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The Rise of Duterte

“Richard Heydarian’s book in its meticulous unpacking of Duterte’s presidency

will no doubt contribute to deepening our understanding of the man and of the
world historical moment of his rise to power.”
—Vicente L. Rafael, University of Washington, Seattle, USA

“. . . a timely read on this phenomenon that is shaking up a number of countries.

Away from the shallows and instant punditry on social media, Heydarian takes us
through academic and popular literature to make sense of disquieting yet com-
pelling events.”
—Marites Danguilan Vitug, award-winning journalist
and Editor at Large, Rappler, Philippines

“Heydarian deftly places Duterte in the context of the populist wave sweeping
much of the world while reminding readers that his rise was also a consequence
of his country’s disappointments with ‘elite democracy.’”
—Howie Severino, award-winning anchor/Journalist, GMA
News Network, Philippines
Richard Javad Heydarian

The Rise of Duterte

A Populist Revolt against Elite Democracy
Richard Javad Heydarian
New Manila, Quezon City

ISBN 978-981-10-5917-9 ISBN 978-981-10-5918-6  (eBook)


Library of Congress Control Number: 2017951844

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To my loving mom Evangeline Foronda, my always supportive aunt
Rodelisa Foronda, and my adorable niece Aryana

This isn’t my first book, yet it was the most challenging so far. Not so
much due the lack of material or impetus. If anything, it is perhaps for
the exact opposite reasons. Rodrigo Duterte—the tough talking, unor-
thodox, and invective-laced Filipino president—is a story that just keeps
on giving. Following his long-winded speeches—often resembling
Faulknerian stream of consciousness if not Freudian free association
rather than the business-as-usual statesmanlike sloganeering—is, to say
the least, a formidable task, requiring utmost patience and diligence on
the part of any conscientious researcher.
Since this is a scholarly work, I made the extra effort of making sure
my understanding and analysis of Duterte, and his unique rhetorical
style, isn’t jeopardized by the ubiquity of sensationalist journalistic cover-
age, which has dominated popular imagination of the highly controver-
sial and popular Filipino leader. Understanding the context, background,
and intent of his speeches and actions is no easy feat, yet it is indispen-
sable to a fair and objective assessment of his unique and mindboggling
and aggressive brand of politics, which has jolted the liberal elite out of
its stupor. And given his larger-than-life ego, and the far-reaching impact
of his rhetoric and action on my country and beyond, I never really
lacked any impetus in terms of writing on, reading about, or observing
him. Since Duterte’s rise to national prominence in late 2015, I have
written hundreds of articles and papers, not to mention countless inter-
views with practically all major national and international media outlets;

viii  AcknoWledgements

these were collectively an excruciating exercise in making sense out of a

kind of rhetoric and behavior that often seemed, at least on the surface,
beyond reason and comprehension.
Writing this book, however, was particularly exacting, not only because
of the constant stream of media and writing requests—especially every
time Duterte made an outrageous statement, which he often did and
continues to do—but also the attendant necessity to constantly step back
and see the bigger picture beyond the oppressive, distortionary fog of the
immediate present. To ensure the depth and preserve the integrity of this
work, I had to, with varying degrees of success, constantly take off my
pundit hat in favor of my scholarly one as soon as I got back to concep-
tualizing and writing my manuscript. The challenge—following French
historian Fernand Braudel’s distinction—was to make sure that I didn’t
lose sight of the Longue durée (long-term structural shifts) in light of the
mélange of histoire événementielle (ephemeral changes driven by daily
events) in understanding what was happening in the Philippines.
And this is precisely why the book kicks off by providing a broader
understanding of the phenomenon of populism around the world,
including in emerging market democracies. This is why it also looks at
the promise and peril of liberal democracy in deeply unequal nations
such as the Philippines—and reasons behind the rise of right-wing popu-
lists such as Duterte. This is why the book looks at the deep history of
Philippine-American relations before delving into the Filipino president’s
anti-American tirades and strategic flirtation with China and Russia.
The other challenge was the fact that the object of my study always felt
too real—pungent and overwhelming. Some pages of this book were writ-
ten while I came under a barrage of systematic cyber-harassment—mostly
from pro-Duterte trolls—including death threats and myriad of insults lev-
ied against my loved ones and me. Other pages came after I personally
met the president in Malacañang Palace—an experience that, paradoxi-
cally, felt surreal and manufactured. Some others came after conversations
with human rights activists and some of Duterte’s fiercest critics. There
were times when I felt like the whole country was on the verge of crashing
into a frenzy of anarchy, swallowed by a mindless orgy of violence, hatred,
and intolerance. There were nights when one was not sure whether you
would still wake up to a democratic society. The above-mentioned issues,
however, are just a foretaste of the extreme emotional and psychological
­challenges, which I had to go grapple with in penning this book.
AcknoWledgements   ix

Given the growing polarization of political discourse in the country,

it was also particularly challenging to make sure that one fully and fairly
incorporates the views of individuals from the opposite sides of the fence
into a coherent narrative. In this highly charged political environment, I
couldn’t help but notice that even arranging interviews with key figures
was often affected by questions and speculations vis-à-vis my supposed
loyalty and political leanings. But above all, penning this book was chal-
lenging, because it is perhaps the first effort to provide a systematic and
coherent analysis of the roots and trajectory of Duterte’s presidency and,
in the words of Filipino Sociologist Randy David, the attendant phe-
nomenon of “Dutertismo.” This is the first effort to provide an exten-
sive analysis of the Filipino president, his rhetoric and action, and his
national and international impact beyond media headlines and ideologi-
cal debates.
Let me thank all individuals, from the government, academe, media,
and the civil society, who helped me to put this (hopefully pioneer-
ing) work together. In particular, I would want to extend my gratitude
to senior government officials, particularly Defense Secretary Delfin
Lorenzana, Press Secretary Martin Andanar, and Philippine Ambassador
to China Jose “Chito” Sta. Romana for sharing their valuable views with
me, including on very sensitive issues and despite their heavy schedule.
I am also very grateful to other senior (current and former) govern-
ment officials, from the Philippines and across the Asia-Pacific region, who
agreed to share their valuable views, though off-the-record due to the
sensitivity of the matter under discussion. This book, particularly Chap. 2
and areas that concern foreign policy issues, were deeply enriched by can-
did and extensive conversations (mostly confidential) with several heads of
state, senior cabinet officials, members of the armed forces, and the broader
defense establishment in several key countries in the region throughout the
past three years. Without a doubt, the insiders’ view of the inner workings
of government and policy-making were indispensable to the formation of
this book.
I am also thankful to those on the outside, who provided a sober anal-
ysis of the outward workings of the government, particularly under the
Duterte administration. Thus, I would want to thank my colleagues in
the academe, especially Dr. Walden Bello (State University of New York),
Dr. Jay Batongbacal (University of the Philippines), and Dr. Vicente
Rafael (University of Washington), among many others, for sharing their
x  AcknoWledgements

valuable and sobering views on Philippine politics, foreign policy, and

history, respectively. I would also want to thank colleagues in the media,
namely Marites Vitug (Rappler), Howie Severino (GMA Network), and
Antonio Montalvan II (Philippine Daily Inquirer) for their sharp and
candid assessment of the current state of media and political freedom in
the country. I am also grateful to Manuel Quezon III, a leading pun-
dit and former assistant secretary for strategic communications in the
Benigno Aquino III administration, for his cogent and candid views on
what has gone right and wrong in recent years.
Without a doubt, there are countless more people, including my
undergraduate and graduate students, who played a key role not only in
the development of this book, but also my inexplicable audacity to try to
pen the first book on the presidency of a highly complex character with
often frighteningly perplexing policies and pronouncements. I sincerely
hope that this book will mark the beginning of a fruitful and enriching
literature on Duterte, Dutertismo, and the new emerging chapter in
Philippine political history, which has, so far, proven to have far-reaching
consequences for the country and beyond.

1 Democracy Under Siege 1

2 Modernizations and Its Discontents 15

3 Subaltern Realism: Duterte’s Art of the Deal 41

4 The Interregnum 77

Index 131

List of Figures

Fig. 1.1 Global Survey of Share of Citizens Preferring

a Strong Leader “Who Does Not Have to Bother
with Elections” 6
Fig. 2.1 Philippine economy from marcos to aquino
(1972–2015). GDP year-on-year growth rate
(at constant 2000 prices) 27
Fig. 4.1 Islamic state affiliates in Mindanao 109
Fig. 4.2 Satisfaction rate with Duterte’s war on drugs
(December 2016) 110
Fig. 4.3 Public concern of prevalence of extrajudicial killings 111

List of Tables

Table 4.1 Awareness and trust ratings of selected countries

and international/regional organizations. December 2016
and March 2017/Philippines (in percent) 81
Table 4.2 Most urgent national concerns. December 2016
and March 2017/Philippines (multiple response
allowed/in percent) 82
Table 4.3 Public opinion on perceived urgency of selected
national issues (March 15–20, 2017) 103