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The Mystery Of Duterte’s Star Still Rising

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg© 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

President Rodrigo Duterte’s star is rising among Filipinos.

That’s according to a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, which finds that 74% of adult Filipinos are satisfied with Duterte’s performance—up from 70% back in September.

The SWS is based on a tiny sample of 1,440 adults, so its findings should be interpreted with caution.

Nonetheless, the findings of the SWS survey are consistent with previous surveys. Like a Pulse Asia survey  conducted last June, which showed that Duterte enjoys an approval rating of 88% and a trust rating of 87%, up from 80% and 82% back in January.

Then there’s a Gallup survey, which finds that 28% of Filipinos consider themselves thriving in 2017 compared to 26% in 2016, pushing the Philippines up a notch in the ranking of the Asia-Pacific countries.

Still, Duterte’s rising approval rate is a mystery, given his hard tactics against drug traffic, which have brought little sense of safety to the Philippines. Filipinos felt roughly as safe in 2017 as they felt back in 2016, walking alone at night in the streets.

That’s according to a a Gallup report, published earlier this year.

Then, there are issues like persistent corruption, foreign policy flip-flops, and the high cost of living, which should have created a wedge between Filipinos and Duterte’s performance.

Philippines Corruption RankKoyfin

What’s driving Duterte’s popularity?

A couple of plausible factors. One of them is Duterte’s opening up to China, which has created a rush among Chinese to buy property in the country’s major cities.

And with the property rush has come prosperity to those cities, winning Duterte a high approval rating among city residents (roughly one-third of SWS respondents come from Balance Luzon, Metro Manila, Visayas, and Mindanao).

Another factor is the strong growth in the overall economy, which has lifting the country’s per capita GDP to all-time high of 2,891.36 U.S. dollars in 2017.

Philippines GDPKoyfin

That’s well above the average of 1,627.98 USD for the period 1960-2017, according to Per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) measures the total output of a country divided by the number of people in that country.

Meanwhile, Filipinos are doing better under Duterte when per-capita GDP is adjusted by purchasing power parity (PPP). That measure, too, reached a record 7,599.19 U.S. dollars in 2017, well above the average of 4969.71 USD for the period 1990-2017.

Then there’s a surge in gross fixed-capital formation (investment). It reached 695,414.08 PHP million in the second quarter of 2018 from roughly 450,000 PHP million in July of 2015–well above the 303,138.16 PHP million for the period 1998 until 2018, and an all-time high.

A surge in investment, in turn, has helped the country’s unemployment rate fall close to 5% from over 6% a couple of years ago.

Foreign Direct InvestmentKoyfin

Philippines Unemployment RateKoyfin

The bottom line: Duterte may have a terrible human rights record, a questionable foreign policy record, but he has a decent economic record, at least thus far.

And that seems to be sufficient to connect with Filipino citizens, especially in the larger cities, which counted for a big chunk of SWS respondents.

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