President Duterte’s approval ratings in The Philippines remain incredibly high, both by the standards of his contemporaries and by international standards. His continued popularity in his country, demonstrates that Filipinos know something that many overseas have not yet been able to grasp. As of December 2017, President Duterte had an approval rating of 80%. An additional survey found that of the four most recent Philippine Presidents, Duterte was rated the most trusted. By contrast, Donald Trump’s approval rating among Americans as of March 2018 stands at 42%, his highest since taking office. In recent European surveys, Britain’s Prime Minister received an approval rating of 27% while the French President’s approval rating was 28% and Germany’s veteran Chancellor Angela Merkel came in with a 39% approval rating.
All of these numbers among prominent western politicians are significantly lower than that of the Philippine President, but this is only half the story. Duterte’s policies are openly detested among the western global elites because they represent an economic pivot in the Philippines away from the US and its EU cousin, to the wider pan-Asia world. Duterte’s building of new economic partnerships across ASEAN, with China, Russia and India have shown that Duterte does not favour any one nation or region, but is instead looking to diversify the international outlook of the Philippine economy. This strikes at the heart of the yellow/Liberal agenda which seeks to promote stagnation in The Philippines under the guise that an old broken system can somehow fix itself.
When it comes to security issues, Duterte has received free weapons from Russia and looks to build further security partnerships beyond the traditional western NATO axis. Duterte’s war on drugs has proved to be highly popular among Filipinos and for good reason: it has cut crime, anti-social degeneracy, has increased productivity and has led the Philippine economy to be named the number one investment capital of the world. Simultaneous to cleaning up the streets and opening the country for business, Duterte has diversified the internal market in The Philippines, making old oligarchs less powerful, while tax reforms look to put the economic future of the country in the hands of local businessmen and entrepreneurs as well as their international partners.
It is clear enough why countries like the US and its western allies are feeling upset at losing their once unstoppable economic and political monopoly over the Philippines. As such, they are using their mainstream media outlets and international political associations to slander Duterte as much as possible. But why is it that some independent commentators or self-described activists who don’t normally take mainstream media stories as gospel, also see fit to slander Duterte?
The key to understanding why Duterte is misunderstood even among political sceptics in the wider western world, requires understanding the fact that concepts like 21st century non-alignment, multipolarity and political values which transcend traditional definitions of right and left, are still grossly misrepresented, in both mainstream and so-called ‘alt-media’.
Duterte, like most of the respected leaders in modern Asia cannot be defined as right or left wing – he is both and he is neither. In one sense, his policies which use state power to enhance the living standards, safety and economic condition of ordinary people might be thought of as traditionally socialist. However, his embrace of international commerce, tax relief for ordinary people, an attitude that embraces entrepreneurship and big infrastructure projects, could be thought of as centre-right. In reality, neither of these labels apply, just as they don’t readily apply to Vladimir Putin, former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew or Chinese reformer Deng Xiaoping who famously rejected dogmatic politics when he said,
“It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”.
While all of the aforementioned men who have transcended traditional political stereotypes are very different individuals, they all have one thing in common: the fact that they place political problem solving over and above ideological or dogmatic considerations.
Just as many adherents to international liberalism hide behind bogus claims of human rights violations in The Philippines to justify their neo-liberal economic agenda, so too are others missing the essence of Duterte. Some of the far-left criticise Duterte for his tough stance against the terrorist group New People’s Army(NPA). The idea that the NPA could bring any benefit to the country when it has taken up arms in a multi-party democracy in the 21st century and done so at a time when a country like China (which hasn’t supported such a group for decades) deals with right wing governments, centrist governments, theocracies and moderate secular governments throughout the world, is patently absurd. For Duterte, it is not a matter of ideology when opposing leftist NPA or the Takfiri jihadist Maute Group or Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), it is a matter of opposing armed terrorist groups who threaten national stability and security.
The idea that The Philippines could benefit from a Maoist system in the 21st century, is simply absurd at every level. The 21st century is the age of mixed systems and multipolarty. The 20th century by contrast, was an age of failed dogmas whose only value was to serve as a building block of future national stability. Every major nation in the world realises this and those who criticise Duterte for attacking communist terrorists are living in a fantasy that is totally detached from the reality of 2018. Both ultra-capitalism and ultra-communism in its most puritanical form have shown that at best they are incomplete systems and are otherwise, total failures. Duterte is wise in rejecting the extremes of both.
Likewise, those who criticise Duterte for not being tough enough on the United States, fail to realise that even China and Russia conduct business with the west, in spite of being at odds on a geostrategic and geopolitical level. International relations, especially where commerce is concerned, are not a zero sum game. Duterte has not traded the subservient relationship of his predecessors to the US, for a subservient relationship with China or Russia (and nor do China or Russia seek such a one-sided relationship). Duterte has embraced multipolarity, which speaks to the fact that Duterte is willing to do business with any respectful partner that can bring added value to the living standards of the Filipino people. The fact that this means decreasing ties with the US, Canada and EU, has everything to do with their attitude and nothing to do with a zero-sum ideology on the part of Duterte. Duterte is looking for win-win situations throughout the world and thus far, he has found many in both expected and unexpected places.
While the leftist critics of Duterte live in a kind of strange fantasy land, his western right wing critics are no better. For them, unless Duterte were to model his system on pro-western ultra-capitalist regimes like Pinochet’s Chile, they will continue to rehash racist stereotypes about The Philippines being some how perpetually economically and socially backwards. Publications that base their considerations on economic and political realities rather than on political dogmas and racism understand things differently, which is why investment from many different countries is flowing into The Philippines due to Duterte’s reforms. While some secretly wish The Philippines to fail out of traditional hatreds, those with an objective point of view, realise that Duterte has already brought a great deal of success to his nation.
Ultimately, Duterte and The Philippines does not need to answer any of its foreign critics. Duterte’s job is to serve his people, not the wishes of foreigners. However, it is important in an age of soft-power projection, to have the necessary tools to explain why Duterte is so misrepresented in certain countries.
Duterte has embraced modern multipolarity with Filipino characteristics. The far right and far left are there to serve themselves, while Duterte is there to serve his people based on an understanding of reality, complete with the straight talking personality that helps make this clear to all but those who refuse to listen.