AFTER Ash Wednesday Mass yesterday morning, a fellow lay minister asked how things were with the country, and whether there was a grave threat of destabilization against President Rodrigo Duterte.
The quick answer is: yes and no.
Yes, there are powerful groups who want Duterte out, as this column explained last September <http://www.manilatimes.net/who-wants-duterte-out/286806/>.
First and most fearsome among them are the drug syndicates, whose tentacles and operatives reach across the archipelago and the world. For sure, they would have all the money and none of the scruples to pay millions of dollars for top assassins to put the President in their gunsights.
Narco-politicians in the pockets of drug lords also want Duterte taken out, to escape the fate of Senator Leila de Lima, and resume the bonanza bankrolled by the habits of millions of drug-enslaved Filipinos.
Not a few of those crooks in the corridors of power belong to the former ruling camp of ex-President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his Liberal Party. LP stalwarts denounced De Lima’s arrest. On the other hand, they won’t object to President Duterte’s exit.
Lastly, certain foreign powers and international organizations, along with the Catholic Church, oppose the thousands of killings in the anti-drug war. And the United States is uncomfortable with the administration’s rapidly warming ties with China and Russia.
Why it’s hard to oust Digong
But no, it is highly unlikely that this array of potent groups would stir up enough widespread unrest to unseat President Duterte, for three reasons: He is hugely popular, the economy is doing well, and the security forces support him.
Four out of five Filipinos have much trust in President Duterte, based on the Fourth Quarter 2016 Social Weather Stations survey in December (the next is later this month). Only his predecessor Benigno Aquino 3rd enjoyed similar ratings.
Duterte rated excellent in Metro Manila, the Visayas and Mindanao, and very good in Luzon outside the National Capital Region. He scored excellent in urban and rural areas, and with the D and E income classes, the so-called masses, and he was still very good with A, B and C classes.
At 77 percent, Duterte’s December satisfaction rating is just slightly below the 81 percent with much trust in him. And if his ratings trend replicate Aquino’s, they will likely stay high till next year.
Even if a big debacle plunges Duterte’s satisfaction grade, it probably would remain good. Aquino’s net satisfaction ratings, which subtracts those dissatisfied from the satisfied percentage, still averaged good in his last two years, after the Mamasapano massacre of 44 police commandos, widely blamed on Aquino’s gross mishandling.
A further factor that may lead Filipinos to force a leader out is how well people believe Philippine democracy is working. A record 86 percent think so, as surveyed by SWS six months ago.
One more rating: When people power ousted Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001, there were ready successors enjoying public support. Vice President Leni Robredo has a good net satisfaction rating of +37 percent. But that’s way below Duterte’s +63 percent.
And if Filipinos are supposed to march against the President, it won’t be because things are going terribly bad. Nearly all Filipinos began 2017 with hope. And on law and order, less than one in 20 people were victims of robbery or theft, based on SWS’s December data. And 0.7 percent suffered violence in the last semester of 2016.
It’s the economy, stupid
One obvious reason for widespread optimism is the economy’s strength. At over 6 percent, gross domestic product growth tops most of Asia, and is tipped by major international banks and analysts to continue leading the region this year.
Last week, the International Monetary Fund raised its growth projection for the Philippines to 6.8 percent, up slightly from its 6.7 percent forecast last October. Domestic demand is expected to stay high; Filipinos have money to spend.
Prices may inch up, with 3.6 percent inflation projected. But that’s still within the Bangko Sentral’s target range for 2017. So, people won’t be squeezed too much by prices.
In fact, instead of slowing growth, the IMF urged the Bangko Sentral to watch out for “signs of overheating.” After all, the Philippines has had an unbroken growth run of nearly two years since 1999.
So why, pray tell, would Filipinos want to rock the boat and put the boom at risk?
What about the guns?
With the President enjoying broad support, and the economy buoyant, it’s no wonder that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police would see no reason to go against the duly constituted authorities.
With military spending and aid also surging, soldiers and police have even less reason to be dissatisfied. Not only does the P3.5 trillion national budget for 2017 have record AFP and PNP outlays. There will also be arms and equipment from the new friends President Duterte made with his independent foreign policy.
China and Russia are offering armaments on favorable, if not free. terms. Japan, too, is lending high-speed patrol boats and other naval assets, as it seeks to woo the Philippines after Duterte’s swing toward China.
And now that the Commander in Chief has unleashed the army against Mindanao terrorists and communist rebels, while the police resumes the war on drugs, it’s hard to imagine that the troops would mount a power grab now. Certainly, not in alliance with anti-Duterte groups so quick to lambast the men in uniform for alleged abuses.
So, will destabilization get anywhere?
About a decade ago, accused mutineer Antonio Trillanes 4th marched from his Makati trial to seize the Peninsula Hotel and call for an uprising against then President Gloria Arroyo, who suffered the lowest satisfaction ratings amid an economy hit by soaring oil and food prices, plus painful fiscal reforms. He lost.
Today, Trillanes is at it again against a hugely popular President Duterte, protected by loyal troops and amid the boomingest economy in Asia.
Guess who will lose — again.