One-third of Pinoys favored strongman rule, 4 SWS survey results showed
Before President Duterte assumed his post, one-third of Filipinos favored abolishing elections and giving a strongman total power to make decisions instead, according to four surveys conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS) from 2002 to 2014.
The survey results, revealed by University of the Philippines political science professor Gene Pilapil, also showed that nearly one-third of the country preferred both one-party and military rule to free and fair elections, long considered a sacrosanct tenet of democracy.
The surveys were conducted for the Asian Barometer, a regional research program that administers a standardized survey across 18 countries in Asia.
A presentation of its results was coauthored by Pilapil and SWS fellow Iremae Labucay.
The first three waves of the Asia Barometer Survey (ABS) were held under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, while the most recent was administered four years into the term of former President Benigno Aquino III.
The next wave is scheduled for October 2018.
Pilapil noted that SWS surveys conducted more regularly than the ABS showed that Filipinos’ satisfaction with democracy had reached an all-time high under Mr. Duterte, who was viewed by many as prone to subverting democratic norms.
Altogether, the results could indicate that many Filipinos have a fundamentally flawed understanding of democracy, Pilapil said.
Throughout all four waves of the ABS, the 1,200 participants were presented with different alternatives to democracy and asked whether they strongly approved, approved, disapproved or strongly disapproved of them.
The first alternative, which was to “get rid of parliament and elections and have a strong leader to decide things,” was either approved or strongly approved by 30 percent in 2002, 37 percent in 2005, 35 percent in 2010 and 33 percent in 2014.
Another alternative, where “only one political party is allowed to stand for election and hold office,” garnered a similar level of support—30 percent approved in 2002, 32 percent in 2005, 32 percent in 2010 and 29 percent in 2014.
When presented with the proposition that “the Army should come in to govern the country,” 37 percent of respondents approved in 2002, 24 percent in 2005, 24 percent in 2010 and 28 percent in 2014.
The only authoritarian alternative to democracy that did not appeal to a significant portion of respondents was a government wherein elections and parliaments would be scrapped and “experts [would] make decisions on behalf of the people,” or a technocracy.
In 2002, 23 percent of respondents approved of this scenario, a number that further tumbled to 17 percent in 2010 and 18 percent in 2014. The option of a technocracy was not presented in the 2005 survey.
In 2002, 53 percent of respondents were either very or fairly satisfied with how democracy worked. This declined to 37 percent in 2005, but sizably increased over the next two waves—48 percent were satisfied in 2010 and 60 percent in 2014.
A significant majority of respondents also consistently agreed with the statement that “democracy is capable of solving the problems of our society”—61 percent in 2002, 56 percent in 2005, 55 percent in 2010 and 64 percent in 2014.
Pilapil noted that this painted a peculiar picture, as several of the respondents who paid lip service to democracy were the same people who were “willing to end it.”
The research showed that in all four waves of the ABS, at least a quarter of respondents were “spurious democrats”—those who agreed that “democracy is always preferable to any other kind of government” but also approved of scrapping elections in favor of strongman rule.
In fact, 33 percent or a significant one-third of respondents in 2005 gave these contradictory answers.
According to Pilapil, this could be due to “democratic preferential inflation,” where mere use of the word “democracy,” which has a built-in positive connotation, could affect how respondents answered.
Another explanation, however, can be found by probing Filipinos’ very understanding of what democracy is.
An ABS question that asked what the meaning of democracy was showed that in every Southeast Asian country, more than half of respondents thought of democracy as either a government that guaranteed social equity or operated without corruption.
Only a small number — in the Philippines, it was 21.4 percent — thought of democracy as the presence of elections and checks and balances, which is the typical Western understanding of the concept.
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