by Julian Ignacio Canlas

‘I don’t care if I go to hell as long as the people I serve will live in paradise.’
Rodrigo Duterte

Disclaimer: mentions rape

Rodrigo Duterte’s personal politics is defined by a confusing blend of liberal and authoritarian beliefs. His politics have certainly elicited a wide variety of reactions, capturing the imagination of even the Western media outlets through racist depictions of international politics — or not. Even more varied and stranger are his supporters, ranging from religious leaders to the LGBT community, to sex workers and farmers. So how exactly did the new president of the Philippines, dubbed ‘The Punisher’, manage to enthrall the masses?

1. His multicultural background

The Philippines is the 8th most ethnically diverse country in the world—bet you didn’t know that. This fragmentation creates a lot of friction between the three primary island groups—Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Located in Luzon, Metro Manila is pejoratively considered to be the imperial capital of the Philippines by non-Manilans, who feel left out of political decisions, because of the centralisation of government to this city. Religion also comes into play. This anti-Manila sentiment is particularly the strongest in Mindanao, where the Muslim minority resides, due to the central government’s strong Roman Catholic inclinations (in fact, Philippines is conservative mainly in relation to the large Christian body).

This is where Duterte’s roots come into play. Son of working class migrants, not only did he serve 22 years as Mayor of Davoa, the metropolitan hub of Mindanao, Duterte’s paternal lineage stems from Cebu, the main city in Visayas, and his maternal lineage is part-Moro—the Filipino tribe with the largest Muslim population. Duterte considers himself Cebuano.

This multiculturalism allowed Duterte not only to have support from wide groups of people outside Luzon, his interesting position as a political outsider, away from the Imperial Manila, has enabled him to absorb a wide variety of perspectives.

Here is a snazzy video of his mother talking about the importance of celebrating the beauty of multiculturalism. She’s Imelda Marcos minus the crimes against humanity and elitism.

2. His strong support for the rights of the LGBT+ community, indigenous tribes, and other oppressed minorities.

Duterte has a strong heart for the margins of society. He famously joked once, ‘I used to be gay.’ And in another, ‘I’d rather lose polls than lose my identity.’ Forget what the Western media states about his alleged homophobia. They’re all bollocks.

One of the more controversial statements he made during campaign includes ‘Definitely the gays were create by God […]. Adam, Eve, and the gays.’ His ‘queer’ remark comes from a mistranslation. In its essence, In its precolonial essence, Tagalog/Filipino is a genderless language; even the term for gender in Tagalog is kasarian, a non-binary term, and synonymous with genus and species.

He is also the first mayor in the Philippines to formally acknowledge the representation of the indigenous Lumad and Muslim community. This anti-discrimination ordinance reportedly is a response to the discrimination Muslims faced from real estate agents.

His track record with issues on feminism can be a little bit shakier, with his alleged practice of kissing his female supporters and the famous rape joke. His history of being a serial womanizer has been construed as a feminist issue, in regards to the Catholic iteration of marriage in the Philippines, in which wives can be relegated to nominal roles. However, in 2004, he won awards for having a gender-responsive governance. He also gained praise for being one of the first to create a home-type jail to improve the life of female inmates.

Other than that, he also sees prostitution as a mental health issue and should remain as a profession. This, again, is not a conventional stance in a conservative country.

3. His aim to decentralise the government as a Socialist dictator

A self-proclaimed Socalist dictator, Duterte is not afraid to redistribute wealth in the Philippines and shift the paradigm of socio-economic power from the ruling elite to the proletariat. In fact, he boldly claims that he will shut the Congress if they impede his actions and give their budget to teachers.

Duterte is willing to strike an agreement with the large insurgency of the National People’s Army in Mindanao to bring an end to the armed conflicts, one of Asia’s longest, claiming around 30’000 lives since the 1960s. Duterte has stated: ‘What I will offer the Communist Party of the Philippines if they decide to join the government are DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform), DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), Labor…DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development.’

One of the main points in Duterte’s campaign is to decentralise the government through federalism, in which authority and governance are divided between the government head office and the political units comprising of provinces and administrative regions. Duterte vows to correct the historical injustices against the Moro people, the Muslim population in the Philippines, by passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which proposes a new autonomous political region known as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region and give greater authority to the region from the central government to push a political reform towards federalism.

4. He promises to stop crime in 4-6 months … through authoritarian means

The main reason as to why Duterte has been getting a lot of flack and claims of Human Rights violation lies in his alleged connection with the Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group responsible for the disappearance of 1040 people between 1998-2008.

And this is what the whole media circus is all about. In his campaign, he vows to kill 100’000 and feed their bodies to the fish. He also wants to reintroduce death penalty by hanging.

So from an insider’s perspective, is his wide support so hard to understand? Not really.

Crime and drug trafficking in the Philippines remain a serious national concern, with drug syndicates targeting and using children as drug pushers.

As mayor of Davao for 22 years, the city went from being one of the crime capitals of Asia to being the 8th safest city in the world; Davao has prospered. Smoking in public is prohibited, a first in the country. The 911 is one of the fastest nationwide, ready to serve in minutes. Motorcyclists can’t drive without a helmet or with broken headlights. There’s a curfew on minors. There’s a ban on firecrackers, even during NYE. Almost every street has police patrol. The whole city is monitored, under CCTV.

Featured image © dutertecayetano


  1. Optimistic and interesting analysis. Not to be too cynical but I remember Ferdinand Marcos was also viewed, in the beginning, as a refreshing challenge to the established Manileno, a brilliant lawyer from the Provinces, a man of the people, all that.


    • True; and it’s also interesting how this view of Manila as the imperial capital has grown stronger after the EDSA Revolution, which presupposed that the whole of the Philippines was against Marcos on the grounds of the people in Manila revolting against him.

      However, the difference between Marcos and Duterte is that Marcos emerged from the political fringes of grassroots and provincial politics, while Marcos has been in the Senate prior to his presidency. The political dynamic implied in this are starkly different.


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