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Change versus continuity

/ 12:10 AM January 14, 2017

The topic “The Duterte administration: more change than continuity?” was my assignment as a panelist at the Regional Outlook Forum of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute held last Jan. 9 in Singapore.

The audience, of several hundred civil servants, business people and academics, was already acquainted with the statements and actions of our President. Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump are the two most notorious political figures in the world these days.

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I clarified that my work is about measuring and recording the “social weather,” rather than forecasting its future. Hopefully, the former will lead to greater understanding of the latter.  Likewise, meteorologists constantly observe and average the rainfall, temperature, wind and so forth, and then call the result “climate.”  Weather forecasts are dependable if the climate is known and is stable.

The past three decades of data of Filipinos’ satisfaction with the personal performance of their president show that high popularity in the first two quarters is quite normal.  It does not depend on the scale of victory in the presidential election.  Except for Gloria Arroyo, who had none, the shortest presidential honeymoon was the one full year of Joseph Estrada.  The longest honeymoon was the three full years of Noynoy Aquino.

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If the 40 percent plurality of Mr. Duterte was a “landslide,” then so was the 43 percent plurality of Noynoy Aquino.  Since the absolute size of the electorate is always growing, what counts is the proportion, not the number, of the votes.

The great changes introduced by President Duterte have yet to be reconciled with continuity in the people’s sensibilities. Virtually all Filipinos say it is important for drug suspects to be kept alive—naturally, since four out of five fear that they themselves may become victims of extrajudicial killing.  Is it possible for sheer ruthlessness of the police to persuade them to change their attitudes?

I presented a chart showing that, ever since polling began about trust in foreign countries, the United States has consistently been the one most highly trusted, while on the other hand China and Russia have been the most distrusted, by Filipinos.  Do our people have good reasons for holding these attitudes, or not? Will the President’s views about these three countries easily change their minds?

When shown the group photo of the last Apec economic leaders’ meeting (11/22/16), in which Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay stood in for Mr. Duterte, who had pleaded illness, the embarrassment felt by the audience for the Philippines was palpable. Asked what the Philippines gained from virtually throwing away its victory in the international arbitral court regarding the South China Sea, I said I had no idea.

In sum, a number of changes introduced by the President are incompatible with continuity in basic Filipino values—respect for the sanctity of life, the rule of law, and time-tested foreign friendships.  Is there any modus vivendi, such as what happens between two incompatible Filipino spouses without recourse to simple legal divorce?

Still honeymoon time in the administration’s report card. I showed the forum that the average grades in Noynoy Aquino’s six years—Good in general, Neutral on fighting inflation, Moderate on fighting graft and corruption, Good on helping the poor, Good on foreign relations, and Moderate on fighting crime—surpassed those of his four predecessors.

The two quarterly SWS report cards for the present administration (the latest on Jan. 10) have grades that are comparable, if not better. But there are still five and a half years to go.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, popularity, Rodrigo Duterte, trust
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