Duterte Push to Alter Constitution Bombs With Majority of Voters

(Bloomberg) -- Two-thirds of Filipino voters remain opposed to President Rodrigo Duterte’s push to change the constitution and give more power to regional governments, according to a new poll.

The Pulse Asia Research Inc. survey conducted last month found that 62 percent of voters rejected federalism and 67 percent opposed changing the constitution, although 28 percent said they might be open to it in the future.

“Filipinos essentially are wary of constitutional change that smacks of a power grab,” Professor Antonio La Vina, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government in Manila, said in a text message. “Most people do not see our governance problems as constitutional. They see it as problem of leaders.”

The poll is a sign that Duterte faces an uphill battle pushing through the first change to the Philippines constitution since the overthrow of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, and follows a Social Weather Stations survey showing his popularity falling to its lowest during his two year rule.

With only voters in the southern island of Mindanao, Duterte’s home province, saying they favored his proposal for federalism, the survey also showed that most people had no actual knowledge of the plan’s detail.

“We would like to point out that only 55 percent of respondents have heard, read, or watched anything about the proposals to change the 1987 constitution before the survey was conducted,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement. “We cannot expect our people to support an initiative which they know only little about.”

Duterte, who has offered to cut his six-year term short to boost support for the reform, has argued that a federal system would boost economic growth and help quell a decades-long Muslim insurgency. Under the plan, the position of prime minister would be created and some restrictions on foreign ownership would be scrapped.

A draft federal constitution was submitted to Duterte last week, but will have to be deliberated and approved by Congress, which is yet to agree on how to amend the constitution.

Opponents of the push, including Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, have warned that a federal system could open the way for public officials to extend their terms in office.

Duterte’s net satisfaction rating fell 11 percentage points to 45 percent, according to a Social Weather Stations survey of 1,200 adults from June 27 to June 30, as inflation climbed to a five-year high and following Duterte’s ‘stupid God’ remarks sparked uproar across the Catholic nation.

The biggest declines came from the capital region, among the poor and the young working population.

Another Social Weather Stations survey over same period found that more than 80 percent of people rejected Duterte’s policy of doing nothing to push back against increased Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, which Filipinos call the West Philippine Sea.

According to the poll, net trust in China had fallen to a net rating of minus 35, classified as “bad,” a 42-point decline since the last survey and the lowest since April 2016.

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