In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential election with an astonishing 16 million votes beating the other four challengers. Despite his rape jokes, death threats, and various obscenities during the campaign. He vowed to kill suspected drug dealers and other criminals captured the votes of Filipino people as they aimed for a crimeless Philippines in that year. Almost five years since the last presidential election, Duterte is now at his final term as the president of this nation. Even if the future is still unknown regarding his plans on whether he will run again for a different government position or maybe he will rig the electoral laws to continue his reign, this essay tries to round up the state of the Philippines under the Populist regime of Duterte.
Jan-Werner Muller’s “What Is Populism?” identified three indicators of populism, namely an attempt to colonize or occupy the state, engagement in mass clientelism, and discriminatory legalism. Throughout his presidential term, these indicators have been exhibited by Duterte and will serve as a basis for his populist actions and how it threatens democracy in the Philippines.
Occupy the State
Aside from winning the 2016 Presidential Race, Duterte’s Party Partido Demokratiko Pilipinas – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) also took the majority of Congress as local politicians swung to his popularity. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the party didn’t field any candidates although some Senators have expressed strong support and sided with the new regime. Prior to this, the Senate has been a strong point of opposition to the regime, led by the Liberal Party bloc. The result of the 2019 midterm elections however let the party dominating both houses. The House of Representatives more so with its “supermajority” of Duterte’s allies and the ruling party flipped some Senate seats from the opposition. Aside from that, not even a single candidate from the opposition wins a Senate seat. This majority in the Legislative Branch gives Duterte a stronger position to push for his legislative agenda such as the continuation of the anti-drug campaign, economic policies, and even retaliation to his enemies.
Duterte’s influence is not only limited to the Legislative Branch but also extends to the Judiciary branch, before he will end his term next year, the Supreme Court will now have 13 out of the 15 Justices appointed by himself. As highlighted by (Varol, 2015) “political elites transfer power from the political institution to the Judiciary to preserve their hegemony and even if political elites lose power judges can continue to enforce their preference policy”. Right now, it is important to watch how these appointees will decide on the Anti-Terror Law, a piece of legislation that would severely impact the application of due process and human rights. Looking back, however, the Supreme Court has favored several of Duterte’s agenda in the past such as the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao, the Quo warranto petition against the former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and the reinternment of former-president Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. (Heroes’ Cemetery)
The current Pandemic situation in the Philippines saw how mass clientelism is prevalent under this administration. Forming a pandemic task force, Duterte has appointed ex-military officials to lead the fight against the COVID-19 instead of medical experts. This move was widely panned by critics as they contend that his appointees lack the necessary expertise to deal with the pandemic. Aside from that, Duterte is known for his political appointment with his allies and those who have helped him during his presential campaign. As with (Hickens, 2011) definition of clientelism, having these people are vital for Duterte as both of them have this “chain of dyadic relationships” that can be useful for the 2022 election. The role of Duterte’s allies and appointees in the next election can be brokers that give both positive and negative inducement to people in order to get their votes for the preferred candidate of the administration. With the current situation, all stakes are high as people can be easily influenced due to their socioeconomic status. Even if it’s not yet the start of the election campaign in the Philippines, subtle forms of inducement are now starting to appear in public
During the early years of his term, the primary focus of discriminatory legalism revolved around those who opposed and criticized his policy against criminality and the drug trade. Activists like Sister Fox, an Australian Catholic who attacked Duterte during the height of the reported Extrajudicial Killings (EJK) was blacklisted by the government and deported back to Australia for alleged violations of her missionary visa. However, this isn’t limited to specific individuals as in recent years even both the media and academe became targeted of discriminatory legalism and systemic repression of society under Duterte’s term.
Rappler together with its CEO Maria Ressa faces the common playbook against journalists and media in a populist regime, as a court decision convicted her with a libel case. Aside from Maria Ressa, the largest broadcasting network in the Philippines, ABS-CBN was forced to shut down last year because Congress failed to renew its franchise in a politically motivated action as the network has a long-standing beef with Duterte that can be traced back during the presidential campaign. Lastly, the termination of the Department of National Defense (DND) accords with the University of the Philippines is a threat to the academic freedom that the University upholds and is contended to be a part of a mass Red-Tagging campaign rampant in this administration that tries to silence the voice of those critical with the government and defending the democracy.
In conclusion, during Duterte’s presidential term he has strived to erode the ideas of balance of power, accountability, and human rights in the government, all of which are key democratic ideals. The consequences of his actions will have a lasting impact on the lives of the Filipino people and even if he does step down in 2022, the ghost of his populist regime will continue to haunt us. The next year’s election will be a validation of whether we are moving forward as a nation or if we will continue to accept a new version of populism.
Photo: President Rodrigo Roa Duterte Meets with Thai Businessmen and the Filipino Community in Thailand by Department of Foreign Affairs DFA Philippines
is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
1. Müller, Jan-Werner. 2016. What Is Populism? Philadelphia: University of
2. Varol, Ozan. 2015. “Stealth Authoritarianism.” Iowa Law Review retrieved from https://ilr.law.uiowa.edu/print/volume-100-issue-4/stealth-authoritarianism/ last May 1, 2021
3. Hicken, Aleen. 2011. “Clientelism”. Annu.Rev.Polit.Sci retrieved from https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.polisci.031908.220508 last May 1, 2021