Without a doubt, President Rodrigo Duterte is not your usual politician. Unlike those who have been in politics before him, he is not calculated in speaking his mind out. He will say whatever he wants to say, regardless the outcome.
He is even known for cursing in public. Not only does he curse on a regular basis, he has also cursed popular figures like Pope Francis and former US President Barrack Obama. Despite his vulgarity, he has been widely embraced by the Filipino people.
In fact, his bid for the presidency that was once deemed as a long shot emerged victorious. He has toppled down prominent national politicians like Sen. Grace Poe and former Sen. Mar Roxas. Despite not having taken a national position in the past and was widely popular only in Davao City where he has served as a mayor for almost two decades, he won the popular vote. He even garnered heavy support in areas that were deemed as bailiwick of his opponents.
Over time, the President has created controversies that even made international headlines. For instance, he was reported to have called former President Obama a “son of a whore”, which prompted him to cancel his supposed meeting with Duterte.
He also didn’t shy away from criticizing the Catholic Church, especially its religious officials. Considering that the Philippines is largely Catholic, his criticisms should have doomed him, but it didn’t. In fact, a lot of Filipinos have embraced his position and lashed out against the hypocrisy of the church.
His sharp tongue and seemingly endless battles with popular figures could have easily placed him in hot waters. He has also earned the criticisms of the international media and organizations including Amnesty International and United Nations. He doubled down on his statements and even launched an attack against these organizations.
Under normal circumstances, those positions could have placed any politician under fire, but it was the reverse for the President. More Filipinos embraced him instead.
It is also evident in his ratings, hovering somewhere around the high 80’s and low 90’s since he took office. He even scored better than his predecessors at the same time during their respective administrations.
Perhaps, the Filipinos have come to love a strong political figure that doesn’t care what other people think about him. Aside from his character, Duterte has also taken unpopular policies. Despite that, it didn’t affect how Filipinos view him. In fact, some Filipinos have changed their views and aligned with the President.
For instance, human rights have always been a hot button issue among Filipinos. For a country that has suffered for centuries under various colonizers and for several years under a dictator, the nation has understood the need to have their human rights enshrined in the Constitution.
Under Duterte’s war on drugs, several extrajudicial killings took place. In fact, within just 7 months since he took office, over 7,000 people have died for incidents related to drugs. This has prompted a Senate inquiry and made some people question his policy. Despite that, a huge majority of the people supports his campaign against drugs and would rather close their eyes on the notion that a lot of these people had their human rights violated.
Duterte also seemed to take unpopular stance when it comes to international policies. The Philippines has always been a strong ally of the United States. With Duterte, the US was vilified and deemed as an enemy. He has also decided to warm up with Russia and even China. Former President Aquino made sure that the country doesn’t go down without a fight against China in its claim of the West Philippine Sea. Aquino was hailed for his decision to fight for what rightfully belongs to the country. Duterte may have taken a different path, but it still did not prevent him from being a popular figure.
Perhaps, his most politically divisive stance was on allowing the late President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The issue was eventually raised to the Supreme Court and the burial was allowed. It sparked anger especially among human rights victims during the Marcos regime. The atrocities committed by Marcos during Martial law were still fresh in the minds of millions of Filipinos who have lived during those years. This stance could have been the final nail to the coffin. Instead, it didn’t even affect Duterte’s popularity at the slightest.
The hero Filipinos have been waiting for
Through the years, the country has suffered a lot. Most Filipinos still remain in poverty even if politicians in the past have promised to make their lives better. Problems that dogged the country for decades remain a big problem. This includes education, health care, infrastructure, employment and housing.
Duterte didn’t promise to solve all those problems. Instead, he created a major enemy – drugs. He then painted himself as the only person who could put an end to this problem. His administration’s success in capturing drug traffickers and syndicates made people believe that he really pushed through his promises.
He then painted everyone who blocked him from pursuing his plans as enemies of the nation. From Sen. Leila De Lima to Sen. Sonny Trillanes and even the bishops – they were all treated as a roadblock to the country’s success.
His ability to speak his mind out loud also gives Filipinos an assurance that they have a fighter in him. They know that whatever happens, Duterte will prioritize the welfare of his fellowmen over anything else. The President also seemed confident in his policies and decisions. He easily puts down critics and encourages people to support him instead.
Most of all, he has a strong online support. In fact, this has become a major factor for his success in his bid for the presidency. Whether or not he has genuine strong support from active Filipino Internet users, he has already built a strong army of defenders. This makes more Filipinos believe that if they are against Duterte, they don’t belong to the majority.
There is no doubt that Duterte remains a popular figure in the Philippines. Let’s not forget however that even the worst political figures in history were very popular when they were at the peak of their reign.