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The Philippines 2017: Duterte-led Authoritarian Populism and Its Liberal-Democratic Roots

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Abstract

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte led a phenomenal campaign to win the 2016 national election. During his first two years in power Duterte has become the protagonist and exemplar of a key new development – the social formation of a regime of authoritarian populism. Based on an analysis of news reports, public debates, survey results, and official policy documents from 2017, the article examines various features of this emergent regime and then illuminates the historical-institutional mechanisms that brought it about. The inquiry is predicated on an understanding that the old EDSA Republic’s liberal-democratic regime has been marked by intractable socio-economic crises since its installation in 1986. This triggered different political tendencies and trajectories that Duterte has been able to mould into a new mode of regulation and governance. The central discussion elucidates some of the significant features that constitute the process through which the new regime of authoritarian populism is taking shape. The conclusion highlights the mutually reinforcing features of the dying EDSA-type liberal democracy and the emerging Duterte-led authoritarian populism. This suggests that the former has been a spawning ground for the latter.
viella
Edited by
Michelguglielmo Torri
Elisabetta Basile
Nicola Mocci
Asia in the Waning Shadow
of American Hegemony
XXVI
2015
XXVIII
2017
Asia in the Waning Shadow of American Hegemony
Michelguglielmo Torri, Elisabetta Basile, Nicola Mocci (eds.)
ASIA MAIOR
The Journal of the Italian think tank on Asia
founded by Giorgio Borsa in 1989
Vol. XXVIII / 2017
centro studi per i popoli extra-europeicesare bonacossa” - università di pavia
ASIA MAIOR Vol. XXVIII / 2017
Foreword
M. Torri, Asia Maior in 2017: The unravelling of the US foreign policy
Essays
F. Congiu & C. Rossi, China 2017: Searching for consent
M. Milani, Korea 2015: Searching for new balances
S. Maslow & G. Pugliese, Japan 2015: Defending the status quo
A. Insisa, Taiwan 2017: Stalemate on the Strait
B. Juego, The Philippines 2017: Duterte-led authoritarian populism
E. Valdameri, Indonesia 2017: Towards illiberal democracy
N. Mocci, Cambodia 2016-2017: The worsening of social and political conicts
P. Masina, Thailand 2017: The rst year of King Vajiralongkorn
M. Fumagalli, Myanmar 2017: The Rohingya crisis
M. Casolari, Bangladesh 2017: The Rohingyas carnage
M. Torri & D. Maiorano, India 2017: Narendra Modi’s continuing hegemony
M. Torri, India 2017: Still no achhe din (good days) for the economy
M. Miele, Nepal 2015-2017: A post-earthquake constitution
F. Leone, Sri Lanka 2017: The uncertain road of the government
M. Corsi, Pakistan 2017: Vulnerabilities of the emerging market
D. Abenante, Afghanistan 2017: Trump’s «New Strategy»
L. Zaccara, Iran 2017: From Rouhani’s re-election to the December protests
A. Del Sordi, Kazakhstan 2017: Stabilisation, nation-building,
international engagement
Reviews
Appendix
€ 50, 00
ISSN 2385-2526
www.viella.it
Asia Maior. The Journal of the Italian think tank on Asia founded by
Giorgio Borsa in 1989.
Copyright © 2018 - Viella s.r.l. & Associazione Asia Maior
ISSN 2385-2526
ISBN 978-88-3313-044-6 (paper) ISBN 978-88-3313-045-3 (e-book)
Annual journal - Vol. XXVIII, 2017
Published jointly by Associazione Asia Maior & CSPE - Centro Studi per i
Popoli extra-europei “Cesare Bonacossa” - Università di Pavia
EDITOR (direttore responsabile): Michelguglielmo Torri (University of Tu-
rin).
CO-EDITORS: Elisabetta Basile (University of Rome «La Sapienza»); Nicola
Mocci (University of Sassari).
BOOK REVIEWS EDITORS: Oliviero Frattolillo (University Roma Tre);
Fra nces ca Co ngiu (Un ivers ity of Ca glia ri).
STEERING COMMITTEE
Axel Berkofsky (University of Pavia); Diego Maiorano (University of Notting-
ham); Nicola Mocci (University of Sassari); Giulio Pugliese (King’s College
London); Michelguglielmo Torri (University of Turin); Elena Valdameri
(Swiss Federal Institute of Technology - ETH Zurich); Pierluigi Valsecchi (Uni-
versity of Pavia).
The graphic design of this Asia Maior issue is by Nicola Mocci
Asia Maior. The Journal of the Italian think tank on Asia founded by Giorgio Bor-
sa in 1989 is an open-access journal, whose issues and single articles can
be freely downloaded from the think tank webpage: www.asiamaior.org.
Paper version Italy 50.00 Abroad 65.00
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centro studi per i popoli extra-europeicesare bonacossa” - università di pavia
ASIA MAIOR
The Journal of the Italian think tank on Asia founded by Giorgio Borsa in 1989
Vol. XXVIII / 2017
Asia in the Waning Shadow
of American Hegemony
Edited by
Michelguglielmo Torri, Elisabetta Basile, Nicola Mocci
viella
associazione asia Maior
Steering Committee: Marzia Casolari (President),
Francesca Congiu, Diego Maiorano, Nicola Mocci (Vice
President), Michelguglielmo Torri (Scientific Director).
Scientific Board: Guido Abbattista (Università di Trieste), Domenico Ami-
rante (Università «Federico II», Napoli), Elisabetta Basile (Università «La
Sapienza», Roma), Luigi Bonanate (Università di Torino), Claudio Cecchi
(Università «La Sapienza», Roma), Alessandro Colombo (Università di Mila-
no), Anton Giulio Maria de Robertis (Università di Bari), Thierry Di Costan-
zo (Université de Strasbourg), Max Guderzo (Università di Firenze), Franco
Mazzei (Università «L’Orientale», Napoli), Giorgio Milanetti (Università
«La Sapienza», Roma), Paolo Puddinu (Università di Sassari), Adriano Rossi
(Università «L’Orientale», Napoli), Giuseppe Sacco (Università «Roma Tre»,
Roma), Guido Samarani (Università «Ca’ Foscari», Venezia), Filippo Sabetti
(McGill University, Montréal), Gianni Vaggi (Università di Pavia), Alberto
Ventura (Università della Calabria)
CSPE - Centro Studi per i Popoli extra-europei
“Cesare Bonacossa” - Università di Pavia
Steering Committee: Axel Berkofsky, Arturo Colombo,
Antonio Morone, Giulia Rossolillo, Gianni Vaggi, Pierluigi
Valsecchi (President), Massimo Zaccaria.
Before being published in Asia Maior, all articles, whether commissioned
or unsolicited, after being first evaluated by the Journal’s editors, are then
submitted to a double-blind peer review involving up to three anonymous
referees. Coherently with the double-blind peer review process, Asia Maior
does not make public the name of the reviewers. However, their names
and, if need be, the whole correspondence between the journal’s editors
and the reviewer/s – can be disclosed to interested institutions, upon a
formal request made directly to the Director of the journal.
Articles meant for publication should be sent to Michelguglielmo Torri (mg.
torri@gmail.com) and to Nicola Mocci (nmocci@uniss.it); book reviews
should be sent to Oliviero Frattolillo (oliviero.frattolillo@uniroma3.it) and
Fra nces ca Co ngiu (fc ongiu @uni ca.it ).
contents
7 MichelguglielMo torri, Asia Maior in 2017: The unravelling of the
US foreign policy in Asia and its consequences
29 Marco Milani, Korean Peninsula 2017: Searching for new balances
59 Francesca congiu & christian rossi, China 2017: Searching for
internal and international consent
93 sebastian Maslow & giulio pugliese, Japan 2017: Defending the
domestic and international status quo
113 aurelio insisa, Taiwan 2017: Stalemate on the Strait
129 bonn Juego, The Philippines 2017: Duterte-led authoritarian populism
and its liberal-democratic roots
165 elena valdaMeri, Indonesia 2017: Towards illiberal democracy?
191 nicola Mocci, Cambodia 2016-2017: The worsening of social and
political conflicts
211 pietro Masina, Thailand 2017: Political stability and democratic crisis
in the first year of King Vajiralongkorn
227 Matteo FuMagalli, Myanmar 2017: The Rohingya crisis between
radicalisation and ethnic cleansing
245 Marzia casolari, Bangladesh 2017: The Rohingya’s carnage
267 MichelguglielMo torri & diego Maiorano, India 2017: Narendra
Modi’s continuing hegemony and his challenge to China
291 MichelguglielMo torri, India 2017: Still no achhe din (good days)
for the economy
309 Matteo Miele, Nepal 2015-2017: A post-earthquake constitution and
the political struggle
331 Fabio leone, Sri Lanka 2017: The uncertain road of the
«yahapalayanaya» government
351 Marco corsi, Pakistan 2017: Vulnerabilities of the emerging market
369 diego abenante, Afghanistan 2017: Trump’s «New Strategy», the Af-Pak
conundrum, and the crisis of the National Unity Government
387 luciano zaccara, Iran 2017: From Rouhani’s re-election to the
December protests
411 adele del sordi, Kazakhstan 2017: Institutional stabilisation, nation-
building, international engagement
431 Reviews
461 Appendix
129
The PhiliPPines 2017: DuTerTe-leD auThoriTarian PoPulism anD iTs
liberal-DemocraTic rooTs*
Bonn Juego
University of Jyväskylä, Finland
bonn.juego@jyu.fi
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte led a phenomenal campaign to win the
2016 national election. During his first two years in power Duterte has become the
protagonist and exemplar of a key new development – the social formation of a regime
of authoritarian populism. Based on an analysis of news reports, public debates,
survey results, and official policy documents from 2017, the article examines various
features of this emergent regime and then illuminates the historical-institutional
mechanisms that brought it about. The inquiry is predicated on an understanding that
the old EDSA Republic’s liberal-democratic regime has been marked by intractable
socio-economic crises since its installation in 1986. This triggered different political
tendencies and trajectories that Duterte has been able to mould into a new mode of
regulation and governance. The central discussion elucidates some of the significant
features that constitute the process through which the new regime of authoritarian
populism is taking shape. The conclusion highlights the mutually reinforcing features
of the dying EDSA-type liberal democracy and the emerging Duterte-led authoritarian
populism. This suggests that the former has been a spawning ground for the latter.
1. Introduction
Philippine politics and governance took an eventful turn in 2017.
It was the moment when the character of the administration of the new
president, Rodrigo Duterte, came more sharply into focus. He had already
assumed global prominence and a certain notoriety since he led a success-
ful campaign in the 2016 national election seeming to break decisively
with his predecessor in both domestic and foreign policy, and revelling in a
brash, non-conformist public persona. Among other things, the year follow-
ing his election exhibited momentous developments that provide impor-
Asia Maior, XXVIII / 2017
* The different parts, ideas and arguments in this article have been presented
and discussed in various forums and seminars since 2016 in the cities of Helsinki,
Copenhagen, Tampere, Osaka, Stockholm, Vienna, and Oslo, as well as in a number
of international media outlets. I thank the organizers and participants of these
events, as well as my social media friends, for relevant discussions. I also thank the
editors of Asia Maior and the two referees for their important suggestions and critical
comments. I am grateful for the feedback and scholarly advice to Michelguglielmo
Torri, Wolfgang Drechsler, Jacques Hersh, Ali Kadri, Johannes Dragsbaek Schmidt,
Barry Gills, Jun Borras, Wolfram Schaffar, and Gareth Richards.
Bonn Juego
130
tant insights into the current and future shape of the phenomenon of «pop-
ulism» in the Philippines.
A brief history of major political turning points in the Philippines in
the last 50 years highlights a transition from authoritarianism to an osten-
sible process of democratisation. Between 1972 and 1986, the country was
under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. This period of authoritarian-
ism was sustained by martial law, and brought about a concentration of state
power within grasp of the strongman himself and the plunder of national
wealth for the Marcos family and its business cronies. The «People Power
Revolution» of 1986 put an end to this Marcos-led autocratic era, installing
the so-called «EDSA Republic». The new republic was characterised by the
dominance of a different set of governing élites, led by President Cora-
zon «Cory» Aquino (who came from a prominent landowning family), and
underpinned by a new constitution that enshrined the political principles
and institutions of liberal democracy.1 Put differently, the EDSA Republic
resulted in the restoration of the power of a particular section of the politi-
cal élites. It created an illusion of democracy through, inter alia, the conduct
of regular elections and the alleged re-imposition of checks and balances
between the different branches of government.
The starting point of the present article is that the liberal-democratic
regime of the EDSA Republic has long been in crisis. As a result, various
forces from across the political spectrum are challenging its hegemony. The
crisis stems from the institutional failure of the EDSA system to deliver on
the constitutionally-declared national aspirations for political democracy,
economic development and social justice. Against this background, the ar-
ticle demonstrates that, at this historical juncture, an authoritarian populist
form of regime is emerging from the prolonged and evolving crisis. The
article addresses two interrelated objectives: first, to examine various sig-
nificant features of the rising populist regime; and second, to illuminate
the underlying causes that have triggered this process of regime formation.
Through an analysis of media news, survey results, public speeches,
government reports and official policies produced in 2017, the first part
of the article examines the constitutive features of authoritarian populism
as observed during the early period of Duterte’s government in the areas
of domestic politics, economic policy and political economy, and foreign
policy and relations. The second part elaborates the argument that the phe-
nomenal surge of Duterte’s authoritarian populism is, to a large extent, a
legacy of the crises in both the praxis and institutions of the EDSA version
of liberal democracy.
The central discussion of the article underscores the distinguishing
features of an incipient authoritarian populism of the Duterte regime. By
1. EDSA is an acronym for Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, the main highway in
Metro Manila where a series of major demonstrations and protests to oust the Marcos
dictatorship occurred during the last weeks of February 1986.
The PhiliPPines 2017
131
analysing the current conjuncture, the discussion points to the multifaceted
dimensions of populism, and of the political movement that embodies this
phenomenon, in terms of:
1) the peculiarities of the movement’s electoral victory and
popularity;
2) the personality of the movement’s leader and figurehead;
3) its position in the left/right political spectrum;
4) its language and discourse;
5) its rhetoric as a critique of an established ideology;
6) the impact of the use of social media on socio-political relations;
7) its class dynamics and support base;
8) the movement’s strategies to secure social and political
hegemony;
9) its governance approach to social problems and conflicts; and
10) its social, economic, and foreign policies.
These dimensions make up the building blocks of an analytical
framework to understand the concepts, policies and phenomena associ-
ated with the present-day features of authoritarian populism. They evince
the historical and empirical processes through which the emerging regime
is taking shape.
It is proposed that, in the specific context of the Duterte phenom-
enon, the concept of authoritarian populism is more appropriately under-
stood as an emergent socio-political process, rather than as a coherent ideol-
ogy, state form or governance programme.2 The focus of the analysis is on
the history and tendencies of the current socio-political conjuncture. Duterte-
led authoritarian populism is not only a reaction to the shortcomings and
hypocrisies of the 30-year-old liberal-democratic EDSA Republic, but also
as a direct legacy of it. As a self-contradictory phenomenon, the legitimacy
of authoritarian populism’s undemocratic practices and anti-democratic
ideas derives from the popular support of an apparent majority of the pop-
ulation, articulated through either active or passive consent. Yet, thus far,
the intrinsic contradictions of authoritarian populism are themselves the
sources of the strength and weakness of the Duterte regime. With its own
agential, institutional and historical-structural circumstances, this unfold-
ing political phenomenon offers a distinctive case study of contemporary
democratisation processes in developing Asia and of emerging varieties of
populism across the world.
2. Cf. Stuart Hall, ‘The Great Moving Right Show’, Marxism Today, January
1979, pp. 14-20; Bob Jessop, Kevin Bonnett, Simon Bromley & Tom Ling, ‘Authori-
tarian Populism, Two Nations, and Thatcherism’, New Left Review, Ser. I, No. 147,
September-October 1984, pp. 32-60; Stuart Hall, ‘Authoritarian Populism: A Reply to
Jessop et al.’, New Left Review, Ser. I, No. 151, May-June 1985, pp. 115-124.
Bonn Juego
132
2. Domestic political developments
2.1. Particularities of the popularity and electoral victory
A series of surveys conducted in 2017 indicated that Duterte has con-
sistently remained trusted and popular among the population since he as-
sumed office on 30 June 2016. In his first year in office, his approval ratings
ranged from 86% to 80%, and performance rating from 80% to 76%. Inter-
estingly, in Pulse Asia’s study findings for May 1999 to September 2017, Du-
terte emerges as the most trusted president among his predecessors Joseph
Estrada (1998–2001), Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2001–2010) and Benigno
S. Aquino III (2010–2016).3 By the end of 2017, the Social Weather Stations
reported an «excellent» net satisfaction rating of +70% for the general per-
formance of the Duterte administration, a «record high» rating, surpassing
that of previous administrations.4 These surveys, showing Duterte’s contin-
ued popularity, helped his supporters to argue that he is the representative,
the embodiment and the voice of the majority. These same supporters have
grounded their value judgments about what is democratic, moral, true, right
and correct on the majoritarian principle. In other words, the claim is made
that what is supported by the majority is per se democratic, moral, true, right
and correct, quite independently from any ethical or normative evaluation.
There have been several mutually reinforcing factors that explain the
electoral victory and popularity of Duterte, of which three stand out.5 The
first is the agential factor in which Duterte’s campaign team executed an
efficient strategy that connected well with the resentment, fears and hopes
of the electorate. Their campaign message highlighted both the most fun-
damental problems in the society and the most basic day-to-day concerns of
ordinary people.
The second is about the institutional aspect, namely the presidential
set-up and an electoral system based on the first-past-the-post rule, which
allowed Duterte to win. Had there been a run-off or a parliamentary set-up,
the political fate of Duterte would have been different. The presidential
system is also proving to be conducive to the unconstrained propagation of
populist discourses, as evidenced in the cases of Duterte and US President
Donald Trump. In both cases, their politically charged statements are con-
veniently spread through the media, without being subjected to rigorous
debates and scrutiny in a parliamentary setting, as in many parts of Europe.
3. ‘Comparative Performance and Trust Ratings of Presidents (May 1999 to
September 2017)’, Pulse Asia, 9 November 2017.
4. ‘Fourth Quarter 2017 Social Weather Survey: Net satisfaction rating of the
Duterte National Administration rises to record-high «Excellent» +70’, Social Weather
Stations, 17 January 2018.
5. Bonn Juego, ‘Demystifying Duterte’s Populism in the Philippines’, IAPS Dia-
logue: The Online Magazine of the Institute of Asia & Pacific Studies, University of Not-
tingham, UK, 22 February 2017.
The PhiliPPines 2017
133
The third and most important is the structural reason, whereby Du-
terte’s landslide election and continued popularity are a loud articulation
of a «protest vote» and legitimate anger against what the EDSA system has
come to represent.6
2.2. A cult of personality organized around a charismatic and heterodox
politician
The ideology and phenomenon of populism can be represented ei-
ther by a political party or by a political personality. In some mature de-
mocracies in contemporary Western and Nordic Europe, such as Austria,
Denmark, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom,
populism is promoted by right-wing or nationalist parties. But in other
countries, populism has a face: Donald Trump in the US, Viktor Orbán in
Hungary, Narendra Modi in India, and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines.
The rise of populist movements in these cases suggests that popular mass
mobilisation is organised around a «cult of personality». It is thus important
to take into consideration the personality of the movement’s leader.
Thanks to Max Weber, the theory of charisma, or charismatic leader-
ship, is well recognised in sociology. While charisma is a relative and fragile
phenomenon, and often a unique gift to a special person, it is a source of
power and authority that commands a faithful following. Despite negative
publicity about Duterte by both the conservative and liberal media, locally
and internationally, during the past two years, survey results throughout
2017 show that his trust and satisfaction ratings have remained mostly «ex-
cellent». One has to accept the fact that Duterte possesses charisma, which,
historically, is a key mobilising characteristic of a national political leader in
Philippine culture and society.
Duterte may be regarded as a «heterodox» politician with a partly tra-
ditional political background and a partly unorthodox political style. He is
undoubtedly a «traditional politician», as he is a veteran local political boss
who has mastered the language and skills of effective power politics at the
local level. Hailing from an influential political family in Davao City and the
regions of Mindanao and the Visayas, he has been exposed to national-lev-
el political wheeler-dealing that has long characterised political relations,
and which is based on patronage and clientelism, the use of coercion and
violence, and the realities of money politics.7 At the same time, Duterte is
6. Se e Car min a Yu Un talan, ‘ The Phili ppines 2 016: D emocr acy i n di spute ?’, Asia
Maior 2016, pp. 143-166. For relevant background on the competing narratives about
the EDSA revolutions and their dwindling appeal among the population through the
years, see also Lisandro E. Claudio, Taming People’s Power: The EDSA Revolutions and
their Contradictions, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2013.
7. Alfred W. McCoy (ed.), An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philip-
pines, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009; John Sidel, Capital, Coercion, and
Crime: Bossism in the Philippines, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Bonn Juego
134
«unorthodox» as his political style is characterised by his public display of
uncouth behaviour, vulgar speeches and politically incorrect statements. Yet
the most unorthodox aspect of his political style is his bold criticism of the
so-called «establishments» in Philippine politics, society and culture – the
United States, the oligarchies and the Catholic Church.8
2.3. A mix of Left and Right-wing populism
During the election period and the first few months in office, Duterte
projected a mix of both left- and right-wing types of populism. But after a
year as president, it became palpable that Duterte was swinging to right-
wing populism, in terms of discourse, governance style and his political
support base. On top of this, he started exhibiting more openly his predis-
position to authoritarianism.
Duterte is a self-proclaimed «socialist» and «leftist» even though he
does not have a coherent socialist programme, nor does he belong to any
socialist party or left-leaning social movement.9 He is vocal in his criticism
against the established institutions in the country particularly, as noted
above, US imperialism, the landed oligarchy and the Catholic Church. Ear-
lier, he sounded keen on pursuing peace negotiations to resolve long-stand-
ing conflicts with armed communist rebels and Islamist separatist groups
both of which he categorised as «ideological» organisations, with legiti-
mate causes, rather than plain «criminal» organisations. At the same time,
however, what has become prominent in his speeches and governance style
are the authoritarian themes, the military approach to political problems
and the emphasis on active police action. Duterte has repeatedly expressed
fascination with Marcos-era martial law, and has resorted to state violence as
the solution to the problems of criminality and illegal drugs, leaving aside
any thoroughgoing socio-economic reforms.
2.4. Duterte-speak and dominant discourse
Two years after he captured the attention of the nationwide mainstream
media, Duterte has constructed a political language that remains popular and
is becoming normalised in public discourse. This Duterte-speak is uncon-
strained by political norms and is characterised by messianic and domineer-
ing discourses. His messages, though replete with «motherhood statement
offering simple solutions to complicated social problems, appear to be the
product of a messiah complex. He also conjures up an image as the father
of the nation (Ta t a y D i g o n g ), and discursively creates binaries between good
citizens and bad criminals, as well as between the élites and ordinary people.
8. Bonn Juego, ‘Demystifying Duterte’s Populism’.
9. Cf. Herbert Docena & Gabriel Hetland, Why Duterte is not – and is unlikely
to be – a socialist’, Rappler, 29 June 2016.
The PhiliPPines 2017
135
The election of Duterte and his continuing popularity signify that his
«vulgar» speech is a non-issue for his supporters, if not for most citizens. Ar-
guably, Duterte’s language is popular because he speaks publicly the socially
and culturally dominant features that characterise the collective mind and
that are deeply ingrained in the psyche of most Filipinos. These features
include machismo, sexism, violence, the desire for social order and the need
to discipline the citizenry.10 Moreover, Duterte’s campaign and governance
platforms for «law and order» and «anti-corruption» are catch-all objectives
that can easily be supported and accommodated by all socio-economic class-
es and political factions.
2.5. Critique of the theory and practice of liberal democracy
Duterte’s authoritarian populism is not labelled by him as such. It
is not a coherent political ideology or programme. But a consistent theme
in his speeches is his discursive critique of both the theory and practice of
liberal democracy. His critique, particularly of the ideals of human rights,
emphasises the Filipino, Asian and developing country contexts. What has
gained significant traction among the public is his disparagement of the
practice of liberal democracy, specifically the corruption and ineffective-
ness of hypocritical liberal élites who governed the country before his rise
to power.
The approval of Duterte’s populist discourse has tremendous implica-
tions for the current and future standing of liberal democracy in the Philip-
pines. The embedding of authoritarian populism is best understood not
simply as political rhetoric or propaganda to deceive the population, but
as a response to real problems, affecting people’s lives. It is a populist mes-
sage that resonates well with people’s lived experiences, touching on the
legitimate fears, insecurities, angers, resentments, anxieties and hopes of
the majority.11
Take, for example, the «war on drugs» which is globally controver-
sial among the world’s liberal media, but remains nationally popular de-
spite the campaign’s bloody record. The survey fieldwork of Pulse Asia in
September 2017 reveals that 88% of Filipinos support the administration’s
campaign against illegal drugs, even though 73% believe that extrajudicial
10. For a sociological and historical analysis of the correlation between the
culture of violence and the phenomenon of populism in the Philippine context, see
Alfred W. McCoy, ‘Philippine Populism: Local Violence and Global Context in the
Rise of a Filipino Strongman’, Surveillance & Society, Vol. 15, Nos. 3/4, 2017, pp. 514-
522; Patricio N. Abinales, ‘Why acceptance of killings is at all-time high’, Rappler, 28
July 2016. See also, Randy David, ‘Where is «Dutertismo» headed?’, Inquirer.net, 17
December 2017.
11. Nicole Curato, ‘Politics of Anxiety, Politics of Hope: Penal Populism and
Duterte’s Rise to Power’, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, Vol. 35, No. 3, 2016,
pp. 91-109.
Bonn Juego
136
killings occur in its conduct.12 There are multiple psychological factors why
there is popular support for the anti-drug offensive. People at large fear
for their individual selves and for their families being victimised by illegal
drug abuse and drug-related crimes. Some support the campaign strongly
as an expression of their own hatred, having been themselves, or their family
members, victimised by illegal drug traffickers and users. Other support-
ers are in denial of their own past illegal drug use. Frustration and anger
abound with regard to the failure of previous administrations to seriously
address the problems of illegal drugs and criminality. The survey suggests
how much more Filipinos care about prioritising a sense of public security and
personal safety vis-à-vis drug-related crimes. High trust is given to the percep-
tion of Duterte’s political will and the necessity for a strongman to deal with
the complex apparatus of the illegal drug industry.
2.6. Social media and the populist moment
During the presidential elections, the Duterte camp won over rival
candidates in the online war. Cyberspace is a crucial battleground in elec-
toral contests and the shaping of public opinion. This is especially criti-
cal for the Philippines, which is recognised as the most active country in
terms of time spent on social media and where social media penetration is
56% (i.e., 59 million people).13 Findings of the Computational Propaganda
Research Project at Oxford University show that cybertroopers – so-called
keyboard trolls – with a budget of some US$ 200,000 were hired to intensify
online support for Duterte.14 The manager of his social media campaign
team had acknowledged this fact right after winning the election.15 There
have been claims that this group of online campaigners has continued their
propaganda work for Duterte’s government.16 But the more obvious fact
is that many people have been effectively stimulated by these social media
campaigns. As a consequence, they have become passionate supporters of
Duterte in both the online and offline spheres. There are trolls with ficti-
tious social media profiles acting as internet provocateurs and spreading
12. ‘September 2017 Nationwide Survey on the Campaign Against Illegal
Drugs’, Pulse Asia. National Survey conducted by Ulat ng Bayan on 24 - 30 September
2017.
13. ‘Digital in 2017 Global Overview’, We Are Social and Hootsuite, 24 January
2017.
14. Samantha Bradshaw & Philip N. Howard, ‘Troops, Trolls and Troublemak-
ers: A Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation’, in Samuel Woolley
& Philip N. Howard (eds.), Working Paper 2017.12, Oxford: Project on Computa-
tional Propaganda.
15. ‘Duterte’s P10M social media campaign: Organic, volunteer driven’, Rap-
pler, 1 June 2016.
16. Sean Williams, ‘Rodrigo Duterte’s Army of Online Trolls’, New Republic, 4
January 2017.
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137
fake news. Nevertheless, the more serious societal problem at present (and
for the future) is not these automated trolls, but actual people with real
social media profiles – loose cannons behaving badly and boldly expressing
messages of hate and divisiveness.
Social media can be a vehicle for democratising social relations. But
it can also be utilised for a variety of political projects including the pro-
motion of anti-democratic ideas. The Duterte phenomenon shows how
social media facilitates the appeal and legitimacy of a populist politician
with authoritarian tendencies. It serves as a convenient tool to form popu-
lar beliefs, sentiments and opinions. It can easily convey short messages
through memes, soundbites, one-liners, expletives, insults and swear words
that clearly have an impact. Bad language and images have the greatest and
most far-reaching impact on minds and emotions.
The most intense rivalry in political cyberspace has remained the
same since the 2016 campaigns: the so-called «Dutertards versus Yellow-
tards» confrontation. The pro-Duterte camp calls their rivals «Yellowtards»,
with reference to the symbolic colour of the Liberal Party’s presidential
candidate Manuel «Mar» Araneta Roxas II and former President Benigno
S. Aquino III; meanwhile, opposition groups call the diehard Duterte sup-
porters «Dutertards». It must be noted, however, that the aggression of the
pro-Duterte camp is not only self-generated, but was largely triggered by
the black propaganda and often condescending tone of the rival Roxas
camp during the election. This fierce online rivalry betrays what social and
political psychologists call «groupthink» behaviour – that is, a tribalistic
division between us (the good allies) and them (our evil enemies). Online
exchanges have merely become a discursive battle of «confirmation bias»,
where each camp selects information based on preconceived beliefs and
loyalties. Political argumentation becomes personalised, emotional rather
than rational, and replete with logical fallacies, especially straw man and
ad hominem arguments.
In this populist moment in the Philippines, the political discourses
communicated through social media are articulations of current realities.
They are, among other things, a reflection of the state of many Filipinos’
socio-political consciousness, ideological leanings, cultural beliefs and, per-
haps, quality of formal education. As such, the increase in political awareness
and participation of citizens in public debates, through different social media
channels, can be considered a positive effect of the Duterte phenomenon.
Netizens have also been actively informing themselves about governmental
issues, foreign affairs, as well as political and economic concepts. The nega-
tive effects, however, include the prevalence of groupthink and confirmation
bias behaviours, which precludes citizens from engaging in the constructive
dialogue needed in the process of nation-building. In addition to this, harm
is done to social relations by gutter talk, fake news, trolling, bullying and
character assassination that are endemic in the social media.
Bonn Juego
138
Borrowing Albert Hirschman’s well-known conceptual framework
on exit, voice, and loyalty to understand the different ways in which citizens
participate in political affairs especially through social media, there appear
to be contradictions in the attitude of «liberals» towards the Duterte-led
populist movement.17 Previously, liberals complained about the apathy of
citizens, who had been choosing to «exit» from political participation. The
liberal response to exit ranged from dialogue, to rational debate, to popular
education, and to the strategy to arouse-mobilise-organise for active citizen-
ship. Now, the populist movement has chosen to «voice» their political opin-
ions and assert their «loyalty» to the state leader. But the liberal response to
citizens who have found their voice in the social media to critique the EDSA
Republic’s legacy and who have expressed loyalty to Duterte ranges from
fighting fire with fire to condescension and censorship.
2.7. From cross-class alliance to centre-right politics
One of the distinctive characteristics of Duterte-style populism is that
its support base cuts across classes, gender, generations and the political
spectrum. This catch-all politics, and the big tent coalition it forges, has
a divide-and-rule effect on different sectors of the population. For exam-
ple, while there is strong opposition from his critics against what can be
construed as «misogynistic» and «homophobic» remarks that he makes in
public, Duterte continues to have the political support of sections of women
and the LGBTQ community. Unlike the earlier populist President Joseph
Estrada, who presented himself as «for the poor», Duterte does not promote
himself as such, but as the president of all classes. He does so despite his
«anti-élite» rhetoric, on the one hand, and his administration’s economic
policies, perceived to be «anti-poor», on the other. So far such contradic-
tions, rather than weakening the president’s political standing, have served
as a source of strength for Duterte’s populist movement.
Since the campaign and during his first year in office, Duterte has
enjoyed broad support from different political factions. In the Philippines,
the electorate votes separately for the positions of president and vice-presi-
dent. This electoral system – which is less party-based than personality-ori-
ented – made it possible for Duterte to acquire support even from citizens
who preferred a vice-presidential candidate who did not hail from his party.
These supporters can be broadly categorised as belonging to four groups.
The first group are the Duterte–Marcos supporters, who campaigned for
the losing vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. They are the
most aggressive (online) supporters of Duterte, and include Marcos loyal-
ists, who are anti-Yellow and who have right-wing authoritarian and dic-
tatorial proclivities. The second group is made up by Duterte–Cayetano
17. Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms,
Organizations, and States. London: Harvard University Press, 1970.
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139
supporters, who voted for Duterte’s running-mate Alan Peter Cayetano. Al-
though aggressive supporters of Duterte, the Duterte–Cayetano followers
are mostly critical of both the Marcoses and the Yellows. The third group
is made up by the Duterte–Robredo group, who are moderate supporters
of Duterte, sympathisers of the Yellow and anti-Marcos. The fourth group
is the Duterte–Far Left group, including left-leaning individuals, who are
both anti-Marcos and anti-Yellow but have tried to form some sort of tacti-
cal alliance with Duterte.
Early in his presidency, the Duterte administration was embroiled in
two major controversies. The first was related to the issue of extra-judicial
killings, linked to the government’s anti-drug war, which had caused the loss
of between 3,000 and 12,000 lives (with different estimates from different
sources) from July 2016 to December 2017. The second major controversy
was to do with the burial of Marcos at the heroes’ cemetery on 18 November
2016. Both controversies reactivated the opposition and caused divisions
among Duterte’s supporters since not all of them condone extrajudicial kill-
ings or regard Marcos as a hero.
After his election, Duterte appointed activists and individuals associ-
ated with, and nominated by, leftist social and political movements to be
members of his cabinet, even though these appointees had supported other
presidential candidates. A turf war in Duterte’s bureaucracy soon ensued.
By the last months of 2017, it was increasingly evident that Duterte
was severing ties with his allies from the left and the progressive movement.
First, the leftist, progressive and activist appointees in his cabinet – especial-
ly Gina Lopez at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,
Judy Taguiwalo at the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and
Rafael Mariano at the Department of Agrarian Reform failed to obtain
confirmation from the Commission on Appointments, whose membership
is dominated by allies of Duterte from the Senate and House of Representa-
tives. Second, despite a promising start, the Duterte government eventu-
ally scrapped the peace negotiations with the CPP–NPA–NDF (Communist
Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army–National Democratic Front),
officially calling them «terrorists» and ordering the rearrest and detention
of their most senior notables, among them the CPP leaders Benito Tiamzon
and Wilma Tiamzon, and the CPP founder Jose Maria Sison.
Duterte’s populism derives its strength from a broad cross-class coali-
tion. But its underlying weakness has been revealed in actual circumstances
when Duterte had to face the realpolitik of class interests, and inevitably
choose side between competing social and economic groups even within his
own bloc. Long-term success and the survival of populists like Duterte may
necessitate sacrificing his own political friends and favouring the «correct»
faction within his supporters at the right time. After a year as president,
Duterte has shown whose side he is on, and the composition of his support
base has swung from a cross-class alliance to a centre-right social bloc.
Bonn Juego
140
2.8. Strategies for social and political hegemony
The strategies deployed by the Duterte administration to secure so-
cial and political hegemony are instructive of some of the important fea-
tures of emerging authoritarian populism. A number of notable strategies
deployed in 2017 go beyond the repressive methods typical of autocratic
regimes, such as state harassment of the opposition to silence dissent.
They include the creative use of legalism as a political disciplinary tool
against critics, proactive mass mobilisation and aggressive social media
operations.
The Duterte government enjoyed relative political stability during
2017 despite several problems. These problems included the impeachment
complaint filed against the president by an opposition lawmaker in March
(which was subsequently rejected by the House of Representatives, domi-
nated by a pro-Duterte supermajority); the charges initiated at the Inter-
national Criminal Court with regard to thousands of cases of extrajudicial
killings relating to the anti-drug war; the controversy dragging the name
of Duterte’s son Paolo into smuggling issues, especially the seized ship-
ment of narcotics from China amounting to US$ 125 million; the increasing
criticism from the local opposition; constant negative international media
headlines; and, last but not least, the imposition of martial law in the whole
of Mindanao due to the five-month battle (May–October) between govern-
ment security forces and the ISIS-inspired Maute group.
The balance of online political forces remained largely the same – and
was characterised by the continuing bickering between Dutertards and Yel-
lowtards. Offline, the main political opposition to Duterte, though growing,
was disorganised and comparatively weak. The strongest domestic opposi-
tion personalities and groups include:
a) Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who has emerged as Duterte’s
most vocal critic since the campaign period, particularly on cor-
ruption allegations;
b) Senator Leila de Lima, who was detained in February 2017 for
her alleged involvement in the illicit drug trade when she was
Secretary of the Department of Justice (2010–2016) and who
has long been critical of Duterte’s record of abuses since she was
Chair of the Commission on Human Rights (2008–2010);
c) Yellow personalities, including opposition politicians in the
Senate and House of Representatives as well as in the civil so-
ciety, who were connected with the Liberal Party of Roxas and
Aquino (though it is important to note that most previous mem-
bers of the Liberal Party changed sides and are allied with Du-
terte);
d) sections of the left, among which the social movements Laban
ng Masa (Struggle of the Masses) and iDefend (In Defence of
Human Rights and Dignity Movement);
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141
e) anti-Duterte netizens and bloggers like those behind Pinoy Ako
Blog, ProPinoy Project and Change Scamming; and
f) the far-left CPP–NPA–NDF.
In dealing with his critics, it is noticeable how Duterte has utilised the
legal system as a disciplinary tool against dissent. Accordingly, he advanced
his political agenda in the name of justice, rule of law, patriotism or nation-
alism to gain popular legitimacy, as well as to undermine the credibility of
his critics. This has been observed in the case of de Lima’s detention, as
well as in Duterte’s conflicts with media outlets that are perceived as be-
ing critical of his administration, such as the social news site Rappler and
the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer.18 These strategies are related to the
well-known «culture of impunity», which not only exonerates the rich and
powerful from legal punishment but has also shown time and again how the
rule of law can be used by the government in power as an instrument for
political vendettas. The incumbent executive has frequently been able to file
trumped-up criminal charges in court against its political enemies, aimed at
having them condemned to long-term jail sentences or, failing that, keeping
them in detention, as long as possible, during their trials.
Besides the incumbent’s strategy to legally prosecute dissidents, the
proactive mass mobilisation project, the creation of a critical mass in sup-
port of the Duterte regime, is also key to the populist movement’s hegem-
onising project. The social media serves as a strategic tool to this end by
sustaining the movement’s online presence. In May 2017, Duterte officially
appointed his most famous social media supporter, the entertainer-turned-
blogger Mocha Uson, as Assistant Secretary for Social Media of the Presi-
dential Communications Operations Office. Part of the online strategy of
Duterte’s cybertroopers – both the organised groups and the individual vol-
unteers in their battle for hegemony has been attacking, harassing and
bullying whoever they regard as «enemies of change» among opposition
politicians, human rights defenders, social media critics and critical news
media organisations.
Such tactics for mass mobilisation were present in the RevGov, or Rev-
olutionary Government, agenda, which was launched in late 2017. Though
Duterte became president through a regularly-conducted democratically
contested election, supporters of the proposed RevGov behave as if they
had led and won a political revolution. As early as 2015, Duterte expressed
his idea about the need for a «revolutionary government» to «stop crimi-
nality, stop corruption and fix the government».19 He reaffirmed the same
idea a year after becoming president, particularly insisting on the need to
18. ‘Duterte raises foreign ownership vs Rappler’, GMA News Online, 24 July
2017; ‘Duterte’s target: The Philippine Daily Inquirer’, Rappler, 16 August 2017.
19. ‘Duterte eyes revolutionary government’, Inquirer.net, 27 August 2015.
Bonn Juego
142
protect the government from «destabilisation» plots.20 Thus, it can be said
that the RevGov agenda is akin to a revolution-from-above project through
bottom-up mass mobilisation.
Top military officials have publicly declared that they will not back a
revolutionary government.21 Apparently, considerable support of the mili-
tary is pivotal to transitioning from a democratic republic to a full-blown
authoritarian regime. Owing to the country’s history of coups d’état, it is a
fact that the Philippine military is not a monolithic entity, and that there are
sections within it that have been politicised. Duterte has been in power for
less than two years; arguably, he has not yet solidified the military and police
forces behind his regime. In comparison, Marcos was already in his second
term, or nearly eight years as president and commander-in-chief, when he
established martial law in 1972. Duterte continued to hold out inducements
to the military and police by making frequent visits to their camps across the
country and increasing their salaries.
At about the same time as the RevGov idea was floated, the adminis-
tration also sought popular mass support for the notion of revising the 1987
constitution. It promoted the idea of changing the constitution to make
possible a form of government embodying Duterte’s long advocacy of fed-
eralism. This charter change agenda is bound to be an issue of major debate
and political contestation in the coming years.
2.9. Governance approach: police-centric and militaristic without a class
perspective
In terms of governance, the Duterte-led authoritarian populism has
been police-centric and militaristic in its approach to complex historical
social problems, such as criminality and armed insurgencies. It also lacks
a class perspective, notwithstanding Duterte’s leftist, socialist and anti-élite
rhetoric.
2.9.1. Policing socio-economic problems
Police-centric governance was best exemplified in the Duterte ad-
ministration’s centrepiece programme on the war on drugs, whose main
implementers are the 160,000-strong Philippine National Police (PNP).
The programme was to be carried out through a two-pronged strategy: the
«Oplan Double Barrel» project of aggressive police operations, aiming at
simultaneously targeting high-value drug lords and their street-level ped-
20. ‘Duterte threatens to adopt Cory style revolutionary gov’t vs destab plot-
ters’, Inquirer.net, 13 October 2017.
21. ‘We won’t back a revolutionary gov’t, Defense, AFP chiefs assure Robredo’,
Inquirer.net, 8 November 2017.
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143
dlers; and the community-based project «TokHang»,22 according to which
the police, in cooperation with local barangay (village) leaders, would knock
on every household’s door to convince drug users and pushers to surrender
for rehabilitation and change of their lifestyle. In 2017, these policing ac-
tivities were twice suspended and reactivated by Duterte after police officers
were implicated in two controversial crimes that sparked public outrage:
the kidnap of a South Korean businessman and his murder inside the PNP
headquarters, and the killing of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos.23
The Duterte administration’s policing approach to the supply and
demand of illegal drugs appeared to be a simple solution to a complicated
problem. It has caused the loss of thousands of lives. The PNP’s last news
release for 2017 reports that «3,933 died during the reinforcement of police
operations» between 1 July 2016 and 10 October 2017.24 However, Human
Rights Watch – and their local partner organisations – cites media reports
that the anti-drug campaign’s death toll has reached «an estimated 12,000
lives of primarily poor urban dwellers, including children» since Duterte
assumed office – a figure which takes into account both legitimate police op-
erations and extrajudicial killings.25 Notwithstanding the competing claims
over the exact number of deaths resulting from the drug war, Duterte him-
self agreed with the perception of the majority of Filipinos (54%) that so far
«rich drug pushers are not killed; only the poor ones are killed».26 Duterte
and his police officials have constantly denied that they condone these kill-
ings and that extrajudicial killing is a state policy. However, even if these
killings are not state-sponsored, the fact remains that the government has
not taken any serious measure to put an end to them.
The issue of illegal drugs is a microcosm of the major social problems
in Philippine society. Profiles of drug users suggest that most of them are
from vulnerable sectors of the population. Instead of pursuing painstaking
social and economic reforms, Duterte has put the police in charge, if not to
resolve then at least to put a lid on the hard socio-economic consequences
22. TokHang is a contraction of Filipino/Visayan words toktok’ (knock) and
hangyo’ (request).
23. The PNP-led war on drugs has so far undergone two phases: the ‘alpha’
phase (November 2016–February 2017) and the ‘reloaded’ phase (March 2017–Octo-
ber 2017).
24. Philippine National Police – Public Information Office, ‘PNP: 1.26 Million
Drug Personalities Surrendered Nationwide’, PNP News Release, PR No. 17-1203, 17
December 2017.
25. ‘Philippines’, in Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018: Events of 2017,
p. 429.
26. Presidential Communications Operations Office, Republic of the Philip-
pines, Speech of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during the Commemorative Session and Con-
cert Program of the ASEAN Law Association Governing Council, 25 October 2017; ‘Third
Quarter Social Weather Survey: 54% of Pinoys agree that rich drug pushers are not
killed, only the poor ones are’, Social Weather Stations, 28 October 2017.
Bonn Juego
144
of issues such as poverty, unemployment, school drop-outs and the inacces-
sibility of education. In effect, the campaign against drugs criminalizes the
poor, the unemployed, the homeless, the mentally ill, the sick, out-of-school
youth, and members of lonely, disconnected or alienated families, burdened
by the social costs of economic migration.
Philosophically, Duterte has a punitive and fearmongering approach
to the prevention and resolution of criminality, perhaps taking a cue from a
Nietzschean motto: «What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.» Policy-
wise, Duterte’s police-centric approach to the war on drugs suffers from
«the law of instruments», according to which, «if all you have is a hammer,
everything looks like a nail». This means that if the Duterte administration’s
main tool is the police, all deep-seated socioeconomic problems look like
police and criminality problems.
2.9.2. Militarising social and historical conflicts
The militaristic approach of the Duterte administration to historical
conflicts, insurgencies and radicalisation has also been witnessed in two ma-
jor security events and issues: the Marawi crisis and its aftermath in Muslim
Mindanao; and the termination of the government’s peace negotiations
with the CPP–NPA–NDF.
First, the government’s primary responses to the Marawi crisis, which
lasted five months, were aggressive military operations – including airstrikes
that accidentally killed Filipino soldiers aimed at eliminating the ISIS-
linked Maute group and their sympathisers, coupled with the imposition of
martial law for the whole of Mindanao. There were also media reports of
the activities of US Special Forces in aid of the Armed Forces of the Philip-
pines (AFP) during the Marawi siege.27 But this is hardly news if the long-es-
tablished cooperation in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts
between the military institutions of the two countries is understood beyond
Duterte’s anti-US rhetoric.28
Historical experience, however, suggests that purely military means
is not the way to address Islamist radicalisation and insurgency in southern
Philippines. As in many parts of the world, ISIS-inspired ideology was al-
ready present, especially in Muslim Mindanao. Such ideology cannot just be
eliminated militarily. Even though top officials of the Armed Forces of the
Philippines (AFP) – including Duterte as the commander-in-chief – recog-
27. ‘US spy planes helping Philippine troops in Marawi’, Inquirer.net, 11 June
2017; ‘U.S. Troops in Besieged City of Marawi, Philippine Military Says’, The New York
Times, 14 June 2017.
28. See David S. Maxwell, ‘Foreign Internal Defense: An Indirect Approach
to Counter-Insurgency/Counter Terrorism, Lessons from Operation Enduring Free-
dom-Philippines for Dealing with Non-Existential Threats to the United States’, pa-
per for the Conference of the Foreign Policy Research Institute on Irregular Warfare
Challenges and Opportunities, Washington, DC, 6 December 2011.
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145
nise the multi-dimensional nature of conflict in Mindanao, the perspective
of their counter-insurgency strategy derives from a tactical warfare perspec-
tive in which military authority must reign over other social considerations.
This militaristic approach to conflict management and resolution is contra-
dictory to the needs for more strategic, inclusive, comprehensive and cohe-
sive programmes that draw lessons from, or build on, past peace processes
with Moro and Islamic rebel groups. Specifically, these include the 1976
Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Moro Na-
tional Liberation Front, and the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the
Bangsamoro region with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which should
have led to the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.29
Both Congress and the Supreme Court overwhelmingly approved the
Presidential Proclamation No. 216 for Martial Law, and twice granted its ex-
tension – currently until 31 December 2018 – despite Duterte’s declaration
of the end of the Battle of Marawi in October 2017.30 Hence the Duterte
administration institutionally secured legitimacy to subject the whole island
of Mindanao to military rule, on the grounds of the prerogative given by
the republic to the president over military and national security matters.
However, this decision did not take into account that the enduring resent-
ment, fear and horror of Muslim Filipinos are largely rooted in the histori-
cal abuses, human rights’ violations and cruelty perpetrated against them
by the military.
Second, Duterte officially terminated the government’s peace nego-
tiations with the NDF–CPP–NPA, considered as the world’s longest- run-
ning armed communist insurgency, through Proclamation No. 360 signed
on 23 November 2017.31 Subsequently, Duterte declared «the CPP-NPA as
an entity designated and/or identified as a terrorist organisation» through
Proclamation No. 374, signed on 5 December 2017.32 This has happened
in spite of the fact that, when Duterte was elected, the peace talks with the
communist rebels were regarded as a promising priority because of his
much-publicised friendship and alliance with leaders of the far left group.
29. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Winning the peace: Beyond antiterrorism’, Inquir-
er.net, 9 June 2017.
30. The President of the Philippines, Proclamation No. 216, Declaring a State of
Martial Law and Suspending the Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Whole of Mindan-
ao, 23 May 2017 (http://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/downloads/2017/05may/20170523-
PROC-216-RRD.pdf).
31. The President of the Philippines, Proclamation No. 360, Declaring the Ter-
mination of Peace Negotiations with the National Democratic Front – Communist Party of the
Philippines – The New People’s Army, 23 November 2017 (http://www.officialgazette.gov.
ph/downloads/2017/11nov/20171123-PROC-360-RRD.pdf).
32. The President of the Philippines, Proclamation No. 374, Declaring the Com-
munist Party of the Philippines (CPP) – New People’s Army (NPA) as a Designated/Identified
Terrorist Organization Under Republic Act No. 10168, 5 December 2017 (http://www.of-
ficialgazette.gov.ph/downloads/2017/12dec/20171205-PROC-374-RRD.pdf).
Bonn Juego
146
But while the Duterte government and the NDF–CPP–NPA accused
each other of insincerity, more fundamental and deeply institutionalised
problems characterise the long history of this conflict. One is the contradic-
tion between the armed struggle, namely the CPP–NPA tactical and ideolog-
ical framework in pursuit of its revolutionary vision, and anti-communism,
which is the basic orientation of the government’s police and military forces.
Another basic problem is the fact that, administration after administration,
there has been a glaring absence of key stakeholders from the military in-
stitution (the AFP) in the government negotiating panels dealing with the
communist insurgents. A final key problem is that for decades the NPA and
the AFP have been engaged in a vicious cycle of vendetta and violent feud.
Despite the surprising ceasefire declaration announced during Duterte’s
first State of the Nation Address in July 2016, both AFP military operations
in the countryside (particularly within CPP–NPA claimed communities and
territories) and the NPA’s ambushes of military and police personnel have
continued unabated.
2.9.3. Missing a class perspective
If police-centrism and militarism starkly delineate Duterte’s right-
wing character, his discourse on anti-elitism depicts his left-wing populist
idiosyncrasies, which has tremendous mobilising powers. Duterte taunts
sections of the country’s ruling class, represented by the political élites that
thrives on power by corruption despite incompetence, and those business
oligarchs who expand their wealth by avoiding taxes. Duterte always criti-
cises the Yellow faction, albeit remaining ambiguous on the actual individu-
als who he considers his enemies. Furthermore, he has threatened the fil-
ing of tax evasion cases against the country’s oldest cigarette firm, Mighty
Corporation, and the national flag carrier, Philippine Airlines, although his
threat has been qualified by his declared preference for a legal compromise
with tax evaders, which would avoid lengthy court processes. In October
2017, the Office of the President announced that «Mighty Corporation […]
has entered into a P40-billion compromise settlement with the government
regarding its tax liability», to be used to fund the administration’s infra-
structure programmes and other priorities, including the rehabilitation of
Marawi.33 The same method of compromise is being sought in the case of
the Philippine Airlines, owned by the long-time crony capitalist Lucio Tan.34
Notwithstanding Duterte’s assertion of being a «leftist» and a «social-
ist», even at that level of rhetoric what is missing in his worldview is a co-
33. Presidential Communications Operations Office, Republic of The Philip-
pines, Palace welcomes P40-B tax settlement of Mighty Corp., 7 October 2017 (https://
pcoo.gov.ph/news_releases/palace-welcomes-p40-b-tax-settlement-mighty-corp).
34. ‘PAL offers to pay gov’t P4B to settle debt issue’, CNN Philippines, 29 Sep-
tember 2017.
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147
herent class perspective. Consider his view on criminality. On the issue of
juvenile delinquency, Duterte blames the rising incidence of youth crimes
on what he calls the «libertarian» principle. Hence, he has been pushing
for a law that would lower the age of criminal liability to below 15 years.35
He gets strong populist support for his tough stance against criminality,
which he highlights by pointing out the most extreme cases of crime (for
example, a child killing someone, a child getting raped and the massacre of
a family). In the battle for public opinion, such an emotive argument easily
gains the upper hand against the counter-arguments of his critics that may
be regarded as rational, evidence-based or commonsensical. Contrary to his
campaign narrative, which presented Duterte as a candidate who purport-
edly understood social injustice, his style of governance has shown his in-
dignation at the individual drug addict, rather than at the socio-economic and
historical-institutional conditions that create the possibility for drug addiction
and the perpetration of crimes. Within such an ideological and governance
framework, the Duterte administration’s war on drugs has indeed become
a war against the poor. What is more, it appears increasingly clear that the
power bloc that supports the Duterte regime is represented by the faction
of the political élites allied with the Marcoses and the Arroyos, and by the
coercive state institutions of the police and the military.
3. Economic policy and political economy
Despite Duterte’s admission that he is not adept at economics, his
administration’s economic policy straightforwardly continues with neolib-
eral capitalist development. The political economy – specifically, the politics
behind the economy – of Duterte’s authoritarian populism became clearer
as the government’s economic priorities and major development plans were
unveiled in 2017.
3.1. Dutertenomics as authoritarian neoliberalism
So-called Dutertenomics was officially launched in April 2017. Its im-
plementation was said to usher in a «golden age of infrastructure» through
the government’s «Build, Build, Build» programme, an investment worth
around US$ 36 billion aimed at transforming the Philippines into an upper
middle-income country by 2022.36 Financing for this ambitious programme
will primarily come from taxes, and, to a lesser extent, from official devel-
opment assistance and commercial loans. Yet the deeper logic underpin-
35. ‘Duterte blames Pangilinan for juvenile justice act, rise of «criminal minds»’,
Inquirer.net, 3 April 2017.
36. See ‘Build, Build, Build: Philippine Infrastructure Transparency Portal’
(http://www.build.gov.ph).
Bonn Juego
148
ning Dutertenomics is that of «authoritarian neoliberalism», or a neolib-
eral economy embedded in an authoritarian political framework. Which is
somewhat similar to the German «ordoliberalism» idea where a strong state
acts as an authoritative «market police» to secure economic freedom and
complete competition.37 Here, the function of the strong state is not re-
ally to socialise the market economy nor impose control on market activity,
but to politically intervene in the society for the free economy. An integral
project of the strong state’s social policy is the incorporation of the culture
of entrepreneurship and the principle of private property relations in the
mentality of the governed.38
In 2017, the Duterte administration adopted two major econom-
ic policies that are bound to have important implications for the socio-
economy in the years ahead. One was the Philippine Development Plan
2017–2022 (PDP); the other was the Tax Reform for Acceleration and In-
clusion (TRAIN). The PDP provides the institutional framework to attain
Duterte’s 10-point Socioeconomic Agenda whose primary aim is to reduce
poverty from 21% in 2015 to 13% by 2022 and to initiate the implementa-
tion of AmBisyon Natin 2040, which was drafted by various stakeholders
as the country’s collective development goal for the next 25 years. The
current development plan has several goals. They include: «enhancing
the social fabric» through clean and efficient governance and the promo-
tion of Filipino culture and values; «inequality-reducing transformation»
through the expansion of economic opportunities and human capital de-
velopment; «increasing growth potential» through science, technology,
and innovation; «enabling and supportive economic environment» for
investments through sound macroeconomic policy and competitiveness;
and, building the «foundations for sustainable development», in accord-
ance with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, through infrastruc-
ture development, the promotion of a healthy environment and the main-
tenance of peace and order.39
For its part, the TRAIN law, scheduled to take effect on 1 January
2018, was to be the first instalment of the administration’s Comprehensive
Tax Reform Program, which is envisioned to fund the government’s pro-
grammes for education, healthcare services and infrastructure. As a «pro-
gressive» tax, the TRAIN law promises «an equitable relief to a greater num-
ber of taxpayers and their families», particularly the poor and middle class.
This goal is to be reached by: lowering personal income taxes; simplifying
estate and donors’ taxes; introducing and adjusting various excise taxes for
37. Werner Bonefeld, ‘Freedom and the Strong State: On German Ordoliber-
alism’, New Political Economy, Vol. 17, No. 5, 2012, pp. 633-656.
38. Ibid.
39. National Economic and Development Authority, Republic of the Philip-
pines, Philippine Development Plan 2017–2022 (http://www.neda.gov.ph/2017/12/12/
abridgedpdp).
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149
oil and vehicles; and expanding value-added taxes of several goods and
commodities.40
While the intentions of these policies are clear, their economic and
social consequences remain to be seen. Nevertheless, what is certain is the
continuity of policies associated with neoliberalism. From a political econ-
omy perspective, Dutertenomics encourages an ideal-typical capitalist ac-
cumulation regime in which continued neoliberal economic policies are to
be combined with state guarantee of law and order for business stability and
societal progress.
The dynamics of Dutertenomics also needs to be understood in the
context of globalisation. Duterte’s negative human rights record could im-
pact on Philippine economic, trade and investment relations. But a «reality
check» of the contemporary political economy of Asian capitalisms spe-
cifically the realities of authoritarian neoliberalism in the region shows
that capitalist enterprises and investments can tolerate authoritarianism
(discipline), but not totalitarianism (control). After all, capital is not always
a socio-political force for democracy and human rights. Profitable opportu-
nities have always been the main consideration of capitalists and investors.
This means that capital can tolerate an authoritarian-populist Duterte as
long as the regime provides the accumulation activities and properties of
national and international capital with a high degree of predictability and
security, and that state disciplining does not extend to their profitability and
business operations.
3.2. Between economic populism and neoliberalism
Statistically, the Philippine economy’s growth rate averaged 6.7% in
2017. But since economic performance is path-dependent, any single-year
indicator (for example, gross domestic product and foreign direct invest-
ments) is not sufficient to pass judgment on the extent to which the Duterte
administration’s policies and activities have impacted on the economy’s
condition.
When Duterte assumed the presidency, there were relatively good
«market signals» for the Philippine economy, providing favourable «initial
conditions» for Dutertenomics. Popularly elected, the administration start-
ed off with considerable political capital (solid institutional support from
different branches of government); economic capital (an upbeat 6–7% GDP
projection and credit ratings upgrade); and social capital (mass support and
legitimacy). In addition, there were other positive economic prospects such
40. Department of Finance, Republic of the Philippines, Republic Act No.
10963, Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion, Passed by the House of Representa-
tives and the Senate on 13 December 2017, Approved by the President on 19 Decem-
ber 2017 (https://www.dof.gov.ph/index.php/ra-10963-train-law-and-veto-message-
of-the-president).
Bonn Juego
150
as: expected Chinese capital for infrastructure investments; continuity of
Japanese investments and official development assistance; continued US
investments especially in the business process outsourcing sector; the EU’s
GSP+ grant on Philippine exports (Generalised Scheme of Preferences plus
programme); rising micro-small-medium entrepreneurship; promising sec-
tors of the automotive and shipbuilding industries; and the counter-cyclical
nature and effect in the economy of remittances from millions of overseas
Filipino workers.
Arguably, socio-economic development is key to the stability of an
authoritarian-populist regime. The strategies required to realise this goal
must therefore lead to increasing employment, real wages and the gen-
eral standards of living of the population. This then raises two big chal-
lenges about populism vis-à-vis effective development strategies over the
long-term for a country with more than 100 million people.41 First, how will
Duterte’s populism translate into agricultural modernisation which requires
political will from state functionaries to enforce genuine land reform, and
proactive investments from the government in technological innovation to
manage the law of diminishing returns in the agricultural sector? Second,
how does populism explore opportunities for national industrialisation and
diversify the country’s economic activities and specialisations?
As discussed above, Duterte’s political populism has apparently shifted
from catch-all rhetoric to a centre-right ideology. On the other hand, the
left-wing elements of his economic populism are hollowing out. Duterte’s
economic populist promises when he was a candidate included the end of
labour contractualisation, free tuition in state universities, increased pen-
sion benefits for the retirees, and increased salaries for government person-
nel, especially the police and military. These promises, however, have to
contend with the compulsions of competitive capitalism today, the existing
practices for fiscal discipline in governance, and the presumed rationality of
the technocrats in Duterte’s cabinet’s economic team.42 This tension, if not
contradiction, between the rhetoric of economic populism and the struc-
tural imperatives of neoliberal capitalism is, and will be, a defining feature
of the political economy of the Duterte regime.
4. Foreign relations and policy
Besides the infamous war on drugs, Duterte has hit the global head-
lines for his foreign policy pronouncements and international activities.
41. See Erik S. Reinert, How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay
Poor, London: Constable, 2007.
42. Duterte’s economic team is led by Benjamin Diokno of the Department
of Budget and Management, Carlos Dominguez of the Department of Finance and
Ernesto Pernia of the National Economic and Development Authority.
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151
In 2016 and 2017, two features have shaped the process of authoritarian
populism in the Philippines as far as the international dimensions are con-
cerned: first, the policy shift from idealistic nationalism to pragmatic real-
ism; and second, the concepts that may be called «authoritarian peace» and
«populist peace».
4.1. From idealistic nationalism to pragmatic realism
The rise of populism can be construed as a resurgence of the ideology
of nationalism. Hence, it is a contemporary backlash against the historical
processes of capitalist globalisation, imperialism and cosmopolitanism. Re-
cent populism has taken several forms, notably right-wing populist parties
in Europe that promote the ideologies of nativism, anti-regionalism and the
like; and left-wing populist movements in parts of Latin America that articu-
late policies such as protectionism and anti-neoliberalism. Similar to other
populist candidates during election periods, Duterte presented himself as
an idealistic nationalist when the issue of the Philippine foreign policy was
debated. However, soon after assuming the presidency, there was a change
of tune, and greater ambiguity, in Duterte’s speeches and in the govern-
ment’s foreign policy decisions. Faced with hard geopolitical realities, there
are signs that the Duterte administration is choosing a pragmatic, yet deli-
cate, balancing act in its relations with China and the US.
A number of elements stand out in Duterte’s foreign relations’ strategy:
a) «neocolonial analysis», a perspective which became popular in
the 1960s and the 1970s when Duterte was a student and that
might have influenced his understanding of the country’s un-
derdevelopment and his critique of dependency relations with
US imperialism;
b) «hedging» between geopolitical rivals, the US and China, to ad-
vance Philippine national interests;
c) Cold War-era «non-aligned» strategy of a Third World country
which, in practice, is not zero-sum, and neither totally anti-US
nor totally anti-EU, but which, at times, appeared to «lean to
one side» (especially that of China and Russia);
d) «Look East», in which the priority is on friendship and coopera-
tion with Asian neighbours such as China and Japan, and As-
sociation of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states;
and
e) pragmatic economic cooperation, or a foreign policy for do-
mestic economic development, where the focus is on economic
diplomacy through trade and business, rather than security and
geopolitics.
To e v a l u a t e a p o p u l i s t f o re i g n p o l i c y, i t m u s t b e t r a c k e d i n t h re e m a i n
phases: (1) the period of election (populist campaign); (2) the period of gov-
ernance (populism in power); and (3) their consequences (both intended
Bonn Juego
152
and unintended). Consider, for example, Duterte’s foreign policy statements
about the US and China. As a candidate Duterte exuded nationalist rhetoric,
popularly conjured up by his hyperbole to ride a jet ski to plant the Philip-
pine flag on the disputed islands in the South China Sea. As president, he
has constantly expressed a new-found friendship with China and Russia, and
has made varying friend/enemy statements about the US (critical of former
President Barack Obama, but friendly with Trump). While the intended con-
sequences of Duterte’s foreign policy choices can be assumed to be in good
faith in accordance with the national interest, the unintended consequences
will have to be monitored regularly and assessed in the near future.
Duterte is thus far the most travelled president of the country in his
first year in office.43 If anything, this is largely due to official obligations of
the Philippines as it assumed the annually rotating chairmanship of ASEAN
in 2017. Among his foreign trips in 2017 there were state visits to the Gulf
countries Bahrain and Qatar, and Saudi Arabia; official visits to Myanmar,
Russia and Japan; and participation in the World Economic Forum in Cam-
bodia, the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in China,
and the Economic Leaders’ Meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Coopera-
tion (APEC) in Vietnam. Among these trips, the most anticipated were those
related to the priorities of Duterte as chair of the ASEAN’s 50th anniversary
(ASEAN@50) and to his unfolding relationships with Chinese President Xi
Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump.
As chair of ASEAN@50, there was great anticipation of how Duterte
would act in relation to two major pressing issues in the region: (1) the
South China Sea maritime and territorial disputes (which have tremendous
implications for the geopolitics involving China, the US and ASEAN, and
for the effectiveness of the liberal international law order within the United
Nations multilateral system); and (2) the ongoing great humanitarian crisis
regarding the plight of almost a million Rohingya refugees, implicating the
government and military of Myanmar in state violence and ethnic cleans-
ing. In Duterte’s Chairman Statement, which was an outcome document
of ASEAN@50 meetings, both of these issues were addressed during the
summit but in ways that preserved the status quo – in particular, to the ad-
vantage of China’s geopolitical interests, and endorsing the point of view of
the government of Myanmar.
Instead of rallying ASEAN as a collective bloc to compel China to fol-
low international law in accordance with the favourable ruling awarded to
the Philippines on 12 July 2016 by the Hague-based Permanent Court of
Arbitration (PCA),44 Duterte actively reaffirmed the regional bloc’s agree-
43. ‘Duterte: 21 trips, 17 countries, 77,542 miles’, Inquirer.net, 25 June 2017.
44. Pe rm an en t Co ur t o f A rb it ra ti o n, ‘P CA Ca se No . 2 01 3 -1 9: In th e M at te r o f
the South China Sea Arbitration before An Arbitral Tribunal Constituted Under Annex
VII to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea between the Repub-
lic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China,’ Award of 12 July 2016.
The PhiliPPines 2017
153
ment to adopt a Code of Conduct (COC) as a framework of engagement be-
tween ASEAN and China regarding their maritime disputes.45 The Duterte
administration has also not openly protested against the dredging, land
reclamation, artificial island-building and construction activities, as well as
the alleged militarisation, undertaken by China even after the PCA ruling.
ASEAN’s preference for a COC with China, rather than for the enforcement
of international law as recently interpreted by the PCA, was in accordance
with China’s long held opinion and strategy to resolve international con-
flicts through bilateralism. With Duterte’s constant criticisms against US im-
perialism and interventionism, plus the COC between ASEAN and China,
the effect was to keep the US at bay in the Asian region. His critical atti-
tude towards the US has, in turn, made the US woo the Philippines to their
side at this time of heightened regional rivalry. The Duterte administration
seems to be choosing a delicate balancing act, hedging between the US
and China to advance Philippine national interest.46 A recent survey by the
Pew Research Center shows that «Duterte’s balancing act between the two
powers has received mostly positive reviews: 63% of Filipinos approve of his
handling of relations with the U.S. and 53% approve of how he’s handled
relations with China.»47 In the current geopolitical competition between a
rising China and a US adamant in maintaining its global hegemony, it ap-
pears that whereas these great powers treat international relations essen-
tially as a zero-sum game, the perspective and interest of small players are
shaped by the opportunities to make the most of the newly opened political
space to overcome the constraints of underdevelopment.
The PCA Tribunal’s decision came out just a few days after Duterte
had officially assumed the presidency. The ruling declared that China’s
claims to historical rights, particularly encompassing the maritime areas
within what it indicates as the «nine-dash line» of its sovereign jurisdiction,
are contrary to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
(UNCLOS).48 The award – which, inter alia, confirmed the Philippines’ sov-
45. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Chairman’s Statement of the 31st ASE-
AN Summit, Manila, Philippines, 13 November 2017, p. 27: «We discussed the matters
relating to the South China Sea and took note of the improving relations between
ASEAN and China and, in this regard, are encouraged by the adoption of the frame-
work of the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (COC), which will facilitate the
work and negotiation for the conclusion of a substantive and effective COC.»
46. See Temario C. Rivera, ‘The ASEAN and the Politics of Major Powers: Im-
pact on the Quest for Regional Order’, in Edna E.A. Co & Carlos C. Tabunda, Jr.
(eds.), The ASEAN Drama: Half a Century and Still Unfolding, Philippines: University
of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies & Development
Academy of the Philippines, 2017, pp. 46-74.
47. Pew Research Center, ‘People in the Philippines still favor U.S. Over China,
but Gap is Narrowing’, Global Attitudes and Trends, 21 September 2017.
48. See ASEAN Studies Centre, ASEANFocus - Special Issue on the South China Sea
Arbitration: Responses and Implications, Singapore: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, July 2016.
Bonn Juego
154
ereign rights in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf – could
have been a ready template for Duterte’s negotiation with China. But he
chose a strategy different from the one followed by his predecessor, despite
the overwhelming support (78%) of Filipinos for the decision of the former
Aquino administration to file the case at the PCA.49 This shows that Philip-
pine foreign policy is largely defined, shaped and directed by the domestic
political equation – which also means that every incumbent administration
determines its preferred relationship with the US and China. Duterte’s deci-
sion must be put in perspective, comparing it to the policies followed by his
immediate predecessors – Arroyo and Aquino – in regard to the same ques-
tion.50 The Arroyo administration was friendly to both the US and China,
and explored bilateral cooperation with China through investments, busi-
ness and trade, as well as the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU)
including China, Vietnam and the Philippines. However, the consequences
of Arroyo’s bilateral engagements with China were controversial, especially
in two instances: (1) the corruption and bribery cases regarding Chinese in-
vestments, such as the NBN-ZTE deal and the Northrail project; and (2) the
unconstitutionality of the JMSU, allegedly violating the constitution’s provi-
sions for national economy and patrimony.51 The Aquino administration,
which succeeded Arroyo, took a strongly pro-US stance, put in place the
Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US, while adopting an
antagonistic attitude towards China, which included resort to multilateral
international legal institutions, such as the PCA, to challenge the legality
of China’s historical claims in the South China Sea and its continuous con-
struction activities there.52 This rather bellicose approach resulted in three
consequences. First, there was the Scarborough Shoal standoff in 2012,
which further established China’s military position in the contested waters
and hence prevented Filipinos from accessing this fishing ground. Second,
there was a missed opportunity for the Philippine economy to obtain more
49. ‘SWS March 16-20 Survey: 78% support government’s filing of a case at
UN for peaceful resolution of PH-China dispute; 87% confident of Philippine win’,
Social Weather Stations, 12 July 2016.
50. For a comparative study of the political economy of Philippine-China
relations during the respective administrations of Arroyo, Aquino III, and Duterte,
see Alvin Camba, ‘Inter-state relations and state capacity: the rise and fall of Chinese
foreign direct investments in the Philippines’, Palgrave Communications, Vol. 3, No.
41, 2017, pp. 1–19. .
51. See Roel Landingin (ed.), The Seven Deadly Deals: Can Aquino Fix Arroyo’s
Legacy of Costly and Messy Projects?, Quezon City: Public Trust Media Group Inc., 2011;
Bonn Juego, ‘Elite Capture and Elite Conflicts in Southeast Asian Neoliberalization
Processes’, South-South Tricontinental Collaborative Programme (ed.), Inequality,
Development and Democracy: Under Neoliberalism and Beyond, Buenos Aires: CLACSO,
CODESRIA, and IDEAs, 2015, pp. 68-93.
52. Salvador Santino F. Regilme Jr. & Carmina Yu Untalan, ‘The Philippines
2014-2015: Domestic politics and foreign relations, a critical review’, Asia Maior 2015,
pp. 133-155.
The PhiliPPines 2017
155
Chinese capital and investments. And third, the PCA award favoured the
Philippines’ international law rights based on UNCLOS, superseding Chi-
na’s claims to its historic rights.
For its part, the Duterte administration has generally been critical of
the US. In particular, Duterte has been disparaging of US colonialism in
the Philippines and Obama’s human rights rhetoric. In contrast, Duterte
later expressed appreciation for and friendship with Trump. At the same
time, Duterte has chosen to be friendly with China, showing more interest
in economic pragmatism than in hard geopolitics. After his state visit to
China in 2016, the most relevant initial consequences of Duterte’s attempt
at improving the Philippines’ relationship with China were two-fold: prom-
ised Chinese investments, soft loans, and a credit line – amounting to about
US$ 24 billion;53 and the reopening of access of Filipino fishermen to the
Scarborough Shoal.54
Since the election period, Duterte has aired his criticisms of the his-
torical role of the US in the maldevelopment of the Philippines and its
double standards in international affairs. While asserting the Philippines’
sovereign rights over the disputed islands in the South China Sea, Duterte
has been vocal about his desire to befriend China and welcome Chinese
capital investments for the country’s infrastructural development.
Duterte’s pragmatic economic cooperation approach towards China
was best articulated in his speech at the ASEAN Business and Investment
Summit held in Manila 12 November 2017, a day after arriving from the
APEC Summit in Vietnam where he had had bilateral meetings with Putin
and Xi. In the Manila speech Duterte said:
Today China is the number one economic power in the world,
and we have to be friends. The other hotheads would like us to
confront China and the rest of the world for so many issues. The
South China Sea is better left untouched. Nobody can afford to go
to war, either the big powers Russia, China, or the United States.55
As corroborated by the Pew Research Center in September 2017, the
policy aimed at improving the economic relationship with China, rather
53. See ‘What Duterte accomplished in China’, Rappler, 23 October 2016; cf.
Kenneth Cardenas, ‘Duterte’s China Deals, Dissected’, Philippine Center for Investiga-
tive Journalism, 8 May 2017.
54. ‘Xi tells Duterte that Scarborough Shoal will stay open to Philippine fisher-
men’, South China Morning Post, 20 November 2016; ‘Driven away from Scarborough
Shoal, Filipino fishermen now train in China’, Rappler, 27 February 2017.
55. Presidential Communications Operations Office, Republic of the Philip-
pines, Speech of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during his attendance to the ASEAN Men-
torship for Entrepreneurs Network (AMEN) and Opening of ASEAN Business and Invest-
ment Summit (ABIS), 12 November 2017 (https://pcoo.gov.ph/presidential_speech/
speech-president-rodrigo-roa-duterte-attendance-asean-mentorship-entrepreneurs-
network-amen-opening-asean-business-investment-summit-abis).
Bonn Juego
156
than engaging in a tense territorial dispute, has the support of the major-
ity (67%) of Filipinos. And this «represents a significant shift since 2015,
when Filipinos were split between the two approaches to Chinese relations
(43% favoured stronger economic relationship with China and 41% wanted
a tougher approach to territorial disputes)».56
Both the intended and unintended consequences of Duterte’s eco-
nomic pragmatism will have to be monitored, including their implications
for the maritime interests and territorial integrity of the Philippines. Opt-
ing for economic pragmatism seems logical if it is put in the context of both
Duterte’s reading of the contemporary global political economy – according
to which the old capitalist centres of the US, EU and Japan are mired in a
prolonged economic crises – and his limited six-year term to implement his
ambitious vision of a golden age of infrastructure, which he thinks only Chi-
nese capital is willing and able to provide. In light of this, the critical areas
for the Philippines when transacting with Chinese capital are: (1) labour (by
ensuring local content); (2) the environment (by tapping into recent Chi-
nese innovations in favour of renewable resources and green technology);
(3) corruption and bribery (by learning from controversial infrastructure
projects in the past implicating both the governments and private sectors
of the Philippines and China); and (4) the risks of sovereign indebtedness
(to be prevented by avoiding white elephants). Intriguingly, the secretaries
of the Departments of Labor and Employment, Environment and Natural
Resources, and Budget and Management were not included in Duterte’s
large delegation during his four-day state visit to China.57
4.2. Authoritarian peace and populist peace
Duterte evidently has an easy rapport with leaders of the putative
authoritarian regimes of China, Russia and ASEAN.58 There also appears to
be a mutual admiration between the populists Trump and Duterte.59 Such
developments suggest the introduction of new concepts in the study of con-
temporary international relations, which may be referred to as «authoritar-
ian peace» and «populist peace».
Firstly, authoritarian peace, or peaceful coexistence among authori-
tarianisms, can be observed in the friendly relationship between Duterte,
Putin, Xi and the leaders of ASEAN states. Their commonalities are marked
by: the critique of the «western» notions of human rights, especially double
standards in the doctrine of humanitarian interventionism; the governance
56. Pew Research Center, ‘People in the Philippines’.
57. See ‘Duterte arrives in Beijing to begin state visit’, Rappler, 18 October
2016.
58. ‘Duterte says meetings with Xi, Putin in Vietnam «most meaningful»’, In-
quirer.net, 12 November 2017.
59. ‘Trump hails «great relationship» with Philippines’ Duterte’, The Guardian,
13 November 2017.
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157
narratives of nationalism and sovereignty; and the rhetoric of the principle
of «non-interference» in international relations.
Take, for instance, the variety of political regimes in ASEAN – name-
ly, the semi-authoritarian governments of Singapore and Malaysia; the
one-party states of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; the absolute monar-
chical system of Brunei; and the legacies of military rule in Indonesia,
Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand. For decades, regional cohesion
and the prevention of cross-national conflicts in ASEAN have been upheld
by the norm on non-interference in a member state’s domestic political
affairs. In fact, the ASEAN community-building project is a regionalisa-
tion process without an agenda for democratisation. By and large, it is a
regionalism of authoritarian regimes.60 Even the ASEAN Economic Com-
munity 2025 agenda is a project to «modernise» capitalism in the region,
embedding the single neoliberal market in ten different cultural orienta-
tions and political regime forms in Southeast Asia.61 Hence, Duterte’s elec-
tion is only the latest addition to the essentially authoritarian character of
ASEAN regimes.
Together with the principle of non-interference, ASEAN observes
«consensus» in declaring the bloc’s decisions. This is recently underscored
in the rather careful, yet obscure, Chairman Statement of Duterte for ASE-
AN@50 with regard to the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. The statement
made no specific reference to the condition of the minority Rohingya Mus-
lims as refugees victimised by state violence and forced migration. It noted
that «a number of Leaders» from ASEAN «expressed support to the My-
anmar government in its efforts to bring peace, stability, rule of law and
to promote harmony and reconciliation between the various communities,
as well as sustainable and equitable development in Rakhine State.»62 The
statement put this issue under the section entitled «Building Resiliency in
ASEAN», rather than as part of the section on «Regional and International
Issues and Developments», which also included the South China Sea dis-
putes. In effect, ASEAN protected the interest of its member state Myanmar,
in the name of regional unity as well as national sovereignty, while denying
the existence of refugees and the humanity of the Rohingya.
Second, populist peace, or a peaceful coexistence between populists,
can be seen in the budding friendship between Duterte and Trump. As
Trump assumed the US presidency in January 2017, there was much scru-
tiny of how his relationship with Duterte would unfold. This was clarified
by the headline of The New York Times, describing the first phone conversa-
60. Bonn Juego, ‘The ASEAN Economic Community Project: Accumulating
Capital, Dispossessing the Commons’, Perspectives Asia 2/13: More or Less? Growth and
Development Debates in Asia, Berlin: Heinrich Böll Stiftung, pp. 12-19.
61. Bonn Juego, ‘The Political Economy of the ASEAN Regionalisation Pro-
cess’, Dossier: Understanding Southeast Asia, Berlin: Heinrich Böll Stiftung.
62. ‘Chairman’s Statement of the 31st ASEAN Summit’, pp. 18-19.
Bonn Juego
158
tion between the two: «Trump’s ‘very friendly’ talk with Duterte stuns aides
and critics alike.»63 Both have been exchanging pleasantries since their
long-awaited face-to-face meetings in November 2017 on the side-lines of
the APEC Summit in Vietnam and ASEAN@50 in the Philippines.64
Modern-day populists seem to have points of unity and similar-
ity across a number of themes and areas. These would include: non-in-
terventionism in the domestic affairs of another state; anti-élite and/or
anti-establishment rhetoric; criticism of liberalism and liberal democracy;
political incorrectness in speech; a discourse on crisis and change; and
a platform on law and order. However, the appeal to ethno nationalism,
which is a staple in the recent phenomena of Trump’s and Europe’s right-
wing populism, applied to Duterte’s case only during the election cam-
paigns.65
Once the reciprocal ideology-based attraction between Duterte and
Trump has been highlighted, the fact remains that Duterte’s consistent
remarks and recent activities are aimed at reorienting Philippine foreign
policy away from the US, and towards China and Russia.66 This carried in
its wake some internal tensions and risks, owing to the pro-US orienta-
tion and Americanised socialisation of the Philippines and its people, in-
cluding the institutions of the police, military, diplomatic corps, the mass
media and academia. But politics can change a culture, mentality and
worldview. Charismatic populist politicians have influential effects on the
psyche of their followers. As the Pew Research Center’s global attitudes
survey during the spring of 2017 emphasised: «Though there are not sig-
nificant differences in support for either the U.S. or China across most
demographic groups, those with a favourable view of Duterte are more
likely to rate China positively (57%) than those who view the president
unfavourably (40%).»67
Indeed, the Philippines’ foreign affairs during 2017 were notewor-
thy for their impact on the study of international relations and on actual
geopolitics itself. Importantly, the year showcased how a small geopolitical
player like the Philippines was able to draw out serious attention from the
international community of nations, including great powers such as the
US and China, as well as attract extensive global media coverage. This has
been made possible not only by Duterte’s bold personality and colourful
63. ‘Trump’s «Very Friendly» Talk With Duterte Stuns Aides and Critics Alike’,
The New York Times, 30 April 2017;
64. ‘I like Rodrigo, he’s a good guy’, The Philippine Star, 14 November 2017;
‘Trump and Duterte’, Inquirer.net, 15 November 2017.
65. Cf. Julio C. Teehankee, ‘Duterte’s Resurgent Nationalism in the Philip-
pines: A Discursive Institutionalist Analysis’, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs,
Vol. 35, No. 3, 2016, pp. 69-89.
66. Richard Javad Heydarian, ‘Duterte’s Art of the Deal’, The National Interest,
22 October 2017.
67. Pew Research Center, ‘People in the Philippines’.
The PhiliPPines 2017
159
character, but also by the particular structural and historical circumstances
of the Philippines, which constitute the country’s key cards in his current
geopolitical projection. These particular circumstances are: (1) the favour-
able award from the PCA on the territorial disputes with China; (2) the
long-standing reputation of the Philippines as a solid and strategic ally
of the US in Asia; (3) the country’s strategic geographical location, or, in
Trump’s words, the fact that the Philippines is a «most prime piece of real
estate from a military standpoint»;68 and (4) the country’s growing market
opportunities and economic growth potentials.
5. Concluding remarks: the liberal-democratic roots of authoritarian populism
It is easy to get distracted by trivial discourses and deceptive image-
ry during this age of social media and the emotionally-charged populist
moment in the Philippines. After one-and-a-half years in office, Duterte
appears to be following the same governance pattern and making the same
leadership mistakes of the Marcos dictatorship and the succeeding EDSA
Republics under the administrations of Corazon Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos,
Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno S. Aquino III. The
longstanding political narrative during the past 40 years is akin to an old-
wine-in-a-new-bottle. This is particularly so if one bears in mind that real
social change is not a question of talks and theatrics. It requires a process of
basic transformation in the structures, relations, institutions and practices in
a country’s economy, politics, society and culture.
Two years after the start of the Duterte phenomenon in the 2016
electoral campaign, the promised «social change» has not yet come about.
But there have been slight differences of emphasis in terms of discourse
and governance. The prominence of a populist discourse has become more
noticeable as far as the presidential style and its reception (including in
cyberspace) are concerned. Yet practices in the rest of the political and so-
cio-economic spheres remain largely the same. Old political families and
their patron-client networks continue to dominate the Senate, the House of
Representatives and the local government units. Corruption persists in the
bureaucracy, judiciary, police and military. The structures and relations of
inequality are intact, while the economy, the market and the land remain in
the hands of a few affluent families.
The discussion in this article has empirically presented and analysed
major political, economic and social developments in the Philippines dur-
ing the presidency of Duterte in 2017. It highlights some of the most im-
portant features of an emerging regime of authoritarian populism. These
distinct features are manifested in:
68. ‘Trump: I fixed ties with PH, a «most prime real estate» militarily’, Rappler,
15 November 2017.
Bonn Juego
160
1) the Duterte regime’s peculiar election victory and continued
popularity resulting from a range of agential, institutional and
structural factors;
2) its mobilisation around a cult of personality;
3) its mix of both right- and left-wing types of populism;
4) its construction of a populist language and the public articula-
tion of dominant discourses;
5) its discursive critique of the theory and praxis of liberal democ-
racy;
6) its utilisation of social media which impacts on current political
and societal relations;
7) its shifting support base from cross-class alliances to the cen-
tre-right;
8) its strategies to secure social and political hegemony through
disciplinary legalism and proactive mass mobilisation;
9) its police-centric and militaristic governance approach to social
problems and conflicts, but the absence of a class perspective;
10) its political economy of authoritarian neoliberalism whose logic
resembles ordoliberal thought in the management of capitalist
development by a strong state; and
11) its pragmatic yet delicate foreign policy choices that seem to
generate friendly relations with other authoritarian regimes
and populist state leaders.
While the autocratic Marcoses must be held historically accountable
for the greatest damage done to the present society and economy, one
should not forget the legacy of the EDSA Republic, which has perpetuated
the country’s enduring problems and tragedy. With hindsight, the EDSA
Republic’s legacy (in particular, the actual performance and outcomes, as
well as the policies and institutions themselves, of the liberal-democratic
regime) has been a spawning ground for the popularity of Duterte’s au-
thoritarian populism.
First, like in the rest of Southeast Asia, Philippine politics and govern-
ments during the EDSA Republic period were characterised by the recur-
ring themes of elitism, impunity and corruption.69 The installation of the
EDSA Republic was supposed to build the foundations of the «restoration
of democracy» and the industrialisation of the economy. However, Corazon
Aquino’s democratic experiment failed to break the political and economic
power structures of the traditional oligarchy at both the local and national
levels, as well as the interests of the landed oligarchical class, to which her
family belonged.70 The Marcos era social and economic policies continued,
69. See Thomas Fuller, ‘Reporting on Life, Death and Corruption in Southeast
Asia’, The New York Times, 21 February 2016.
70. Barry Gills & Joel Rocamora, ‘Low Intensity Democracy’, Third World Quar-
terly, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1992, pp. 501-523.
The PhiliPPines 2017
161
Marcos’s old political allies made a comeback thanks to the culture of im-
punity, and Marcos’s crony capitalists survived initial punitive measures and
thrived in the already depressed economy. The Marcosian story still has its
own fascination because of the dismal and unsatisfactory performance of
the EDSA Republic. But the Marcos regime cannot boast of its own merits,
let alone in comparison with the successful development experiences of its
contemporaries in East and Southeast Asia. In spite of this, both the Marcos
family’s self-serving version of history and Duterte’s populist discourse bank
on the valid resentments of a section of the population against the failings
of the EDSA Republic.
Second, the EDSA Republic does not have a good record on human
rights, including the issues related to extrajudicial killings and press free-
dom.71 During the EDSA period, human rights institutions were continu-
ously undermined and marginalised. The difference in the period under
review is that while the EDSA Republic was guilty of an institutional assault
on human rights, through deliberate neglect or otherwise, Duterte’s au-
thoritarian populism is a bold and vocal attack on both the institutions and
ideas of human rights. The populist discourse has created a dichotomy be-
tween good and bad citizens – which popularises the idea that only crimi-
nals should fear an iron fist law-and-order regime, but conceals the real-
ity that human rights violations are indiscriminate. The populist discourse
further exacerbates the maleducation of most Filipinos about principles of
human rights and democracy. Duterte’s discursive assault on the ideological
hegemony of human rights becomes even more alarming and dangerous if
one takes a long-term perspective.
Third, the EDSA Republic peddled the myth of the separation of
powers between co-equal branches of government. But the real situation
is that of executive dominance or hyper-presidentialism.72 The rhetoric of
Duterte’s regime is buttressed by this myth, while his authoritarian methods
are being built on the real institutions of the democratic republic.
Fourth, the practice of selective justice by an incumbent government
is not new. It appears that the Duterte administration has been engaged in
a process of political cleansing of the appointees to key institutions by his
predecessor. This has been particularly evident in the attempt at subject-
ing Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio
Morales to probable impeachment. But recall that when Aquino III was in
71. See various country reports of Human Rights Watch on the Philippines, in
particular the annual World Report. See also, ‘From Marcos to Duterte: How media was
attacked, threatened’, Rappler, 17 January 2018.
72. Mark R. Thompson, ‘The philippine presidency in Southeast Asian per-
spective: imperiled and imperious presidents but not perilous presidentialism’, Con-
temporary Politics, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2017, pp. 325–345; Susan Rose-Ackerman, Diane
A. Desierto & Natalia Volosin, ‘Hyper-Presidentialism: Separation of Powers without
Checks and Balances in Argentina and the Philippines’, Berkeley Journal of Internation-
al Law, Vol. 29, Issue 1, 2011, pp. 246-333.
Bonn Juego
162
power, the appointees of his predecessor (Arroyo) were also pressured to
resign (former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez) or were successfully im-
peached in Congress (the late Chief Justice Renato Corona). The EDSA Re-
public showed how selective justice and political cleansing can be executed
by an incumbent governing élite in the name of the rule of law. The same
framework applies to accusations of political persecution under the current
Duterte regime.
Fifth, from Marcos to Corazon Aquino to Duterte, a vicious pattern in
Philippine politics and governance can be observed. Typically, the process
of forming a political coalition in every administration proceeds from a «lib-
eral» to a «repressive» phase. In the initial, liberal, democratic phase after
winning the election, reform promises are made and a broad-based coali-
tion is forged. In the second, authoritarian, repressive phase, the old social,
economic and foreign policies are continued; plus, the repression of critics
and progressive movements takes place.73
Sixth, the evolution of the EDSA Republic was closely bound up with
the rise and decline of neoliberalism as a hegemonic development ideology,
as well as the continued dependent relationship of the Philippines with the
US.74 In the aftermath of the Marcos dictatorship, the Corazon Aquino ad-
ministration was forced by the Washington-based institutions and banks to
pay the country’s foreign debts. Likewise, the country was subjected to debt
conditionalities and structural adjustment programmes by the International
Monetary Fund and the World Bank, resulting in the virtual loss of the nec-
essary national policy space for economic and social development.75 The
Ramos administration intensified the entrenchment of neoliberal policies
that further led to the country’s deindustrialisation and the privatisation
of state assets. The policies and principle of economic neoliberalism per-
sisted in succeeding administrations, although couched in different politi-
cal rhetoric discourses: Estrada’s Para sa Mahirap (for the poor) populism,
Arroyo’s «strong republic», and Aquino III’s Daang Matuwid (straight path)
for good governance.76 Inasmuch as the EDSA Republic has failed to deliver
the fundamental development objectives to lessen poverty and inequality,
Duterte’s authoritarian-populist discourse has gained traction not only as
a valid critique against the elitist practice of liberal democracy, but as a
desperate response to the search for a viable alternative to the crises of neo-
liberalism and US colonialism.
73. Cf. Gills and Rocamora, ‘Low Intensity Democracy’, pp. 518-519.
74. Walden Bello, ‘March, but mourn not the demise of EDSA Republic’, Rap-
pler, 24 February 2017.
75. Walden Bello et al., The Anti-Development State: The Political Economy of Per-
manent Crisis in the Philippines, Manila: Anvil, 2004.
76. Bonn Juego, Capitalist Development in Contemporary Southeast Asia: Neoliberal
Reproduction, Elite Interests, and Authoritarian Liberalism in the Philippines and Malaysia,
unpublished PhD dissertation, Aalborg University, Denmark, 2013.
The PhiliPPines 2017
163
Seventh, the absence of massive outrage against Duterte’s decision
to bury Marcos in the heroes’ cemetery is indicative of the failure of the
People Power uprising that gave birth to the EDSA Republic. At the same
time, the burial symbolised the perpetuation of the culture of impunity and
a significant advance for the Marcos family’s long-term project of histori-
cal revisionism, aimed at rewriting history on its own terms. The political
revival of the Marcoses has been made possible mostly because their fam-
ily remains wealthy. In plutocratic societies like the Philippines, economic
wealth is, and can easily regenerate into, political power. Indeed, the most
crucial shortcoming of the EDSA People Power Revolution – and its theory
and praxis of liberal democracy – is that while it brought about more rights
to enjoy political and civil freedoms, it did not deliver on the collective as-
pirations for economic development and social egalitarianism. It has been
even more unsuccessful in nurturing a sense of communitarianism and hu-
man solidarity among Filipinos.
The emergent Duterte-led authoritarian populism is a symptom of
the evolving crises in the political democracy and socio-economic spheres.
It is rooted not only in the EDSA Republic’s shortcomings, but also in its
very institutions. It draws its discursive popularity and legitimacy from the
material realities and real-life conditions in the society. As Duterte’s ide-
ology and support base signifies a shift to the centre-right, his brand of
authoritarian populism is a challenge and test for the surviving democratic
gains and institutions in the country. However, this emergent regime is still
in the process of becoming. Its future trajectory is open-ended and is cur-
rently being fought over.
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This book brings together a unique team of academics and practitioners to analyse interests, institutions, and issues affecting and affected by the transition from Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific. The Indo-Pacific has emerged as the world’s economic and strategic centre of gravity, in which established and rising powers compete with each other. As a strategic space, the Indo-Pacific reflects the rise of geo-political and geo-economic designs and dynamics which have come to shape the region in the early twenty-first century. These new dynamics contrast with the (neo-)liberal ideas and the seemingly increasing globalisation for which the once dominant ‘Asia-Pacific’ regional label stood. Robert G. Patman is one of the University of Otago’s inaugural Sesquicentennial Distinguished Chairs, and his research interests concern international relations, global security, US foreign policy, great powers, and the Horn of Africa. Publications include Strategic Shortfall: The ‘Somalia Syndrome’ and the March to 9/11 (Praeger, 2010) and co-edited books titled China and the International System: Becoming a World Power (Routledge, 2013); Science Diplomacy: New Day or False Dawn? (World Scientific, 2015); and New Zealand and the World: Past, Present and Future (World Scientific, 2018). He is currently writing a volume called Rethinking the Global Impact of 9/11 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). Patrick Köllner is Vice President of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), Director of the GIGA Institute for Asian Studies, and Professor of political science at the University of Hamburg. His Asia-related and comparative work has been published in journals such as Democratization, Japanese Journal of Political Science, Journal of East Asian Studies, The Pacific Review, and Politische Vierteljahresschrift. Recent co-edited publications include Comparative Area Studies: Methodological Rationales and Cross-Regional Applications (Oxford University Press, 2018) as well as special issues on think tanks in East Asia (Pacific Affairs, 2018) and on political transformation in Myanmar (Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 2020). Balazs Kiglics is a recent Ph.D. graduate and Teaching Fellow in the Languages and Cultures Programme at the University of Otago, New Zealand. His thesis explored the role of values in contemporary Japanese elite perceptions of Japan–China relations. He has worked as Coordinator of the annual Otago Foreign Policy School since 2015. He has co-edited the volume New Zealand and the World: Past, Present and Future (World Scientific, 2018). His research interests include Japanese studies, international relations of the Asia-Pacific, and intercultural communication.
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Rodrigo Duterte’s electoral victory in the 2016 presidential elections in the Philippines allowed him to implement a violent war on drugs, undermine liberal democratic institutions, and shift the country’s foreign policy direction away from active engagement with the United Nations (UN) and towards rapprochement with China in relation to the South China Sea dispute. The rise of Duterte constitutes both a continuation and a subversion of political elite rule in the Philippines. By weakening the political opposition and the business elite through utilising the law and social media; co-opting many members of Congress and the judiciary; and politicising the bureaucracy and the military, Duterte was able to consolidate his power. His draconian policies drew international condemnation. He responded by formally ending the Philippines’ membership of the International Criminal Court and threatening to withdraw from the UN and those of its agencies that were critical of his government’s human rights violations. In doing so, Duterte unilaterally reversed the Philippines’ long-standing commitments to human rights and the rule of law. By not invoking the ruling of an international tribunal on the South China Sea, Duterte lost important political leverage in promoting an international legal framework for strengthening the protection of the Philippines’ claim to its exclusive economic zone from the assertive campaign by China to establish full control of the South China Sea. Despite Duterte’s appeasement policy, Beijing has been intensifying its intrusions into the Philippines’ and other ASEAN countries’ territorial waters, a trend that threatens the security of the Asia–Pacific region.
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In this article, we argue that a consequence of Duterte’s presidency is the further weakening of the party system in the Philippines, or the emergence of “anarchy of parties.” Traditionally, Philippine presidents used their power of patronage in a quid-pro-quo manner vis-à-vis the legislators to achieve presidents’ goals, and this executive-legislative transaction was coordinated mainly through the president’s party. However, evidence suggests that Duterte bypassed Congress to achieve his policies by riding on his popularity and did not have to use his power of pork to co-opt politicians. As a result, the president’s party decreased its value as a coordination device for congressional affairs and party nominations at elections. Consequently, what we observe is an anarchy of parties where inter-party competition has become even more fluid and fragmented than before the Duterte presidency. We provide corroborative evidence to support our claim by mainly focusing on the 2019 midterm elections.
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Presidential power is difficult to control through formal institutional checks. Even where constitutional and statutory limits exist, Presidents often seek to work around them. For example, independently elected Presidents may invoke the separation of powers as a justification for acting unilaterally without checks from the legislature, the courts, or other oversight bodies. To illustrate the difficulty of controlling chief executives, we use the cases of Argentina and the Philippines, both of which recently amended their constitutions in an effort to limit presidential power. Newly enacted checks and balances have been inadequate to counter excessive assertions of executive power that undermine constitutional principles. Recent Presidents, determined to reinterpret or ignore the text, have justified their unilateral actions by asserting that the constitutional separation of powers prevents other government actors from interfering with their actions. Their interpretations emphasize the division of labor and downplay inter-branch checks. By raising the separation of powers to a canonical principle that trumps a complementary system of checks and balances, these Presidents have shielded themselves from scrutiny, undermined the effectiveness of other branches, and aggrandized their own power. Although Argentina and the Philippines may be extreme cases, their recent history should raise red flags in presidential democracies, both newly emerging and well-established. In particular, despite the obvious and substantial differences between the United States and our cases, they should lead Americans to ponder both the need for checks on the executive and practical ways to make them work effectively without causing the government to grind to a halt.
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The Philippines 2014-2015: Domestic politics and foreign relations, a critical review
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