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Duterte Sees 18-Point Popularity Plunge as Islamic State War Rages

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has experienced a dizzying plunge in popularity, with the polling company Social Weather Stations (SWS) issuing him a +48 approval rating in September, down 18 points from his rating in June.

SWS found Duterte holding a “very good” +80 net trust rating in May, shortly before he declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao in response to an Islamic State raid in Marawi, the nation’s only “Islamic city.” The battle for Marawi continues to rage today, with authorities claiming they expect all Islamic State elements to be eradicated from the city by next week.

SWS conducts approval surveys every three months. Its September poll found that Duterte’s ratings were still in the “good” category but significantly lower than they were in June. SWS president Mahar Mangahas said in an interview that the change was atypical for presidents, “a little bit faster than average, compared to past presidents.” Mangahas stated he believed the high number still counted as a “honeymoon phase” rating.

In addition to the Marawi siege, Duterte has spearheaded a violent anti-drug campaign that has triggered international condemnation, but has for months appeared largely popular domestically. Mangahas did cede that violent activity can lower presidential approval ratings.

“All the presidents, their ratings go down,” he explained. “I wouldn’t say that there has to be something violent that happens, but when there’s something violent, that’s the worst.”

Duterte took office in June 2016. SWS found his September rating that year to be +64. That number rose to +67 in June, with a presidential trust poll finding that 80 percent of Philippine voters had “much trust” in the president.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella dismissed news of the decline in popularity, stating that the decline “is traditionally happening after a year or year and a half. And, you know, the love is still there.”

“[The people’s] expectations were high and the actual implementation of these things may have led to the dip. However, people are still in general, still satisfied,” he added, suggesting that people may not be disappointed in the handling of the Marawi situation or the drug war but, rather, “is a whole system approach … Just delivering on the 3 campaign promises already is a humongous job.”

The Philippine military asserted this week that the Marawi siege may finally have an end in sight, though it would not be the first time such a prediction came and went. The siege began in May when members of the Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf, two Islamic State affiliates, attacked police in the heart of the city and began taking hostages. Duterte declared a 60-day imposition of martial law on the entire island of Mindanao, where he also lives, and sent the military in to eradicate the ISIS threat. Aided by foreign jihadi recruits, however, and hiding in the city’s mosques which Duterte refused to bomb, ISIS terrorists managed to gain a foothold in the city, using the urban landscape to their advantage.

As of this weekend, Rear Admiral Rene Medina, commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, predicted the operation would take another week. “Just one more week, the operation,” Medina told reporters in a mix of English and Filipino. He estimated 30 to 40 Islamic State terrorists remained in the city, along with 20 civilian hostages.

Duterte himself also stated that he expected the operations to conclude in one week. “We hope that it would be finished in about one week. We have suffered casualties, the biggest so far in my … in present years,” he said at an event Tuesday. “And I am sad that terrorism has arrived in my land.”
Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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