MANILA (Reuters) - The government of Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte has been a “huge disappointment and letdown”, a former president and one of Duterte’s mentors said, bucking popular sentiment and a high poll rating for his first 100 days in office.
In rare criticism of Duterte, 88-year-old former president Fidel Ramos said the government was “losing badly” by prioritising a war on drugs at the expense of issues like poverty, living costs, foreign investment and jobs.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte was a reader and was aware of the commentary. Abella said Ramos, who was in office from 1992 to 1998, was acting like a father and the government respected him.
Duterte picked Ramos as his special envoy to China, to manage the fallout from an arbitration case Manila won in July that dented Beijing’s claims to jurisdiction over most of the South China Sea.
Duterte has spoken often of his respect for Ramos and that Ramos had persuaded him to run in the May election.
It was not clear why Ramos made his criticism at this time and neither he nor his spokesmen were immediately available for comment.
In a Sunday editorial in the Manila Bulletin newspaper, much of it written in capital letters, Ramos listed priority focus areas that could have been “do-able” if Duterte had hit the ground running “instead of being stuck in endless controversies about extrajudicial killings of drug suspects and in his ability at using cuss-words and insults instead of civilised language”.
The drugs crackdown, Duterte’s signature policy popular among Filipinos who elected him in May by a huge margin, has killed more than 3,600 people since June 30, with 1,377 shot by police in operations. Activists believe the rest were mostly vigilante killings.
Ramos is the only president to score higher than Duterte in a Philippine opinion poll traditionally conducted after the first 90 days of each presidency.
Duterte was rated “very good”, with a net satisfaction rating of 64 percent in a Social Weather Stations Poll on Thursday, behind Ramos at 66 percent. Only 11 percent of 1,200 people polled were not satisfied with Duterte.
In a separate poll on Friday, 84 percent of Filipinos supported the drug crackdown although most felt it important to arrest suspects alive.
Ramos said the government’s mixed statements on Philippine-U.S. relations were “discombobulating” including Duterte’s verbal attack on U.S. President Barack Obama early in September at the same time his defence minister and finance minister were on visits to the United States.
Duterte a week ago said Obama should “go to hell” and that in his time, he might “break up” with traditional ally Washington.
On Friday, he reiterated that ongoing U.S.-Philippines military exercises would be “the last” and challenged Washington to use the Central Intelligence Agency to oust him.
“So what gives??” Ramos asked in the editorial.
“Are we throwing away decades of military partnership, tactical proficiency, compatible weaponry, predictable logistics and soldier-to-soldier camaraderie, just like that?? On DU30’s say-so???,” he said, referring to a popular acronym for Duterte.
Ramos hoped the next 100 days would be “much, much better” and Duterte would consider “the entire gamut of Philippine problems, starting with poverty”.
Presidential spokesman Abella said the government listened to what Ramos said, especially on foreign relations.
“He’s a senior statesman. He has his opinion, he has his concerns, especially regarding foreign relations and these are also worth looking into,” Abella told a regular briefing.
“There are really mixed reactions and while there may be some concerns, we’d also like to, you know, at the end, summarize the fact that the president is a man of action and really, we need to appreciate that more.”
Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel