FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - July 12, 2018 - 12:00am

President Rodrigo Duterte tried to minimize the importance of the latest SWS survey. The survey showed an 11 percent drop in his net satisfaction ratings across all regions and all income categories.

With characteristic imperviousness, he told reporters: “I do not care. Make it 15. Wala na ako diyan. It does not interest me at all.”

Maybe that dismissive remark was simply a defensive reaction. He should care, if not as statesman at least as politician. This is the people speaking.

Whatever qualms we may nurse about the methodology of public opinion polls, they remain the only reliable measure of public sentiment. Democracy is all about respect for the public sentiment – even if we might disagree with it.

Even if one refuses to engage in a popularity contest, the opinion surveys must be understood as a gauge of political capital. The lower one’s ratings go, the less political capital is available to any leader. The less political capital, the less the leader is capable of achieving.

Even as two-thirds of Filipinos still express satisfaction over Duterte’s leadership, it is clear the latest numbers represent a sea change of sorts in the political configuration. The traditional political honeymoon with a freshly elected leader is obviously over.

While some erosion in public satisfaction is expected, considering the very high numbers Duterte began with, an 11-point drop over a quarter is jarring. If the President does nothing to correct his leadership style and approach to governance, such a drop could worsen dramatically. It could go into a tailspin.

When Joseph Estrada was impeached and then expelled, his popularity numbers were robust. But he had lost the support of key sectors and the confidence of influential groups. At the most critical phases of the crisis that engulfed his presidency, he could not convert the amorphous support he enjoyed from his political base and convert that into a disciplined political force.

Duterte’s political base is as amorphous and unorganized as Estrada’s. The dismal preference ratings of key Duterte supporters considering running for a Senate seat suggests the President’s popularity is personal and non-transferable.

In the last analysis, Duterte’s base of support is loose rather than firm, fickle rather than principled. He cannot afford to be so dismissive of the opinion surveys.

It does not matter if Duterte is so disinterested in power that he threatens to quit at every excuse. As President, he is duty bound to consolidate his political capital and use it to pursue the reforms he promised when he was a candidate. To be disinterested in the power required for his office to be functional is simply gross irresponsibility.


If Duterte’s ratings continue to plummet, his programs and reform policies will be imperiled. Everything from revenue reforms, the infra program and constitutional reform could be stymied. If they are, he could end up a leader without a legacy much like his diffident and unremarkable predecessor.

The ambitious and complex political project of constitutional renovation could be the first one in jeopardy.

Charter change faces many hurdles. The majority is not interested in constitutional reform. It ranks very low in the top-of-mind concerns of ordinary citizens.

The majority is unimpressed with the vision of converting to a federal form of government. No one really understands what that means.

The majority is opposed to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Whether as a stand-alone initiative or embedded in some sort of transition to federalism, the larger number of citizens does not think this is a solution to anything. Supporters of the BBL have had to resort to scare tactics, warning of violence breaking out if that law is not passed, in a desperate effort to win support for this strange political experiment.

Only Duterte’s immense popularity could power any effort to overcome majority resistance, or at least indifference, to the program of constitutional change.

But Duterte himself now appears disinterested in leading the process of renovating the constitutional order. When the committee he formed to review the Charter proposed some sort of transition government, Duterte refused to head it. Neither can he imagine his “incompetent” vice president heading it.

That issue alone appears to be a deal-breaker, dooming the Charter change project to futility. All previous attempts at constitutional reform failed. This one, it seems, is doomed to the same fate.

For all the historical and institutional obstacles to Charter change to be overcome, Duterte needs to expend a tremendous amount of political capital to get it done. But if that political capital is dwindling quickly, then nothing will get done.

Duterte will return to Davao resembling an accidental president: one who had great historical opportunities but without the acumen to seize them. Power fell unto his lap and he did not know what to do with it.


The 12 boys and their football coach trapped four kilometers inside a flooded cave in northern Thailand were all extracted safely and against all the odds. For a moment, all of humanity celebrated.

The boys’ survival and the success of the treacherous extraction represent the triumph of all that is good in humankind: the indomitable spirit, the courage, the science and the faith.

The philosopher Rousseau believed empathy was the force that held communities together and enabled men, in the most extreme circumstances, to bring out the best in themselves. That was the force that animated this heroic effort to rescue the boys.

The Thai Navy SEALS, who led the dramatic rescue had one word for everything: Hooyah!

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