THE President of a liberal democracy (which we are in theory and practice) is measured by many benchmarks but the primordial one is the leader’s ability to get Congress/parliament to pass his or her legislative agenda, which in most cases is bold and sweeping. It cannot be but bold and sweeping because a leader always aims to remake his or her country according to his or her set of beliefs.
A timid President? That is an oxymoron.
Mr. Duterte is supposed to be measured by that benchmark – working with Congress to reshape the country according to his economic and social agenda. Like an epic Magna Carta for the Poor. Like rewriting the rules of trading arrangements via tariffs to revive manufacturing. Like rewriting the tax code to emulate FDR’s “soak the rich“ tax policy. Like passing a new Magna Carta for Labor to end “endo” once and for all.
Or, passing a two-child policy to rein in the runaway population growth. Or, amending the PhilHealth Law to put in place an enviable health care system that would be close to the systems of the Scandinavian countries. Like rewriting the Mining Act to prevent the despoliation of the environment and to save fisheries and agriculture in the mining areas.
And using that benchmark, Mr. Duterte will not even get a passing grade. Except for the promise to come out with something on the traffic mess, which came via a department order from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) instead of a law or an EO from the President, the main campaign planks have yet to be given flesh via legislation.
Ok, another point. DU30 seems tentative about engaging interlopers who poach on our territories. China’s aggression is an issue where we do not witness DU30’s usual bravado. The likes of Putin—remember—only recovered from his dismal ratings after some brazen acts of territory-grabbing. Mr. Xi is about to redraw China’s map by claiming much, if not all, of the West Philippine Sea.
Yet, yet, Mr. Duterte, at this stage of his presidency, is one of the most popular leaders in our contemporary history. A decent trust and appreciation rating, which any other leader would die for, is right now not the one being enjoyed by DU30. It is higher than that and Mr. Duterte and his men and women seem to bask in that glory brought about by his excellent numbers. For a fickle people—Filipinos can swing to discontent after a seeming period of contentment—Mr. Duterte ‘s trust and approval ratings have yet to dip into near-negative territory. And there is a hardcore base which even Erap Estrada, a former movie actor, never had in his political career.
DU30 has an army of hardcore admirers, from passionate bloggers to ordinary citizens, and it is devotion based on passion, and not reason. No, these are not like the thugs who admire Putin but real people with real work and people with no connection whatsoever to government. You can see and feel that they are real believers.
DU30 mocks and upends political science and he probably is aware of that. To the political elite, he is probably telling them this in private. You are mocking the mayor from Davao. Look where I am today in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people.
As I explained in the previous column, the poor appreciate what they see is the President’s straight talk in explaining – and dealing with – urgent national issues. What the human rights groups see as extra-judicial killings, policemen and vigilantes killing people suspected of drug links, are seen by the poor as DU30’s righteous war against the drug menace. The martial law declaration in Mindanao is seen as a protection from the rampaging IS affiliates, the murderous heathens. Unlike Mr. Aquino, who built a wall between the presidency and the Everyman with his nauseating talk on GDP, DU30 understands the words that relate to the Everyman, his fears, his worries and what he expects from government.
The rich and the super-rich have vested and selfish interests. The President they love is a President who does not interfere with the ways of business. Except for Mighty and Mr. Ongpin, Mr. Duterte has stayed away from the affairs of business. The oligarchs and the plutocrats adore him for his support for the PPP, the tax reform that cuts the corporate tax rate, and for an economic team that is definitely more orthodox and more conservative than Mr. Aquino’s own team.
There is actually no reason, not a single one, not to support DU30. Even the war on drugs and criminals would be good for their businesses.
How long will the love affair between DU30 and the rich and super-rich last? How long would the poor and the Everyman support DU30 and give him the carte blanche to govern with no mass protests and related distractions?
We don’t know the answer.
But right now, there are very few adored leaders in the world and Mr. Duterte, mocking and upending the traditional benchmark of mass support, is one of the most appreciated. The rules of political science on popularity and mass support have been defied by DU30.