Arroyo blames ‘vicious opposition’ for Duterte’s slump, recalls own doldrums

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Rodrigo Duterte
Reuters file photo of President Rodrigo Duterte

MANILA, Philippines — Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo blamed the steep drop in President Rodrigo Duterte’s satisfaction ratings on a “vicious opposition” trying to bring him down, as she recalled her own doldrums.

But staunch oppositionist Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said the “double-digit erosion” of Duterte’s popularity and trust ratings was “not a matter of seasonal decline or the end of a honeymoon” but the result of bad governance, including the thousands of killings that have marked the administration’s war on drugs.

The third quarter 2017 survey of the Social Weather Stations showed Duterte’s net satisfaction rating plunging by 14 percent to a “good” +48 from June’s +66. While Malacañang made light of the results, calling it a normal occurrence for any government, analysts say the administration should consider the results as a wake-up call.

Offering Duterte advice, Arroyo, who is serving her second term as representative of Pampanga’s second district, said all he needs to do is to focus and perform and not be worried by the “blip” in his ratings, which will rise and fall in the course of his presidency.

“It is part of the territory. It reflects the pulse of the people at a particular time. A drop though does not mean erosion of public support but merely a sentiment on particular policies,” she said.

“During my term, I too suffered even more serious problems with my ratings, precipitated by the same kind of vicious opposition now working to bring down President Duterte,” she recalled. “I responded by focusing instead on performance, performance, performance. It was my intention to leave a real legacy of achievement, because it was only the judgment of history that mattered to me.”

Arroyo, who served the balance of President Joseph Estrada’s term after his ouster in 2001 and then won a full six-year term in the controversial 2004 elections, had the most dismal ratings of any president after the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

She never came close to +50 and was stuck with negative ratings for almost all of her full term.

Lately Duterte, who has aggressively lashed at critics, especially of the war on drugs estimated to have claimed more than 13,000 lives since he assumed office last year, has claimed he is the target of an ouster plot by an alliance of the “Reds” — the Left, including the armed communist movement, with which he had started out on friendly terms — and the “Yellows,” as the opposition led by the Liberal Party is derisively called.

Ironically, the LP, which dominated Congress under former President Benigno Aquino III, has been depleted by defections, mostly to Duterte’s PDP-Laban — from more than 100 in the House of Representatives after the 2016 elections to around 25 currently, only five of who, including Lagman, belong to the tiny independent bloc  — and relegated to the minority in the Senate.

Arroyo stressed that “the job of a president is not to make popular decisions. He should make decisions for the greater good though unpopular.”

“I had to endure this process myself when I made tough and unpopular decisions that ultimately redounded to the common good,” she noted, adding that Duterte’s initiatives, such as tax reform, infrastructure buildout, Charter change, and securing and rebuilding Marawi City can all “produce major changes early enough to improve his ratings by early next year” and cement his legacy.

But Lagman said the slump in Duterte’s approval “is strongly indicative of the Filipinos’ frustration over the President’s persistent erratic policies, flawed pronouncements and cardinal failures,” among these:

  • Unabated summarily killings of suspected drug users and dealers
  • Consistent predisposition to authoritarian rule
  • Inordinate vindictiveness and reprisal against critics
  • Persistent purveying of patent lies and twisting of the truth
  • Unredeemed promises like alleviating poverty, solving the drug problem and the traffic mess, and forging peace with the left and Muslim separatists.

“The Duterte administration must positively respond to these serious indictments rather than sweep these criticisms under the rug,” he said.

“The President and his subalterns must not foment excuses and alibis but should make contrite amends and requisite reforms to arrest the fall of the President’s ratings,” he added.