LULU ALKHALIDI WRITES – In polls conducted by Pulse Asian between September 14 and September 20, the rating for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s performance was 91%. The poll was of course conducted during the coronavirus pandemic, with 5% of the population giving a negative response while 4% were undecided. In essence, the poll meant that in every 9 out of 10 people in the Philippines approved of President Duterte.

Despite the high ratings, the Philippines is accelerating its abuse of human rights. For example, the fight against drugs has been used by President Duterte’s government to carry out extrajudicial killings. By 2019, approximately five thousand alleged drug traffickers had been killed by the government. Most did not go through the judicial process and were not convicted of any crime. Still, they were summarily executed, and the president supported these actions as it was his rallying calling when vying for the presidency.

But these Philippines poll results are just one example of what is going on in Asia. Many Asian nations have been led by authoritarian leaders such Xi Jinping of China, Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore and Duterte. And yet, authoritarian leadership in Asia has been, in part, beneficial to the people. The authoritarian leadership of Lee Kuan Yew saw the rise of Singapore from a third world country to a first-world country. Under his rule, Singapore became the financial hub of Asia. Currently, the leader Lee Hsien Loong, a Lee Kuan Yew protégé, is managing an authoritarian regime that nevertheless delivers services to the people.

With such violations of human rights, one would expect the nation to abhor such a president and have a very low approval rating. But the Philippines portrays an entirely different picture. The majority of Filipinos are approving of the president’s behavior.

This, then, raises a lot of fundamental issues: Is the world becoming more receptive to authoritarian leadership? Are such nations, with such heavy powers bestowed upon their leaders, threats to universal peace?  The late President Ferdinand Marcos perpetrated considerable human rights abuses and was finally exiled in 1986.  Given Duterte’s record on human rights, does his rule represent a move back to the future? Is history destined to repeat itself?

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