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HK professor says Duterte's hold on power still firm

20 November 2017

By Daisy CL Mandap

Prof. Mark Thompson: “That popularity may not
last, but for the meantime, it's holding firm,”
The Philippines may have one of the highest number of killings by police in the world, but this has not dented President Rodrigo Duterte's popularity.

This was according to Prof. Mark Thompson, head of City University's Southeast Asian Research Centre during a talk on "Duterte's Violent Populism" at the Foreign Correspondents Club on Nov. 7.

Prof. Thompson said the number of deaths from the extrajudicial killings by police and vigilantes as part of Duterte's anti-drug campaign - though "fuzzy"- rival those in known dangerous hotspots like South Africa and Brazil. 

Even the official figure of 9,000 is said to have long surpassed the 3,000 plus deaths recorded during the iron-fist rule over 14 years by former President Ferdinand Marcos.

Despite this, Thompson said recent surveys showed Duterte still enjoying the support of 80 percent of Filipinos.

“That popularity may not last, but for the meantime, it's holding firm,” said Thompson.

Duterte's focus on drugs, instead of other more pressing issues like the rising inflation and incidence of poverty, has reportedly allowed him to build a new power base, aided by the police and his former leftist allies.

The campaign also resonated with the elite, “as they have the biggest security concern”, said Thompson.

“Duterte has brought to the Philippines a new form of reactionary politics,” he said.

This meant attacking some well-entrenched oligarchs like Lucio Tan and some Marcos cronies, but helping those allied with him.

At the same time, he made overtures to the left, but failed to deliver on such promises as agrarian reform and an end to the labor contractualuzation.

This brand of politics also weakened “already vulnerable institutions,” said Thompson.

The Philippine Congress is now under Duterte’s control, and he has trained his guns on independent bodies like the Commission on Human Rights and the Ombudsman.

The country’s economy has also suffered, with more than 90 percent of direct foreign investments falling in just one year under Duterte's rule, while the market for overseas Filipino workers could soon dry up.

Despite all these, Thompson says he does not see any sign of Duterte losing his grip on power anytime soon.

“He will finish his term,” Thompson told The SUN confidently after finishing his talk.

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