Last card
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - January 7, 2019 - 12:00am

President Duterte recently told an amused audience that as a teenager, he molested the family kasambahay. Blasphemy is a constant feature of his speeches. He has urged the people to kill bishops and priests.

He told soldiers to target the vaginas of rebel amazons when shooting at them. He would have wanted to be first in line in raping an Australian missionary.

At the very least, insulting the God of your people is the last thing expected of a leader. For a nation that rates well in terms of respecting women, the President has shown little respect and the women around him don’t seem to mind.

Indeed, the popularity rating of the President remains high. The latest SWS survey revealed the President’s net satisfaction rating has risen to +54, rising by nine points from his record low of +45 in the survey done last June. 

The Third Quarter 2018 Social Weather Survey, conducted from Sept. 15 to 23, 2018, found 70 percent of adult Filipinos satisfied, 14 percent undecided, and 16 percent dissatisfied with the performance of Rodrigo R. Duterte as president.

Compared to June 2018, gross satisfaction with Pres. Duterte rose by five points from 65 percent.

But when asked what they thought about some of the President’s utterances, people say he is being vulgar. On Pres. Duterte’s pronouncement that “God is stupid”, 83 percent said it was vulgar, and 14 percent said it was not vulgar. The remaining three percent did not know.

Duterte’s popularity cuts across all socio economic groups. Even among college graduates, his rating was at +54 or very good. He scored high gains in rural areas at + 62 than in urban areas at +42.

His rating is up in class D or the masa, at +56 up by 13 points from +43 in June 2018. However, it fell from very good to good in class ABC, at +41 down by 25 points from +66 in June. It also fell from very good to good in class E, at +45, down by seven points from +52 in June.

Filipinos seem to overwhelmingly dislike his vulgarity, but at the same time still like him enough to give him their trust. The question is often asked, what is going on?

I think it is because Filipinos see him as their last card… their last hope to get this country out of the rut it has fallen in the past 50 years.

Many blame our dire situation on the ruling elite of Imperial Manila. Duterte presents himself as the anti-elite and, thus, the people’s last card.

The problem with Duterte is that in his head, he is still the mayor of Davao. He speaks as if he is in a beer garden in Davao. He is attempting to lead the country with the autocratic style he found successful in Davao.

I just bought a new book, How Democracies Die, written by two professors who specialize on authoritarianism. Let me share some of their thoughts which rang so many bells for me.

“A demagogue’s initial rise to power,” they wrote, “tends to polarize society, creating a climate of panic, hostility and mutual distrust. The new leader’s threatening words often have a boomerang effect...  the opposition may conclude that for the good of the country, the government must be removed via extreme measures – impeachment, mass protest, even a coup.”

We have experienced all three and, indeed, these are already bad habits. None of those work.

Still, we ought to be vigilant. They cited “three strategies by which elected authoritarians seek to consolidate power: capturing the referees, sidelining the key players, and rewriting the rules to tilt the playing field against opponents.”

Hmmm... sounds familiar. Duterte is doing all three.

The referees, the courts, have been captured. Key players like the two senators are being sidelined, and the Constitution is being revised.

But how is democracy subverted?

“The process often begins with words. Demagogues attack their critics in harsh and provocative terms – as enemies, as subversives, and even as terrorists... Journalists also become targets.

“These attacks can become consequential: If the public comes to share the view that opponents are linked to terrorism and the media are spreading lies, it becomes easier to justify taking actions against them.”

How do elected authoritarians shatter the democratic institutions that are supposed to constrain them?

“More often the assault on democracy begins slowly. For many citizens, it may, at first, be imperceptible. After all, elections continue to be held. Opposition politicians still sit in congress. Independent newspapers still circulate.

“The erosion of democracy takes place piecemeal, often in baby steps. Each individual step seems minor –none appears to truly threaten democracy.

“Indeed, government moves to subvert democracy frequently enjoy a veneer of legality: They are approved by parliament or ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.

“Many of them are adopted under the guise of pursuing some legitimate – even laudable – public objective, such as combating corruption, cleaning up elections, improving the quality of democracy or enhancing national security.”

Reading the book can be scary. It is a study of how democracies die, and they included our country during the Marcos era. But it could also be our future again.

Having been elected freely, I want to believe Duterte is inclined to preserve democratic institutions. So far, he has resisted the idea of RevGov. He knows a RevGov kills democracy, but will only entrench a new power elite as rapacious as the old one.

If we continue to elect plunderers and those with vested interests as senators, congressmen and mayors, we may end up the next Venezuela. The May mid-term election is important.

Our people regard Duterte as their last card. That’s why they forgive his vulgarity. That gives him immense power.

Unfortunately, if the record of the last two and a half years is an indication, it could also mean more of the same because the change he promised was stranded in Davao.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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