The Philippines’ opinion on the US and China is wavering, but one thing’s for sure: Duterte’s the man

Still got it.
Still got it.
Image: Reuters/Handout
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Over a year into Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial presidency, an overwhelming number of Filipinos still support him.

The Pew Research Center found that 86% of 1,000 Filipinos polled between February and May this year held a favorable view of Duterte, in a survey published Sept. 21.

Pew’s study found that 80% of Filipinos supported Duterte’s handling of the economy, which grew 6.5% in the second quarter. Nearly as many approved of the president’s war on drugs, which has drawn global criticism for its extra-judicial killings, many of the victims children and innocent people. As of June, 3,116 people have been killed in Duterte’s drug war, according to Human Rights Watch. Filipinos also overwhelmingly supported Duterte’s policies on crime, corruption, and terrorism, particularly as the country fights an Islamist insurgency in the southern part of the country.

When it comes to international relations, the picture is a bit more complicated. The survey showed that while most Filipinos still have favorable views of the US—a poll released in June by Pew found that the Philippines was the most pro-Trump of 37 countries surveyed—the US is becoming less popular. Since Duterte came to power, he’s threatened to kick (paywall) US troops off Philippine bases and insulted Barack Obama.

At the same time, favorable opinions of China are increasing in the Philippines, albeit at a slow pace, perhaps reflecting continuing unease over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea and China’s economic prowess. Over eight in 10 Filipinos surveyed said that territorial disputes between China and the Philippines were a big problem, down from nine out of 10 in 2015. Nevertheless, a majority of Filipinos still said they believe the US military presence in the country is a good thing, and that the US will defend the Philippines in case of a conflict with China.

Despite the glowing reviews for Duterte in Pew’s latest study, things have taken a turn since the survey results were gathered. Anger is mounting in the country after a 17-year-old was killed (paywall) just outside Manila during the bloodiest week of the drug war, sparking an unprecedented senate investigation into the death.