Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute
Populism ruled during the first five years of the Duterte administration. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, exacerbated by national officials’ mismanagement of the government response to the unprecedented health crisis, has unraveled the populist rhetoric that once made Rodrigo Duterte invincible.
The continuing lockdowns and the confusing ECQ-MECQ-GCQ-ECQ cycle of quarantine restrictions that have been in place since March 2020 have led to widespread exhaustion and suffering among the populace.
President Duterte now has less than nine months remaining in his term. The administration’s politics of appearance has been outed as just that—all about appearances. The superficiality of this populist strategy, which in the early days was used to persecute critics and defend erring officials, has been exposed.
The health crisis is now compounded by pressing public concerns that warrant our utmost attention.
Gut economic concerns have persistently been on top of the minds of Filipinos. The Sept. 6-11, 2021 Pulse Asia survey on “most urgent national concerns” demonstrates this. The top two urgent national concerns, according to respondents, are “controlling inflation” (41 percent) and “increasing the pay of workers” (40 percent). The next four most urgent concerns are “controlling the spread of COVID-19” (29 percent), “reducing the poverty of many Filipinos” (29 percent), “fighting graft and corruption in government” (26 percent), and “creating more jobs” (25 percent).
The Stratbase ADR Institute had commissioned a Social Weather Stations survey in June 2021 to determine the issues that should be addressed by candidates running for national positions in the May 2022 elections. The findings reflected largely the same sentiments in the September 2021 Pulse Asia survey: The first top three political-economic issues were “providing jobs” (56 percent), “controlling the prices of basic services and commodities” (54 percent), and “eradicating graft and corruption in government” (43 percent).
Stratbase also commissioned a Pulse Asia survey on June 7–16, 2021, to determine the most important traits or characteristics a national candidate should possess. “Political integrity” took top priority. Other traits raised included “Has concern for the poor, pro-poor” (48 percent), “Not corrupt” (47 percent), “Trustworthy and honest” (37 percent), “Has a good platform and can give solutions to the problems of the country” (32 percent), “Fights anomalies in the government” (25 percent), “Untarnished name and reputation” (22 percent), and “Fulfills promises” (21 percent).
Surveys have also revealed the decline in approval and performance ratings of the national administration on selected national issues, demonstrating the ebb of populism in the country. As early as November 2020, the comparative ratings on issues related to addressing the needs of the population were going downhill.
The administration’s approval ratings in the September 2021 survey showed significant declines in a broad range of issues: “controlling inflation” (-26); “fighting graft and corruption in government” (-25); “controlling the spread of COVID-19” (-25); “increasing the pay of workers” (-25); “reducing the poverty of many Filipinos” (-24); “creating jobs” (-23); and “providing assistance/subsidy to those who lost their livelihood and jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic” (-20).
Additionally, the roiling West Philippine Sea issue has gained the attention of many Filipinos, according to the June and September 2021 surveys: 14 percent believe it is one of the national issues that needs to be addressed by a national candidate, while 22 percent say a candidate should offer clear solutions to the problem. Comparatively, the national administration’s performance in addressing this issue has declined by 16 percentage points in the past year.
The numbers convey an all-too-important message for May 2022: This time, the Filipino electorate is likely ready to vote for candidates who champion political integrity and capability and promote issues-based and anti-corruption platforms.
The end is near for populism—and for the personalities that it emboldened, enabled, and protected.
This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.