Social Weather Stations’ (SWS) survey last December revealed that 76% of Filipinos see many human rights abuses in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on illegal drugs. The SWS report prompted Philippine Star columnist Boo Chanco to ask on Facebook if people are turning a blind eye to these human rights abuses when they give President Duterte a high rating.

Many netizens have also expressed in social media their befuddlement over the President’s high satisfaction rating in SWS surveys given the high cost of food, joblessness, and widespread criminality, issues that have an impact on the daily lives of the great majority of the population. The same SWS December survey also revealed that 78% of Filipino adults believe the accusation that there are “ninja cops” among members of the police force.

A previous survey found that those who feel it is wrong to do nothing about the Chinese infrastructures and military presence in the West Philippine Sea now comprise 93% of the adult population, a 6% increase from 2018. In reaction to the call for him to take stronger action to assert the Philippines’ ownership of the West Philippine Sea, Mr. Duterte has said, “We cannot afford a war. We cannot win a battle against China. I would only lose maybe thousands of my troops and policemen.”

The President himself has admitted that he was wrong to assume that he could eliminate the illegal drug trade in three to six months, that he might not even eliminate it before the end of his term in spite of the avowal he made in his 3rd State of the Nation Address that his war against illegal drugs would be “relentless and chilling.” He has also intimated that he cannot eradicate corruption.

He has also become defeatist when faced with the challenges to his administration. Fed up with the unsuccessful attempts to solve the traffic gridlock on EDSA, he blurted, “Let EDSA rot.” About the Pasig River, he said, “That Pasig, you can no longer clean it because we don’t have any zoning (regulations). Over the years, the waste of factories and houses all go into the Pasig River. How can you clean that?” To the jeepney operators or owners who cannot afford the modern jeepneys, the President angrily told them: “If you can’t modernize that, leave. You’re poor? Son of a bitch, go ahead, suffer in poverty and hunger, I don’t care.”

In spite of all this, the satisfaction rating of the President remains high. No, the people do not turn a blind eye on those human rights abuses, they just don’t set their eyes on those abuses, just as they don’t set their eyes on other issues that impact on their daily lives.

We cannot tell what those who find the President’s performance satisfactory base their assessment on as they are not asked why they are satisfied with President Duterte’s performance. The usual wording of the question asked in surveys about the President’s performance is as follows: “Are you very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, undecided if satisfied or dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, very dissatisfied, or you have not ever heard or read anything about Rodrigo Duterte?”

Each respondent interprets the question from his own viewpoint. One respondent’s understanding of the word “performance” may be different from another respondent’s understanding of the same word, and much more so from that of political commentators.

So when adult Filipinos are asked if they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the performance of the President, their frame of reference could be the performance of something unrelated to governance, like his long speeches spiced with racy adlibs or his expletive-laden tirades against his detractors and Catholic Church dignitaries. Respondents could also be referring to the President’s abandonment of the formalities, traditions, and protocol long established in Malacañang in favor of the ways of the common tao (person).

The 2004 presidential elections can give us an idea of how the majority of the voting or adult population see the highest position of the land. Almost 12 million votes were cast for Fernando Poe, Jr., who did not have the formal education nor the experience in governance that would have prepared him for the position.

Two other candidates with better credentials in government service — Panfilo Lacson and Raul Roco — got much fewer votes than Mr. Poe. Mr. Lacson, a Philippine Military Academy graduate, holder of a master’s degree in Government Management, former Philippine National Police chief, and sitting senator in 2004, got 3.5 million votes, while Mr. Roco, who earned a master’s degree in Law from the University of Pennsylvania, was a nine-year senator, and former secretary of Education got only 2.1 million votes.

The other factor could be the lack of competence of the respondents to answer the questions. The 1,200 respondents are supposed to be representative of all sub-groups of the adult population of the Philippines. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the Philippine population breaks down into 1% AB, 9% C, 60% D, and 30% E. That means only 12 respondents come from the socio-economic class AB, 108 from Class C, and 1,080 from among those belonging to the socio-economic classes D and E.

SWS refers to the D class as the Lower Class who basically live a hand-to-mouth existence, and the E class as the Extremely Lower Class who face great difficulties in meeting their survival needs. They would be too preoccupied with earning a living to be interested in the performance of the president and therefore be competent to pass judgment on President Duterte’s performance.

So as not to appear an ignoramus to the interviewer, a respondent belonging to the Economic Class DE picks one of the possible answers presented to him. To play it safe, he gives the answer which he thinks would please the hypersensitive President.

It would be interesting to know what the respondents’ answers would be if, after having been asked if they are satisfied or not with the President’s performance, they are subsequently asked, “Why do you feel the way you do about President Duterte’s performance?” Based on my experience in public opinion polling, the lack of awareness on the part of the citizenry of the issues of national implication will be blatantly exposed.

In cognizance of the lack of competence of the great majority of voters to vote intelligently, many Catholic bishops waged in last year’s elections a vigorous campaign to “educate” the voters in their dioceses. They exhorted their flock to vote for persons of conscience, who are capable of governing, and who are committed to work for the common good.

Then there is the fear factor in the seeming contradiction between the President’s popularity and his actual performance. As he has shown a disdain for criticism and opposition, as evidenced by the fates of Senator Leila de Lima, former Senator Antonio Trillanes, Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, journalist Maria Ressa, and media organizations Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN, survey respondents could also be afraid to say something not favorable to him and his policies and programs.

Interviews are conducted face-to-face. The respondent’s name and address are written down in the interview sheet. The interviewer is a total stranger to the respondent. The latter may have reservations about the true purpose of the interviewer, given the prevailing political climate.


Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.