The riddle of Duterte’s popularity | Inquirer Opinion

The riddle of Duterte’s popularity

/ 12:12 AM January 30, 2017

Many among us are surprised at the emergence of so many supporters of President Duterte, who consider him someone who can do no wrong. His critics scornfully label these zealous supporters with derogatory names.

But mocking the President’s avid supporters and disdainfully calling them names stand in the way of finding out what has caused many among us to develop an intense loyalty to a leader with extremely unconventional ways.


Whether we are for or against Mr. Duterte, we must acknowledge with amazement that we have never seen in the history of our country such demonstrations of extremely passionate support for a sitting president.

It is all the more surprising that the President who enjoys such obsessive idolization does not emerge packaged in the long-established, idealized mold of a traditional leader: oozing with charisma, dressed in elegant clothes, and delivering inspiring speeches (or at least tries to).


Instead, we have a President who instills fear, enjoys the informality of his clothes, and spews unprintable words in his public remarks. He curses at the Church, launches tirades against the United States (which is the one foreign country Filipinos love most), and sings praises for China (which is the one foreign country Filipinos hate most). On top of that, he is widely seen as giving encouragement to the extrajudicial killings that have come to blight our country since he assumed office.

President Duterte’s success in winning over the hearts and minds of so many among us may have something to do with the dismal failure of many of our traditionally molded leaders to deliver on the following: 1) to pull out of poverty the almost 50 percent of Filipinos who have long been wallowing in hardship, and 2) to address the bitter frustration of our people over poor public services such as traffic management, the resolution of crime, the corruption-damaged roads, among others.

The unaddressed frustration of our people over poor public services is in all likelihood the reason Mr. Duterte draws sizeable support even among the middle and wealthy classes.

For many of our people, the face and sound of a leader cast in the traditional mold have become the image of a leader who is long on promise but short on action: one who will continue with policies that will achieve a glowing view from the top (i.e., high gross national product), but who will ignore or overlook the many huge spots of dreary reality on the ground.

By reason of this long-festering frustration, many Filipinos have gradually developed a longing for a nontraditional leader who does not speak and rule from the top but does so on the ground, both literally and figuratively.

We should have noticed this development when Joseph Estrada was elected to the presidency. And we had a foretaste of the intense loyalty of a growing number of Filipinos to an unconventional leader when Estrada supporters almost overran Malacañang while protesting his ouster.

The longing for an unconventional leader that was unsatisfied because of Estrada’s ouster was expressed again when a huge number of the electorate voted for Fernando Poe Jr. The action star was widely believed to have won the votes but was cheated in the results, thereby again frustrating those who were longing for a leader in his mold.


This bottled-up frustration hugely helped Mr. Duterte win the presidency. The intensely loyal supporters that we now see and hear represent our people who were stymied and foiled in their support for Estrada and FPJ. Add to their ranks those long exasperated by government indifference over the crisis-level problems in our public services.

For President Duterte to succeed, he must make a dent in the state of impoverishment of Filipinos and fix the dysfunctional state of public services. These must be the focus of his energies, and the subject of his rants. Not the terrible, continuing killing of his poor constituents. 


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