Sociologist: Support for Duterte is personal

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines)—President Rodrigo Duterte's critics may find his avid support appalling, but sociologist Nicole Curato says it comes from a personal place.

Duterte has been effective in tapping latent anxiety, Curato told The Source on Wednesday. He succeeded in politicizing, and even nationalizing, a problem that many felt at the barangay level.

"That anxiety is coming from a lot of issues that people face, but we tend to forget [it] because it's not obvious," she explained. This anxiety, she added, manifests through drugs and crime.

For many of Duterte's supporters, Curato says, the war on drugs is not just a public issue. "It's a very private issue and… families, friends [are expected] to be able to police each other to make sure that the war on drugs succeeds."

Duterte's controversial drug war has been met with media criticism and international concern. As of early September, an estimated 2, 000 have died in police operations and a spate of extrajudicial killings. Nonetheless, the campaign has enjoyed incredible popularity locally.

Fervent support

Duterte earned a 91% trust rating in a Pulse Asia survey released in July. The record-breaking support surpassed former president Benigno Aquino III's already high trust rate of 85% at the beginning of his term in 2010.

Curato noted that Duterte has committed supporters who are also "loyal, fervent, and unrelenting." Survey results reinforce that voter preference, although trust ratings are naturally higher at the beginning of a presidential term.

However, Curato believes that the withdrawal of judgment on Duterte does not merely come from the "honeymoon period" of the term. She says that the "unqualified support" for him comes from the very paradigm of a war against drugs.

"When [USA] attacked Iraq [and] Afghanistan, there are ways in which people are silenced when they critique it. They say it's unpatriotic, it's disrespectful to the troops," Curato explained, saying the situation was similar. "You have your police officers putting their lives on the line and then you start critiquing them? You don't do that."

Gutter language

This relentless support also translates to defending Duterte, who is known for his brash language, in the international arena.

According to Curato, his language is accepted because it is part of his narrative. "His narrative is, I will stand up for you, I will fight against bullies, and this is how I do that," she said.

Duterte previously used curses and harsh language when speaking about world leaders such as Pope Francis, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and most recently United States President Barack Obama. He also received flak for a rape joke involving an Australian missionary.

His popularity, Curato added, is similar to that of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Chavez called then-president of the United States George W. Bush "the devil" in a speech addressed to the United Nations in 2006.

She said that this language is imitated among his supporters in online platforms. Duterte himself has urged his supporters to be calm, particularly in response to threats given to the media.

Related: Duterte tells supporters, stop threatening foreign, local media

If they wish to express frustration, she suggested that netizens first evaluate toward what ends their comments are directed. "How does it contribute to our democracy when we say these things?" she said.

She appealed to the public to "engage in proper conversation," and asked if avid supporters would be able to say in person what they say online.

"Even if the president has that kind of gutter language," she said, "we are still responsible [toward] each other as citizens in terms of how we talk to each other."