Dutertismo: Five types of supporters
It takes a village to raise a child,” so says an African proverb, underlining how an individual can truly thrive only within the coordinates of collective life.
In the same breath, power is sustained not through the sheer political will of a single man alone, but via a dynamic network of support that cuts across the fabric of society. This is precisely how one should understand the enduring base of political support for consummate populists such as President Duterte, despite their successive blunders in office.
Among the most deplorably impoverished ways by which certain critics of the President tend to explain away his power and popularity is to dismiss Mr. Duterte’s supporters as a bunch of supposed fanatics.
Less charitable critics have employed more disdainful appellations for the “DDS” (Diehard Duterte Supporters), including such politically incorrect terms as “Dutertards” and, even more harshly, “Tabogos.”
Some of them pompously cite the Philippines’ ranking at the near bottom of indices such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study to explain away the DDS’ loyalty. Others point at the Philippines’ poor rankings in global surveys such as the Misperceptions Index, supposedly reflecting the prevalence of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the country, with high confidence going hand in hand with low information.
A more subtle version, meanwhile, overemphasizes online disinformation at the expense of voters’ agency.
Surely, we have a long way to go in nurturing a culture of critical thinking. We desperately need to revamp our educational institutions.
The one big problem with elitist “bobotante” argumentation is that critics conveniently forget how millions of Filipinos have also voted for progressive figures, from Mayor Vico Sotto to Vice President Leni Robredo, even at the height of right-wing populism.
And lest we forget, Mr. Duterte barely got a third of votes among the poorest Filipinos; it is, in fact, the aspirational middle class that has been most enthusiastic about the President’s populist and anti-crime agenda, as reflected in exit polls, quarterly surveys, and spirited public discussions.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung once argued: “We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate. It oppresses.” Thus, we need to carefully examine, devoid of prejudice and snobbery, the heterogeneity of Mr. Duterte’s support base to truly understand the state of our politics.
Indeed, there are die-hard supporters of the former mayor, those who have stood by him through decades of extreme political experimentation in the beating heart of Mindanao. Some of them have transformed from liege men into indispensable courtiers, big-shot consiglieres, parvenu billionaires, and even senators of the republic.
But there are at least four other groups that constitute the Duterte support base. First, obviously, the coterie of opportunists, some of whom were staunch Duterte critics before his ascent to power but conveniently pivoted to become his minions (Exhibit A: the current presidential spokesperson) once the allure of closeness to power became too hard to resist.
This is why, for instance, Mr. Duterte managed to rapidly build a supermajority in Congress even if his primary party, PDP-Laban, barely had more than a handful of representatives in the chamber five years ago.
There are also the technocrats, some with world-class training and honest commitment to bring about sustained development to the country. Think of economists such as the National Economic and Development Authority acting chief Karl Chua, a former World Bank economist and staunch advocate of long-term development planning.
Then there are the sincere patriots, men like Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who have tried their best to provide a balance against the worst strategic instincts of their populist principal. It’s these patriots who have prevented the country from turning into another Chinese satellite state.
Lastly, there are the countless ordinary Filipino citizens who are just desperate for change—beaten down by decades of unfulfilled promises drenched in rousing rhetoric. For them, Mr. Duterte is a much-welcome break, even if no longer the breath of fresh air they once fancied him to be.
This broad and heterogeneous base of support largely explains the President’s enduring power, but it also points the way forward if we are to restore our besieged democracy and national dignity to some semblance of health. Prejudice and prejudgment are not only morally repugnant, but also politically foolish in the struggle for freedom.
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