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Global populism wave hits Philippines as Duterte elected

By Mynardo Macaraig, AFP

MANILA, May 10, 2016 – The election of Rodrigo Duterte as Philippine president marks the latest victory for populist politics, as voters around the world reward candiates offering simple solutions to complex problems. In a country beset by crime, poverty, and corruption, Duterte promised voters a raft of quick fixes that many analysts believe will remain empty promises.

Supporters of Presidential bet and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte unfold a giant Philippines flag as they start to crowd Duterte's venue for his 'Miting de Abanse' in front of the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on Saturday afternoon. (JOHN JEROME GANZON)

Supporters of Presidential frontrunner Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte unfold a giant Philippines flag as they start to crowd Duterte’s venue for his ‘Miting de Abanse’ in front of the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on Saturday afternoon. (JOHN JEROME GANZON)


One of his main campaign pledges was to completely eradicate crime within six months. Foul-mouthed tirades have only added to the appeal of his plug-and-play solutions for a broken economy and a bankrupt society, echoing in some ways the simplistic sloganeering of presidential hopeful Donald Trump in the United States.

In Europe, iconoclast politicians revel in anti-immigrant rhetoric, capitalizing on voters’ disquiet over rising unemployment and an elite they think is out of touch. ”People want some kind of change. They want to break from the past. They are exasperated, aggravated,” said Earl Parreno of the Manila-based Institute for Political and Economic Reform. ”They want someone like Duterte who promises everything will be solved in three to six months.”

Duterte’s victory over establishment candidate Mar Roxas was founded on simplistic brutality. The 71-year-old vowed he would end crime by ordering security forces to kill tens of thousands of suspected criminals, then pardon himself if he was found guilty of mass murder. Despite six years of stable economic growth under President Benigno Aquino, one in four Filipinos still lives on less than $1.30 a day and a devastating rich-poor divide has worsened. ”People want change. They are happy to take risks to get this change,” said Parreno. ”Whether the change is better or worse, that’s not the issue. They want a new platform, even if they don’t know what is next.”


Even in a country that has a track record of controversial presidents — dictators and movie stars jostling in the pages of recent history books — Duterte’s hustings have been colorful affairs. Supporters have delighted in their candidate’s willingness to shoot from the hip, like when he called the pope a ”son of a whore” and made jokes about raping an Australian missionary. His coarse ascent mirrors that of Trump, the presumptive presidential candidate for the Republican Party. The real estate mogul has similarly shown willingness to offend, luxuriating in name-calling at rallies that have at times teetered on the hysterical.

Trump — who, like Duterte, has drawn comparisons with Adolf Hitler — is regularly accused of demagoguery, the populism-plus-one of a politician who plays to the baying mob. ”Demagogues do not reassure the electorate with a rational assessment of risk as mainstream politicians tend to do,” says Richard Ashby Wilson, professor of anthropology and law at the University of Connecticut. ”Instead, they play up existing threats, embrace a narrative of victimhood and sow despair,” he wrote on earlier this year.

While Duterte has focused on criminals, Trump has trained his fire on Muslims and Mexicans. He has threatened to build a wall along the southern US border to keep out immigrants — Mexicans are ”rapists” in Trump’s world — and says he will ban all non-American Muslims entering the United States in his bid to combat the perceived threat of terrorism. This scapegoating of minorities finds a less extreme form in Europe, a continent staggering under the weight of its worst migrant crisis since World War II.

Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, and Nigel Farage in Britain have all enjoyed electoral success to one degree or another, espousing anti-immigrant nationalism that until a few years ago seemed consigned to Europe’s past. -

Cookie-cutter politicians

For Francisco Magno, president of the Philippine Political Science Association, the intolerance of modern day populists is magnified by social media. The short soundbites and use of imagery favored on the medium ”is used to emphasize some kind of purity. It makes things black and white: strong and weak, purity vs. inclusiveness,” he told AFP in Manila.

That also translates to the stump; Trump and Duterte make speeches filled with incomplete sentences and unfiltered thoughts that quickly segue from one topic to another, both claiming simply to be telling it like it is. Ian McAllister, a political scientist at the Australian National University, said this reflected voters’ widespread disillusionment with cookie-cutter candidates. ”We have increasingly seen over the last 10 to 15 years the rise of what are popularly known as anti-politician politicians — people who speak their mind,” he said.

While Duterte may have triumphed in Monday’s poll, pundits expect Trump will come unstuck in November’s US general election, losing to his Democratic Party rival Hillary Clinton. But even if he were to win, Trump, like Duterte, would likely be tamed by the political system he is fighting against, says Simon Tormey at the University of Sydney.

”It’s often like walking through treacle being in government. They get all the populist energy beaten out of them as they are trampled on by vested interests and the flood of political bureaucracy,” he said. ”There are no real examples anywhere of a populist politician making any radical change from within. Either their behavior changes or they are booted out.”

  • Telemachus Rhade

    Sabi nga ng isang Amerikanong narinig ko sa isang American radio program, “A Third World country like the Philippines deserves a third-world President like Duterte. Filipinos cry out for change when what they themselves don’t want to change.”

  • Telemachus Rhade

    Let’s see, magje-jetski daw sya sa Scarborough. Let’s see kung gagawin. Pantay daw ang pagtrato nya sa mga kriminal even though puro mahihirap lang na kriminal ang namamatay while yung mayayaman tulad ng Chinese Druglord na pinakawalan nya pati sarili nyang anak eh hinahayaan lang. The sad reality is yung inaakala ng lahat na naiibang politician eh isa ring trapo tulad ng ibang mga politician na kinamumuhian nila. I’ll just sit back and gloat habang patagal ng patagal ay nahihimasmasan ang mga Pilipino na nagkamali sila ng binoto. Bwhahwhhahwahwhahwhahwhahw!

  • mae berns

    i hate it when pres. duterte is called trump of east where in fact they are so different in ideology.. trump is anti immigration against muslims and mexicans while President duterte is advocating harmony among christians and muslims in our country. president Duterte is a commoner same as the Filipino masses while trump is an elite. don’t be an idiot to agree with this story this is truly the PLAN B of those who are afraid of true change in our society. Don’t get manipulated by this hearsay.

  • Gabriela Silang

    napansin ko lang, parang magkapareha ang tono ng mga news against Duterte??? Sino talaga ang author??? may nagbayad talaga sa inyo kasi parang copy-paste lang. This early, you are sowing doubts to pave the way for the impeachment so that power can be returned to the oligarchs? with leni as president and drilon as vp…just try the might of the people….

    • Telemachus Rhade

      Napapansin ko rin, iisa lang ang tono ng mga pro-Duterte. Sino talaga ang author? Si Mayor na may anak na adik & puro empty promises lang ang kalalabasan, na isang mamamatay-tao at may mga kamag-anak & kakampi sa pulitika na kriminal tulad nya?

      See how dumb that argument sounds when it’s thrown BACK at you?

  • Kenneth Cruz

    The worst anti-Duterte newspaper I know. Even after defeat of your beloved Mar Roxas, you’re still campaigning against the him. You know that Duterte has anti establishment policies and you’re afraid because you are the establishment.

  • Josephine Quino

    How dare you write about something you do not understand. You know nothing of the temperament of the Filipino people, you know nothing about Duterte’s track record, you know nothing about his heart. You are the blind grasping the elephant’s tail and saying, “the elephant is very like a snake!” Go back to decent journalism, or has the media really stooped too low?

  • AgentGG

    If the people of the Phillipines actually voted in someone who advocates indiscriminate killing of thousands of people, then they really will get what they deserve.

    • Bystander

      Please respect the will and mandate of the people. Please give President Duterte the chance to implement the changes –for the good of every peace loving Pilipino–he has been advocating.

      • AgentGG

        I feel sorry for you in PH for your sad view of the reality of leadership. Clearly you are suffering in a poor nation but the path now chosen is not new and has never ever worked out — demagoguery and violence. You are being promised the wind and the sky, but it will now get much worse for you. This was a fatal tragedy for PH, because this leader will be a demon, he might actually kill off some criminals, but he will become the biggest lawbreaker in PH history and you will all pay dearly for that. You cannot eradicate crime in 6 months without killing all the people who simply do not believe you, and I hope and pray you will not suffer such a fate.

        • Bystander

          Lee Kwan Yew had transformed Singaporean downtrodden citizenry –from British rule– into a progressive nation through discipline and strict adherence to the rule of law. Yes, Pres. Duterte is not Lee Kwan Yew, but he can do the same with the help of honest technocrats who will be at the helm of every departments and bureaus of the government that generates revenues that will be fully accounted for the implementation of his 8 economic progam. Corruption is the root of all misery our nation is suffering. Tanim-Bala, Drugs, and other social cancer can be curtailed through firm resolved to root out the source of these.

    • Telemachus Rhade

      Exactly. And, by all accounts, those who voted for this criminal should definitely be there also doing the killing alongside their beloved President.

      • AgentGG

        Good luck with that. It has never worked out in the course of human history that just killing off some fellow of your citizens, even the weakest drug addicts and lowly criminals as they might be, has ever solved any problems. What problem are you solving by committing genocide. What is wrong with you that you seem eager to relish such horrible acts and crimes?

    • Kiwipinoy

      Did he really advocate “indiscriminate killing of thousands…”? I suggest you check your source of information or you will soon get scared of your own shadow.