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Duterte on track to become Philippines most popular president

Support hits new high despite president's bloody drug war and pro-China stance

MANILA -- Rodrigo Duterte is on track to becoming the Philippine's most popular president since the democratic era began 33 years ago with the fall of Ferdinand Marcos's dictatorship.

Duterte finished the first half of his six-year term with a record net satisfaction rating of 68% in the second quarter, surpassing a previous high of 66% in the January-March period, according to a Social Weather Stations poll published Monday. The proportion of satisfied respondents rose one percentage point to 80%, while those dissatisfied dropped a point to 12%.

His performance bucks a trend among past presidents whose ratings deteriorated as they wrapped up the first half of their terms in office.

While Fidel Ramos had a rating of 69% in the second year of his 1992-1998 presidency, his average over six years was just 38%. Duterte has consistently scored above 50%. Benigno Aquino had an average of 45% throughout his six years (2010-2016), while other former presidents -- Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Joseph Estrada and Corazon Aquino -- fared less well.

The president's senatorial candidates won by a landslide in May's midterm elections. And his rising approval score gives his administration further impetus to push through with controversial policies, such as corporate income tax reforms, a foreign policy pivot to China, and the bloody war on drugs.

Ramon Casiple, executive director Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, said the general public perception is that "the top executive is doing his job."

"People see his performance and his achievements in infrastructure development, dealing with the rebellion in Mindanao, and environmental conservation," Casiple said. On the drug war, the analyst added: "People are against the killings, but they would rather have a strong anti-drug campaign."

Even so, he still faces international opposition to his anti-narcotics drive. Amnesty International said in a report on Monday the crackdown that has killed thousands of suspects has been carried out with "total impunity."

Last week, a three-year old girl became the latest casualty in the campaign that has left more than 5,000 suspects dead. Human rights activists believe the actual death toll is three to four times higher than the official police records.

SWS has been taking such surveys since 1986 when the Marcos dictatorship fell.

Duterte pledged to give Marcos a hero's burial during his presidential campaign. And he made good on that promise, with the former dictator being interred in a cemetery reserved for national heroes in 2016 -- 27 years after he died in exile in Hawaii.

The second-quarter survey was conducted from June 22 to 26 amid an intense public debate over the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in a disputed area in the South China Sea that lies in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Aiming to preserve ties with Beijing, Duterte played down the issue as a "a little maritime accident," drawing the ire of nationalists and political opponents who demanded a stronger response.

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