He may be at the tail end of his presidency but Rodrigo Duterte still strikes fear in the hearts of the majority of Filipinos, who believe it’s dangerous to say or write anything critical of the administration even if it is true.

Only two out of five Filipinos believe they can speak freely against the Duterte government without facing any consequences, according to the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey released last week.

About half said it was “dangerous” to criticize the administration.

The negative view of the Duterte government hews closely to the results of an earlier SWS survey, which concluded that six out of 10 Filipinos agreed that it was “dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical” of Duterte, “even if it is the truth.”

The latest survey was conducted from September 12 to 16, this year, and covered 1,200 adult respondents. It has a margin of error of plus or minus three percent for national percentages.

The results were released a week after Duterte critic Maria Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize and more than a year after Congress failed to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast network which had been the object of the President’s attacks because of its alleged failure to air his campaign advertisements in 2016.

Ressa faces multiple lawsuits, most of which have already been decided in her favor. Ressa is head of the online news organization Rappler, which has likewise been bad mouthed on several occasions by the President.

Ressa’s citizenship has also been questioned, although she was born in the Philippines but left for the US at age 10 with her mother and stepfather. She is a dual citizen similar to tens of thousands of FilAms and is therefore entitled to all the benefits and rights of a Filipino citizen.

The Duterte government  also managed to effectively muzzle the Philippine Daily Inquirer, considered the country’s largest broadsheet, by accusing its majority owners — the Prieto family — of failing to pay proper taxes. The government also foreclosed a Makati property of the Prietos worth hundreds of millions of pesos.

The President  also verbally attacked other media owners, notably Manny V. Pangilinan who owns the ABC-5 broadcast network as well as interests in daily newspapers, the Philippine Starand BusinessWorld.

The SWS surveys were not-commissioned. The earlier survey actually showed that 65 percent or close to two-thirds of the respondents were wary of speaking out against Duterte, who has less than one year left in his six-year term as president.

The newer survey conducted last month showed an improvement in the Filipinos perception of the President, who announced his retirement from politics after earlier saying he was running for vice-president next year.

Those who still felt it was unsafe to criticize the Duterte administration slipped to 45 percent, with 19 percent saying they felt it was safe to do so, and 29 percent saying they were undecided.

The Duterte family’s home base of Mindanao was the area where the highest number of respondents said they felt endangered if they said or wrote anything critical of the government.

Past SWS surveys where “personal freedom of speech” was highest was during the term of the late President Corazon Aquino, followed by her successor President Fidel Ramos.

Credited with restoring press freedom, Mrs. Aquino scored a high +63 percent score or “very strong” where safely speaking out was concerned, even if against the president.

Surprisingly, her son the late President Benigno Aquino III scored slightly lower than former Presidents Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Joseph Estrada where freedom of the press and speech were concerned.

The lowest scores went to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, followed by Duterte.

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