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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ended 2017 on a self-satisfied note, openly contemplating and promoting his successor after his six-year term ends in 2022.
In the country’s tempestuous and often volatile politics, where leaders have historically been overthrown in angry street protests, only a confident and powerful president would talk about succession so early in his tenure.
In less than two years, Duterte has chipped away at the country’s democratic institutions with temerity and contempt. He has not only exposed the hollow nature of Philippine democracy, but also placed the country on what seems to be an ineluctable path towards full-blown authoritarian rule.
Duterte’s audacity to challenge the country’s traditional pillars of power stems largely from his strong and enduring popularity. Pulse Asia, a local pollster, showed in its latest survey that as many as 80% of Filipinos approve of his performance.
The Filipino public also seems to be warming to the idea of one-man rule. According to a recent Pew Survey, half of Filipinos support an authoritarian leader who exercises supremacy over other branches of government with limited accountability.
Scholarly research also shows that a majority of Filipinos prefer a decisive leader who doesn’t bother with electoral competition, so long as he or she delivers basic public services and ensures law and order. This largely explains why Duterte’s repeated threats to declare nationwide martial law, establish a “revolutionary government”, or abolish the legislature hasn’t solicited a strong public backlash.
Crucially, he can also count on the support of like-minded popular figures, including world boxing champion cum senator Manny Pacquiao, who Duterte endorsed as “president to be” at the pugilist’s December 16 birthday celebration, to fulfill his vision of authoritarian rule. As veteran Filipino journalist Vergel Santos recently warned of the slide towards authoritarianism, “If we’re not already there, we’re looking right down on it.”
(G.N.S.) Dt. 26