One Year Later: Rodrigo Duterte's Presidency Is Tough, But Popular

Despite criticism from outside the country, 75 percent of Filipino citizens approve of their president.
Posted at 1:48 PM, Jul 01, 2017

After just one year in office, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has left quite the impression on the world.

Beyond Duterte's character and controversial statements, the president has also been criticized for his brutal war on drugs, in which suspected drug users and dealers are killed, oftentimes in their own homes and in front of their families, without due process of law. The death count so far is over 7,000, including some bystanders.

Despite criticism from news outlets and other world leaders, Duterte's popularity has held strong in his country. The latest polls from a Filipino social research group show that 75 percent of his constituents are satisfied with his administration.

Other statistics show that under Duterte, Filipino citizens are more optimistic about change in their quality of life, as well as more satisfied with how their democracy works.

That has a lot of people — specifically, people not from the Philippines — wondering why.

One possible reason? The rise of so-called "strongman" politicians over the past couple years.

These politicians — including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and, of course, U.S. President Donald Trump — are popular for their promises to be tough on crime and corruption, but notorious for their aggressive rhetoric and policies. Some critics say their popularity is a response to the "softness" of left-wing ideology and "political correctness."

So, Duterte's presidency isn't unusual — it's part of an international trend.

But beyond the realm of global politics, it's worth examining the history and culture of the Philippines that allows Duterte to thrive.

Ever since dictator Ferdinand Marcos — a leader whom Duterte praised for his use of martial law — came to power in 1965, the Philippines has had a difficult time shaking corruption in their government.

Transparency International ranks the country 101 out of 176 for corruption perception. It's tied with countries like Peru, Thailand, and Trinidad and Tobago. The Philippines has also long struggled with methamphetamine — or "shabu" — abuse.

As mayor of Davao City, Duterte was nicknamed "The Punisher." He personally patrolled streets and admittedly used death squads to enforce his strict rule of law. As a result, Davao City is thought to be one of the safest cities in the Philippines.

This "tough on crime" narrative appealed to voters during his presidential campaign. So despite criticism from the West, Duterte's aggressive language and violent tactics might just look like proof of his toughness.