Mr. Duterte’s vital base of support is not the army of ferocious adherents who will stick to him no matter what. It is not the blogging community that sees him as the Second Coming. Even Mr. Duterte knows that the unreasoning zealots are not the ones driving his high popularity, trust and appreciation ratings.
Who are they?
The most vital political base of Mr. Duterte consists of the ordinary citizens who appreciate his law-and-order plank, his toughness on criminals, his spiels that relate to the Everyman and what these supporters see as his readiness to fire subordinates with tainted images. I use tainted images because some of the top people fired for alleged corruption have yet to be proven corrupt, but the dominant public perception was otherwise – they were perceived as crooks.
These ordinary citizens who support the president in their own quiet way have no real links to the DU30 administration, unlike the handsomely rewarded bloggers and outspoken followers who have been named to various government boards. There is no personal profit, either, except perhaps for the grand expectation that DU30’s policies will change their lives for good. Or, at the very least, shield them from those drug-addled criminals who are a general menace to society.
They truly appreciate and trust Mr. Duterte. As long as the acts of the DU30 administration, the acts on the drug front in particular, do not stray into the territory of recklessness and outright, senseless murder of the young and the innocent.
The support of this quiet and substantial group for Mr. Duterte has never wavered. Until the plain murder of Kian Lloyd delos Santos on August 16. The standard claim of the police, that Kian, an alleged drug runner, had a gun and tried to shoot the police officers, did not wash.
The CCTV footage showed the kill was an overkill. The pained cry of Kian before his murder was heart-rending, a kid’s cry for mercy, according to witnesses. The quiet base is no longer an approving, clapping, nodding spectator of the CCTV footage. It turned into an stirred-up, outraged base that would probably use the Kian murder as a tipping point to break with Mr. Duterte.
The report of the official autopsy done by the Public Attorney’s Office validated the overkill. The PAO called it “intentional killing.” The killer was standing over Kian’s lean frame and fired three shots. The 9mm bullets shattered his brain, pierced his lungs and penetrated his back. Kian was a cowering, crying, pleading victim of a senseless kill. Were he a drug mule, he would have done something to defend himself or hit back even in the most prostrate position.
The police’s own autopsy said outright that it was a senseless kill.
The ominous signs of an stirred-up base, which even the false equivalencies of the DU30 zealots would neither obscure nor appease, has been noted by DU30 himself, who is currently on a tactical retreat on the Kian case.
In a less-gruesome display of police overkill, Mr. Duterte would do the predictable things. Which is to cuss the various personalities and sectors demanding a deeper probe into the death of Kian and probably reward the involved police officers with praises and even awards. And probably invoke that a drug war will naturally have a few innocent victims.
No longer. He expressed support for a deeper probe on the Kian murder.
By supporting a deeper probe into the murder of Kian, Mr. Duterte does not want to risk swimming against the tide of public opinion, the opinion of his vital political support base in particular. It was a decision that he perhaps did grudgingly but one that has to be done. At all cost, Mr. Duterte wants to avoid a tipping point, the point where his massive and popular support flips into a sense of outrage over a perceived act of callousness.
Remember Mr. Aquino’s indifference to the 44 SAF officers massacred in the fields of Mamasapano? That tipped all scales against Mr. Aquino and his then chosen presidential candidate. Mr. Duterte is a student of history and he fully knows where the danger zones are.
The relief of Mr. Faeldon as customs commissioner was another tactical retreat done by Mr. Duterte to stem a drop in his public appreciation and trust. In a more complacent world, DU30 would have defended Mr. Faeldon and kept him at Customs despite the glaring failures of Mr. Faeldon as customs commissioner.
But giving full trust and confidence in a former Marine under whose watch a P6.4 billion worth of shabu shipment was greenlighted at the Port of Manila was untenable. Slum dwellers with small sachets of shabu are routinely killed. A “man of integrity” who allows the free movement of shabu out of the port is retained on the basis of perceived “integrity.” That does not square. That does not get the approval of Mr. Duterte’s quiet support base.
How many major shabu shipments had been released under Faeldon’s watch, the quiet base has been asking.
Mr. Duterte knows his base of support. And he is more tuned to what goes on the ground than Mr. Aquino .The most vital one is supportive but not uncritical. A perception of callousness and recklessness may bring about a tipping point in the perception of Mr. Duterte.
Hence his tactical retreat.