Duterte's local politics

March 20, 2018

Before Rodrigo Duterte became the 16th president of the Philippines, he served as the mayor of Davao—ruling the city for more than 20 years.  During his term, he was able transform Davao into the safest city in the country (based on the 2015 crowdsourcing survey site Numbeo.com). Capitalizing on his accomplishments as mayor, Duterte was able to win the 2016 presidential election. Local politics, it seems, has become national politics. This was the argument of historian Patricio Abinales.

Speaking before a jam-packed crowd at Escaler Hall on March 16, 2018, Abinales talked about Chapter 15 of his book “State and Society in the Philippines” which explored the structural and institutional factors behind Duterte’s populist rule.

Historian and writer Patricio Abinales discusses his book "State and Society in the Philippines."

Abinales—a faculty member of University of Hawaii- Manoa’s School of Pacific and Asian Studies—said that local politics has become the new norm. Duterte’s rise to power, he noted, is shaped by the country’s varying political milieus, from the Colonial Era to post-Martial Law era.

Martial Law era, in particular, greatly influenced Duterte, Abinales argued. His father was a friend of Ferdinand Marcos, whose vision of a New Society promised a life free of colonial oppression.  

“There is a popular perversion towards the elites,” he said.  Abinales enumerated other ‘outsiders’ who rose to the presidency:  Ramon Magsaysay, Corazon Aquino and Joseph Estrada.

Duterte is also promdi (a person who grew up in the province), hailing from Mindanao, he added.  During his term as a mayor, Duterte hosted a television show “ Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa (From the Masses, For the Masses). The show, Abinales said, provided Duterte with an avenue where he could dish out warnings and expletives to criminals and even his political foes. This tough demeanor —perpetuated by media— helped cement Duterte’s strongman identity.  This, in turn, greatly affected the turnout of the 2016 election. Local media helped shaped the country’s political culture, Abinales said.

“To understand Duterte is to understand the local political culture,”Abinales said. The problem, he noted, is that not many people study political perspectives other than that of Metro Manilans. Understanding the local context will give a better wider assessment of one’s political culture.

Copies of  Abinales’ book “State and Society in the Philippines” were sold at the event. For a complete list of Abinales’ books, contact  Ateneo de Manila University Press (http://ateneo.edu/ateneopress/).