A Rumination on a Colloquium titled “Demystifying the Duterte Phenomenon: Populism, Pandemics, and its potential impacts in the Philippines” of the DLSU POLSCI SPEAKS 2020

[This is a piece written for my Philippine Political Issues (PIPOISU) subject]

It is no question that there have been numerous nationwide issues that engendered from the Duterte administration. To name a few: the widespread extrajudicial killings (EJKs), the legislation of the questionable Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the shutdown of the ABS-CBN, and the passage of the contested Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL). However, even with the apparent and visible retorts of countless citizens, personalities, media companies, lawyers, and (academic) experts, the “numbers” seem to reflect otherwise.

As presented by Dr. Holmes, the sentences “The public speaks. Care to listen?” elucidate the fact that the “numbers” are telling that regardless of the aforementioned political issues, the people are still leaning on supporting the Duterte administration. In fact, according to the quantitative analysis of Pulse Asia as presented in the colloquium, President Duterte has the highest approval and lowest disapproval rating compared to the past presidents starting from Estrada. Alarmingly, President Duterte also has the highest trust and lowest distrust rating compared to the past presidents starting from Estrada. And this is what the people are saying; therefore, should we care to listen since “the numbers don’t lie”?

Dr. Julio Teehankee has provided a political, academic perspective in his presentation “Duterte’s Populist Resilience Amid the Pandemic”. One of the main points of Dr. Teehankee is the fact that the government is failing in saving the country from the pandemic (because there is an upward trajectory of the cases of COVID-19). But still, as per the Pulse Asia, the people has given the Duterte administration an approval of 84% and a 91% of trust rating for the president. From this, Dr. Teehankee has provided an idea: do not condemn the people, but rather understand them, because this will surely affect the 2022 presidential elections.

The people clearly choose order than the rule of law, as untangled by Dr. Calimbahin in her presentation titled “Unresolved Crisis, Unweakened Legitimacy: Contextualizing Philippine Politics”. One of the main reasons why President Duterte remains popular is because the people deem the authoritarian leadership necessary in ruling the country, and that the President’s behavior connects to the “masa” as compared to the “condescending attitude” of the other party. This results to a solid base of Duterte’s legitimation as a President of the country — his populist resilience.

All these facts from prominent political science researchers boil down to Duterte’s main source of power: fear, along with popularity, resilience, and legitimacy in the crisis. And this is what Dr. Sol Iglesias has focused on her academic reaction to the sentiments of other speakers in the colloquium. The effects of the sustained popularity of President Duterte — the high levels of public appreciation and trust — legitimizes the Duterte administration out of fear. Dr. Iglesias mentioned that the political violence and authoritarian leadership under the Duterte administration nurture a sense of fear in the people resulting to the falsification of, for instance, the approval rating of Duterte. Furthermore, Dr. Iglesias enumerated: 1) violence is used to control society through fear; 2) pervasiveness among the poor is effective; and 3) greater repression results to greater positive response. Lastly, and most importantly, Dr. Iglesias proposed a study that has little to no attention: a study that considers the coercive effect to the polls — that polls are answered with fear in mind.

To conclude, the sustained popularity of President Duterte will indeed affect not only the victor of the 2022 Presidential elections in itself, but also the citizens themselves who will cast their votes. With the use of fear and authoritarian leadership, it is as if the citizens are being subjected to a longitudinal experiment of coercion, wherein Duterte analyzes polls to see whether his tactics work or not. And from the recent surveys of Pulse Asia, contrasting it to the results of the results of survey of Social Weather Stations regarding police violence, the numbers say it all — fear is working, and people themselves choose this setup. The right question to ask now is if people trust this type of government, how can we hold them accountable?