1 year after: The Duterte phenomenon continues

BABE’S EYE VIEW By Babe Romualdez

It’s unbelievable that time has quickly gone by. After one year in office, President Duterte continues to enjoy the highest trust and confidence rating ever given by Filipinos to a president. Despite his colorful, off-the-cuff remarks which often drive criticism from his detractors here and abroad, no one can argue that his popularity continues to be high.

When the president briefly disappeared from public view, it triggered speculations about his state of health and spawned rumors that he was either comatose or dying. Informal surveys nonetheless showed that Duterte’s popularity spiked even more with so many expressing concern about the president – although the nature of such “concern” from certain opposing groups certainly had less to do with the desire for his well-being and more like “wishful thinking.”

A Financial Times article the other day sums it up very well with its headline that said, “Scandals fail to hurt Duterte ‘the Punisher’ after year in office.” The European news outlet noted that Duterte’s popularity “appears resistant to the tumult that has defined his tenure since his June 30 inauguration. Indeed, the claims and chaos have often played to the tough guy image of the man known as the ‘Trump of Asia.’ The resilient fortunes of the surprise winner of the race for Manila’s Malacañang presidential palace might be the envy of the US White House. Mr Duterte’s success in neutralizing criticism shows the power of framing problems simplistically and cleaving to the logic that ends justify means.”

All the efforts of the “yellow group” especially those based in the US to make a dent on the popularity of Duterte seem to be fruitless. As BBC’s HARDtalk TV host Stephen Sackur described it during a 24-minute interview with Senator Sonny Trillanes that has since gone viral on social media, the opponents of the man chosen by Filipino voters to “clean up” the country seem to be “bashing their head against a brick wall.”

The TV host also cited the high approval/satisfaction rating of the president and the appreciation of ordinary Filipinos who feel that Duterte’s “iron fist” approach to solving criminality and ridding the country of illegal drugs has made the streets safer today. The BBC host also laughed off Trillanes’ argument that Duterte’s numbers have since gone down to 75 percent, saying that getting such a high approval rating would be enough to make Western politicians regard it as “the happiest day of their life.”

The irony of it all is that Rody Duterte seems unimpressed by the trappings of power as evidenced by such vignettes recounted to me by Executive Secretary Bingbong Medialdea. Every so often, the BSP needs to change the old money in circulation so they needed to get the specimen signature of the president for the new peso bills which had to be to issued in December last year. President Rody found it “corny,” but Secretary Medialdea told the President that if he didn’t sign, there would  be no money in circulation for government projects (or something to that effect). The president finally relented.

It is this sense of authenticity that has endeared the president to the people. His common touch and the aura of sincerity he emanates whenever he talks and jokes with soldiers, condoles with the bereaved family of slain troops or brings wounded soldiers with him on the presidential plane to airlift them resonates strongly with a huge number of ordinary Filipinos. They chose him to be their leader despite frenzied efforts by opponents to bombard him with negative issues during the presidential campaign. Duterte once said, “They laugh at me because I'm different; I laugh at them because they’re all the same.”

A reliable source told us that a high Comelec official went to see President Duterte to apologize and ask for “forgiveness” because some five million votes cast for Duterte were not counted in the May 2016 polls – which means that the 16 million-plus votes credited to Duterte should have been over 21 million.

Many detractors have characterized him as someone who keeps crying wolf about the problem of drugs and terrorism in the country, even calling his declaration of martial law in Mindanao as an “over reaction.” But recent developments prove the connection between drugs and terrorism – a fact confirmed by foreign intelligence agents working with the Philippine government to combat transnational crimes.

During clearing operations in Marawi City a few days ago, police authorities  seized 2 kilos of shabu worth P10 million from the house of Omar Ali, an ex-mayor of Marawi who was in the president’s list of suspected narco-politicians.

Even the international community has realized the seriousness behind President Duterte’s warnings about the presence of ISIS terrorists in Mindanao. Indonesia and Malaysia have partnered with the Philippines to form a trilateral group for enhanced counter-terrorism efforts and implement strategies to prevent ISIS militants from gaining foothold in the region. Australia will also send high-tech AP-3C Orion aircraft to provide surveillance support in the fight against terrorism – something that our closest ally the United States has been consistently providing despite a few bumps in our relations.

All these developments simply underscore the credibility of the president’s claims regarding drugs and the terrorist menace – and why he continues to be popular among majority of Filipinos.

Some however are still dumbfounded about why Duterte continues to be popular especially those from the upper crust of society or the so-called “branded name peninsulares.” One of them aptly described the President’s popularity in Spanish: “Este hombre es fenomenal, como nunca (This man is phenomenal, like never before).

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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