The Asian Voice

Is Duterte's era of invincibility ending? Philippine Inquirer columnist

The double-digit decline in President Rodrigo Duterte's ratings elicited alarm in the administration.
The double-digit decline in President Rodrigo Duterte's ratings elicited alarm in the administration. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (PHILIPPINE INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - There's a chink in President Rodrigo Duterte's armour. It has been laid bare by the results of a survey measuring the people's satisfaction with and trust in him.

In the latest Social Weather Stations survey results, the net public satisfaction with Mr Duterte plunged 18 points from +66 to +48. His net trust rating also declined 15 points from +75 to +60. The survey was taken on Sept 23-27, covering 1,500 adult respondents nationwide, and the comparison is with the survey figures in June.

The most telling figures for the President involve the fact that the biggest decline happened in the social class where a large chunk of the population belongs: the masa (masses). His satisfaction suffered the biggest drop of 32 points in Class E, from +67 to +35. That's a decline of almost half in the sector most affected by the killings in the antidrug campaign.

The double-digit decline in the President's ratings elicited alarm in the administration. Two days after the release of the latest SWS survey results on Oct 8, the President issued a memorandum circular officially stripping the police of their frontline role in the war on drugs, and designating the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as the sole agency to conduct the government's operations against illegal drugs.

On Oct 13, however, Pulse Asia released the results of its own survey which seem to conflict with the SWS survey results. The Pulse Asia survey shows that four in five Filipinos continue to approve of and trust in President Duterte. His approval rating was down by a mere 2 points, from 82 per cent in June to 80 per cent in September. His trust rating dipped by just one point from 81 per cent to 80 per cent in the same period.

On the day the Pulse Asia survey results were released, the President threatened to set up a revolutionary government, supposedly because of destabilization efforts by a conspiracy of his enemies. It is unclear if he was buoyed and egged on to make the statement by the survey results in his favor this time.

It is true that the Pulse Asia survey ostensibly contradicts the SWS survey results. And experts still have to weigh in to explain the disparity.

But the SWS survey results came on the heels of two earlier SWS survey results on more specific and informative issues which the Pulse Asia survey did not categorically touch on: that more than half of Filipinos believe that many of the victims killed by police in the government's antidrug campaign "did not really fight against the police," contrary to the claims of authorities, and that in every 10 Filipinos, 7 are worried that they themselves or someone they know will become a victim of extrajudicial killing.

These two earlier surveys amplify the increasing negative public sentiment against the Duterte administration.

The existence of plausible surveys showing substantial negative public sentiment on issues that affect President Duterte's credibility should make him listen intently this time around.

In previous controversies, Mr Duterte has employed various schemes to deflect and ward off public condemnation. When figuratively cornered, the President has sidestepped by saying he was merely "joking," or engaged in "hyperbole."

He has also exhibited belligerency by mocking calls for him to sign a waiver on his bank accounts. He has even admitted outright that he was untruthful in his counter-accusation of a specific Singapore bank account that he accused his nemesis, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, of secretly owning. And he has repeatedly badmouthed his critics.

The President has gotten away with his devil-may-care attitude because the overwhelming trust and satisfaction ratings he previously enjoyed have vested him with an armor of invincibility. With favourable public sentiment on the decline, the chink in that armour has been exposed.

President Duterte will ignore the shifting headwinds of public sentiment at his own risk.