University of Memphis

“Philippines’s President Rodrigo Duterte War on Drugs, Populist or Hero?” by Allante’ Boykin @University of Memphis

Since the fairly new President Rodrigo Duterte has been elected into office last June, he has been on a binge to cleanse the country of drugs and addiction. Duterte’s war on drugs has claimed the lives of nearly 6,000 individuals or more. The brutality has even spilt into innocent civilian life, as witnesses has reported seeing the police attacking and killing suspected drug dealer or drug user in the night.

Although Rodrigo Duterte has received criticism from domestic and international humanitarian activist and organizations, the killings still proceed. The polls indicate that his popularity has declined recently since taking office. So if organizers and protesters view Duterte so negative, then why does he still have a large group of supporters and is locally accepted?
When local suburban residents were asked about the murders and attacks in the urban inner cities, many were not aware about the events. Some only knew what the news reported, which did not include many details. The news of course, televised Rodrigo Duterte cancelling the war on drugs; he told the police forces to disengage. Before, the President bragged about killing a few of the dealers/ users himself.

Duterte still has a large population of the Philippines that supports him. Other supporters may come from the South of the Philippines, an island called Mindanao. The citizens of Mindanao feels like the government has treated them as the other or marginalized them in the past. The people there have a strong tie or relationship to the president, because they feel represented by Duterte.

The Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte’s ambitious plan to rid the Philippines of every drug dealer and drug user, has been seen so many other times in history; for example the former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs campaigns. Does this mean that Duterte is a populist or any means necessary hero/ leader?

First, Duterte imitated a campaign that violently attacked drug users and addicts; these attacks mostly occurred in low income sectors such as the inner city; some may refer to the campaign as the ‘war on the poor’. Secondly, the general population or suburban communities are not fully aware about the events taken place in the slums. Third, Duterte controls the narrative about the campaign in the media. When televised he denies the ‘war on drugs, by the discontinuing a further brutal or fatal attacks on citizens by police. Finally, similar to President Trump, Rodrigo Duterte has acquired a negative reaction from the world about his leadership. Despite his plummeting popularity, he still remains to be supported by an ‘other’ group.
To conclude, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has many strikes or points under the populist characteristic list. Other countries and leaders may view him as a leader with a firm hand that does not stray away from a promise. Although I am not able to determine if he categorizes as a populist, I am sure that he harbors so many traits of one. This type of leadership and behavior from the first ever president in the Philippines, may inspire a more charismatic successor to push the Philippine into an authoritarianism regime. The lines are blurred between the authoritarianism and populism, easy to cross.

1 Comment

  1. Ezra Dulit-Greenberg

    November 27, 2017 at 11:46 am

    I must say I think Duterte is just about the textbook definition of a populist. In Jan Werner-Muller’s book on Populism, he defines it as a harshly anti-elite, anti-pluralist worldview. Just about everything Duterte has done backs this up, from threatening martial law, to impeaching a Supreme Court justice, to endorsing the killing of “corrupt” journalists. Many people still like him (I have seen higher popularity numbers recently) because he presents as against the economic and social elite that has for years controlled the country. This viewpoint isn’t necessarily correct–corruption and impunity are getting worse, for example–but many of Duterte’s policies, from free irrigation for farmers to ‘cleaning the streets’ in the drug war, are at a base level us-versus-them.
    It’s most interesting to me that President Duterte approaches populism from both the right and the left. Where he generally backs up a conservative, law-and-order mantra with horrifying killings, he also pushes liberal economic reforms aimed at impoverished Filipinos (despite generally protecting the economic heavy hitters). In this I think he’s more like President Trump than any of us think–paying lip service to some progressive ideas, but protecting elite interests all the same.

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