Ups and downs

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The sudden drop of President Duterte’s ratings is a cause for alarm for him and his administration. It is also a window for serious adjustment of priorities and delivery of promises. Steep drops usually are in a context of heightened expectations that are not actualized. It is no different in this case. Of course, there are other circumstances that aggravate the disappointment or resentment, and I am sure the President knows what they are.

If many sectors of the public were surprised at the extent of the drop considering the exceptional popularity of President Duterte in the first year of his presidency, there were some, including this writer, that had been expecting quarterly surveys of SWS and Pulse Asia to catch and reflect this. SWS finally did. I expect Pulse Asia will do the same if its survey is taken soon. After all, the signs were there from social media commentaries in the last several months. It was only a matter of time when the D & E sectors would also reflect their sentiments through the quarterly surveys because most of them still do not Internet access.

But, as most of us in the senior citizen range knows, presidents have their ups and downs. No president stayed up all the way though the other way is more possible – how a president can stay low in the ratings for most of his or her term. Given the needs of the majority who are either poor or poorer, and given the rich getting richer as each administration comes and goes, staying popular and trusted is not an easy achievement. While the charisma of personality can give impetus to a president’s popularity, performance and consistent rapport are the final arbiters.

A drop of popularity and trust ratings, when sudden and steep, should cause worry. The presidency is not a game of popularity so that part would not worry President Duterte much. It is more the reasons why his popularity drops substantially that should make his reflective at the very least because he will not like them. He had come like a savior to the people, especially to those who have not received fair treatment historically. Yet, these same sectors, economic classes D & E, was the most disappointed as shown in the last survey. I am convinced that President Duterte did not wish to disappoint them; in fact, I believe he was aiming to protect and promote their interests first and foremost.

But disappoint them he did. Not surprising since his nominees to strategic Departments with the biggest impact on the poorer sectors of society were rejected by the Commission on Appointments (CA). DSWD, DOH, Agrarian Reform and the DENR Secretaries were all rejected. It is very difficult to plan out a sustained program or service when one’s position is a very interim one, and shaky at that. The four Departments have a direct link to the poorer half of society, even the DENR whose mining policies can allow devastation of natural resources or dramatically reduce employment in that industry. I hope the President can put not only good people but effective administrators – and use his muscle to get them confirmed in the CA.

A Build-Build-Build vision is, of course, futuristic. The benefits of massive and modern infrastructure will come later, years later, but they are necessary and should be pursued. In the pursuit of this infrastructure expansion, there are extraordinary employment opportunities from mega projects. If these are utilized intelligently, the waiting period for the ultimate; long-term benefits can provide massive cash outflows to those who need the most. The major projects should be able to show how they pump income opportunities for the poor and the poorest – even if it means training the less capable for the work that is coming on stream.

A president’s rapport with the people, though, is not all grounded on money even if the majority lack financial security. A president is father or mother, and security truly is the primary concern, but security is most felt in having a place where one has permanent tenure, when a family has a decent home, and where people are reasonable assured that they will not go hungry. After all, the income of the poor are almost all consumed towards these primordial concerns. Overall, the relationship of people and their highest leader needs trust that both parties will be there for one another.

The drug war is a necessary war. It has not been properly discussed with the people although I believe that President Duterte, as a candidate in early 2016, had the best sense of the fear of people towards the drug scene. He won because he addressed that fear openly and decisively. That decisiveness flowed over to his promise to meet corruption head-on and gained him even more votes. But I also believe that the deep angst of the poor to be recognized and treated as equally as possible played a crucial role in both Duterte’s victory and popularity.

The number of estimated drug addicts is massive and mostly from the D & E sectors. Anything that reflects a massive number of people naturally can come only from D & E where the majority of Filipinos are. Any national program must therefore consider that being harsh to users and pushers who are poor will quickly be taken as an assault on the poor in general. And the killings of the teenagers that became the central controversy last August and September must have broken the belief of many from D & E that President Duterte was number one father and protector.

Recovering lost ground is challenging but not impossible. A president’s relationship with his own people is not a political issue, it is deeper. I hope President Duterte will not allow politics to blur his reading and sentiments when he mulls over how to further convince the Filipino people of his good intentions. It has never been politics that solved problems though politics can be the problem itself.  Rather, It is the leader who is father, protector and provider.

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