Philippines: With 91% Support Is the Controversial Rodrigo Duterte the Most Popular President in the World?

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These are data from the pollster Pulse Africa. But the question is how reliable those figures are.

In the midst of a serious health and economic crisis, the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, achieved 91% acceptance, a new record in his more than four years in office that makes him the most popular world leader. But are the surveys reliable?

Pulse Asia published earlier this month the first survey on the president’s management since the covid-19 pandemic was declared in March, with a “surprising” and “incredible” result, as confessed in a recent forum with the foreign press in Manila the president of that pollster, Ronald Holmes.

The Philippines is among the twenty countries most affected by covid-19, with more than 360,000 infections, and it entered a recession for the first time in three decades after suffering one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world, slowing down economic activity and leaving millions of Filipinos unemployed.

However, the same Pulse Asia survey shows that 92% of Filipinos believe that Duterte’s pandemic management has been correct, something that analysts blame on the “baseline bias”: at a time of global economic debacle, with more than a million deaths from the pandemic, the Filipinos have accommodated their expectations. The thought “could be better” is replaced by “could be worse.”

“In other circumstances the economic data would have weighed more on Duterte’s score, but now there is overwhelming concern for one’s life in the midst of a pandemic. People think I don’t have a job, I depend on government help, but my survival is more important, “explained Bob Herrera-Lim, an expert on Southeast Asia at the consulting firm Teneo.

Duterte’s outstanding is also explained by the time the survey was conducted, in September, when strict confinements had already been relaxed in the Philippines, many Filipinos were able to return to work and thousands of poor families had already received financial aid from the government. , what has distributed 4,000 million dollars among the most disadvantaged.

In fact, the president’s good grade, four percentage points above the 87% registered in December 2019, has been driven by the lowest socio-economic group, where the president’s score improved 11%.

Quarterly polls that should have been released in March and June could not be released precisely because of the quarantine, when Filipino discontent was most noticeable and the government’s response weakest.

Philippine political scientist Richard Heydarian noted that Duterte is a “master of performative politics”That is, it takes populist and forceful measures, such as distributing money or imposing strict confinements, which give the impression that the government is not sitting idle, although the contagion curve has not yet been contained.

“Chaos is the best ladder for a populist. Where there is anxiety and concern, they show themselves as saviors and Duterte has done a great job. introducing himself as a parent people can trust, “Heydarian explained.

For this analyst, the “fear factor” it cannot be ruled out of the equation at a juncture in which the president himself encouraged the police to “shoot to kill” anyone who skipped the quarantine; the drug war has claimed the lives of thousands of innocents; critics of the president are jailed or tried on “fabricated” charges; Political activists are being assassinated and freedom of the press severed.

“How can anyone honestly answer about your liking or disliking the president if your neighbor has been the victim of an extrajudicial execution? “asked Heydarian.

According to Holmes, the president of Pulse Asia – a firm that has been conducting these polls for more than twenty years and is considered a reliable source in the country – the poll is based on truthful information, as its pollsters are trained to detect lies and discard them.

In addition to the shadow of the pandemic, the president’s management has been affected by irregularities that dot allied politicians and bureaucratic charges appointed by him in customs or immigration, including a notorious corruption scandal at PhilHeath, the public health insurance corporation, with a $ 300 million embezzlement.

“Presidents are not held directly responsible for failures in bureaucratic agencies. Although officials below Duterte are accused of corruption, the president is not necessarily perceived as corrupt“Holmes described.

By contrast, the president does “get credit” for the efforts of local or regional governments, even though his measures are outside the decisions of the national government. “For many Filipinos, the government is an abstraction. If they get help, they don’t wonder where it comes from,” he said.


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