisfaction and (c) justification of the war by majority of the Filipinos. Still, the Government has to investigate and if warranted prosecute the culprits for all these fatalities. Then and only then will the negative impact of the War on Drugs be addressed.

Another area that has come to focus is the Duterte Government’s foreign policy.

FOURTH, Duterte’s Foreign Policy Du30 has made a seismic shift in the country’s foreign policy. One that is more independent from the United States. Naturally, This has caused alarm among those used to the immediate past arrangement as a constant ally of one of our former colonial masters —the United States.This more independent stance though does not mean a break in ties in fact, Du30 has consistently stated from day one of his presidency that he will respect all treaties and obligations. Rather, Du30’s  foreign policy seeks to develop a relationship of mutual respect.  This more sovereign path though dictates that the country must be economically, digitally and militarily strong. Such a step is nothing new several US allies have pursued different paths from time to time: Israel and the United Kingdom pursue their own paths and yet remain steadfast partners of the US. Recently,  Pakistan held military exercises with the Russians. Du30’s foreign policy is an re-calibration of existing relationships not a break that will force the Philippines to be independently strong.

After his policies the next three things to look would be: (a) The people’s perception of Du30’s actions; (b) Du30 and his critics; (c) And Du30’s vulgarity.

FIFTH, The actions taken by President Du30 as seen and perceived by the people. The President is one of those presidents that has the common touch and is seen as empathetic to the plight of the people. They saw him consoling with the victims of the Davao blast.  They also saw him visit the wake of nearly all slain policemen and military. The people witnessed him speak about  their pain, problems and suffering, He tells them of his plans and appraises them of the progress so far of his plans. He is always finding means to be in touch with the people. In one of his recent speeches he talked about opening up a show on the government station that will allow people to send in their complaints. This consistent and constant concern for the people mix this with the no-nonsense demeanor of Du30 and the Davao City story,  It is not hard to imagine why this President has a strong following across the different classes of Philippine Society.

SIXTH, the President and the handling of criticisms and demands. Criticisms from the 4th and 5th Estate (and for that matter any commentary) are important for our society. As the Greek Philosophers Socrates and Plato believed critics are like gadflies buzzing around the great beast we call our government in order to make it move or stop for the good of the country. In most cases Du30 and his government react well to criticisms. There are instances though when Du30 responds with a riposte or a counter to a criticism. These usually are given to criticisms that were done in public and did not follow the diplomatic channels between states and international organizations — examples include public pronouncements of officials of the US, EU and the UN. These also include statements from officials of other branches of government, constitutional bodies and religious groups, a minority identified with the past administration .The ripostes can get as colorful and harsh as it gets and from time to time there are collateral damages — the Jewish community and individuals named in the drug list, with such mistakes Du30 does step back and apologises.

Of course Du30 did allude to the profit fixation of media companies and corruption of certain members of the media, which may have piqued some and compromised their impartiality or even make them hostile towards the President but unlike Marcos not one has been jailed and unlike Corazon Aquino or Mike Arroyo not one has been sued.

It has been pointed out that critics of this government have been “attacked” on-line by the President’s supporters and the President has called on his supporters from being to harsh against perceived critics. However, Criticisms of critics and their criticisms is expected and something that happens naturally off-line and on-line. The only time it becomes criminal is when threats and libel have been made, otherwise any article, report, post or comment is subject to scrutiny and can be commented upon.

Lastly there is the President’s way of talking.

SEVENTH, The President and his words. Indeed Du30 is vulgar. His use of putang ina, bobo and other colorful phrases has been decried as unbecoming of his office and unacceptable. Indeed it can be called vulgar — a source of embarrassment for a number of people. However, One must remember that Language is a weapon and a weapon that world leaders have used through the years vulgar or not. The language of diplomacy and politics is not only niceties and polite actions. Within our own personal experience we know this is true and we ourselves can be as vulgar and colorful as Du30 when the need arises. Indeed, the Philippines has a vulgar president; But note that the word vulgar referred originally to the vulgar tongue or the common tongue or the tongue of the people.

At this point and for all those reasons, It would seem that majority of the Filipinos would prefer a boorish, vulgar ,common  but competent president. In short President Duterte is the People’s President.

This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)