How did Rodrigo Roa Duterte get elected in 2016?
How did he try to win people over?
How did he make himself stand out from all the other political candidates?
Duterte’s rise to power did not begin with his election as Mayor of Davao.
It was not as simple as that.
When trying to figure out who he is, there are a lot of things to think about.
One would have to look at Duterte’s habits, personality, and how he ran his government in a place that is known as one of the most violent and poor in the country.
But that would take a long time and a lot of close study with the person himself, maybe to map out his philosophy and figure out what drives him and what he’s interested in.
This article comes from the point of view of a bystander; conversations with regular people on the street; and hundreds of Facebook posts, tweets, conversations, media reports, and observations from Duterte’s supporters and critics.
But most of it comes from my own life and from trying to understand the ideas that his political machine stands for.
Magnified Victimhood Mentality
Duterte’s strength may come from the way he keeps dividing the people and the country, both literally and figuratively. This may be his main platform and thesis.
He puts forwards the idea that “Imperial Manila’s” greed and corruption have made him a “grand victim.”
This claim isn’t completely true, but it can’t be completely false either.
However, it’s easy to use this story because the effects of poverty are more apparent to the people of Mindanao than to the rest of the country.
You see, Mindanao’s history and culture are very different from the rest of the country because it has been torn apart by war and poverty since the time Spain colonized the country.
Most people on Mindanao think that they are the “original” Filipinos, like the American Indians in the United States.
But it doesn’t end there. The tragedy of the south and the way things have been described have deepened “Tribalism and Regionalism,” which Duterte has used to increase his mass base and get grass-roots organisations to work together.
This is clear from the fact that one of his campaign slogans was “Bisaya Na Pod” (It’s Time for the Visayans), which played on the idea that he would be the first President from Mindanao who had lived through the “crimes” of “Imperial Manila’s” “Oligarchs.”
Duterte’s use of the Bisaya language, also confirmed the general experience of Filipinos from the south, who have all been inherently discriminated by people of Luzon.
Since the beginning of Philippine movies and TV shows, Visayans have usually been cast as maids, helpers, or drivers, and their accents have been made fun of.
This made Duterte’s large group of supporters even bigger. People who thought they were victims of this massive discrimination started coming out of the woodwork. They see themselves in Duterte, who is also a victim of “oligarchs” and “Imperial Manila,” and fully identify with him.
They thought that maybe this time their voices would be heard. They thought that a person from one of the poorest parts of the country would understand their situation and be able to make “changes” in society if he was able to take control of the national government.
Also, he is one of the longest-serving mayors in the country, and he has almost single-handedly changed Davao into what it is today.
The problem with this story is that it didn’t explain why the entire political system of the country was based on greed and corruption, which led to the country’s extreme poverty.
In reality, Duterte and his followers just thought that poverty wouldn’t exist if he was in charge and had his trusted people with him. This is a typical move and worldview for a populist leader.
Duterte’s political strategy was brilliant because he always put the blame on a symptom instead of getting to the root of the problem.
This time, Duterte said that the problem was that the previous government didn’t do enough to stop drugs. His answer is to be the strict father everyone needs to discipline their spoiled kids.
The goal was to make people think they were afraid and feel like they needed a strong leader.
After Duterte became President, the number of drug addicts in the country would grow. This would lead to Extra-Judicial Killings (EJK), which killed thousands of Filipinos.
A Campaign Platform Based on Resentment, Arrogance & Deceit
While other candidates talked about hopes, dreams, and promises, Duterte may have been the only one who fueled anger.
He didn’t hesitate to use his speeches to blame anyone or anything in this way.
It also didn’t help when Duterte’s fake news was all over social media, because the attacks on mainstream media became a way for people to repeat what he said, adding to the drama and controversy.
Duterte and his public relations team were able to use social media well by controlling what people said and reducing all of society’s problems to a Marxist framework of power and exploitation. Something that happens all the time is that the left simplifies and reduces all of society’s problems to a victim and an oppressor.
The wealthy against the poor
Pitting the Visayan and the Manilenyo
The rich versus the people who work for a living
Given what Duterte asserted above, the whole structure of Philippine society fell victim to the reduction and trappings of group identity as its only explanation for everything wrong in the country, while irrationally claiming that there is a need for an alternative, or even a “savior,” in a grander sense of the story.
Utilizing Identity Politics & The Left
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines identity Politics as politics in which groups of people having a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity tend to promote their specific interests or concerns without regard to the goods or concerns of any larger political group.
The experiences of Marxist regimes like Russia, China, and Cambodia show how dangerous identity politics can be. Millions of people were killed, tortured, or put in jail not only because they were from a different social class, but also because they didn’t agree with the values of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Interestingly, the CPP-NPA-NDF is thought to be the longest-living Marxist group. They are fighting a long-term “people’s war,” and their influence has never gone down since they started using legal fronts under party lists.
Even though the Marxist worldview isn’t used everywhere in the country, it has always been accepted by intellectuals in the academe (mostly the University of the Philippines and its other branches in the country) and other intellectual circles in society.
It’s no secret that the CPP-NPA-NDF has worked with Duterte during all of his time as mayor of Davao. The left also helped him during his election campaign, which helped him win the presidency.
Therefore, it was just a matter of time until the narrative that “Elite Democracy” is to blame for all society’s ills. (More on this ideology here)
The only way the left can justify such a story is by pointing out the growing gap between the rich and the poor without putting it in the right historical and economic context (again, just like with Duterte). It also didn’t help that the moderate left (those who joined the RJ group after the Re-Affirm (RA) and Reject (RJ) split) believed the same story.
And who else could be blamed for this but the “Yellows,” the previous government, people who believed in liberal democracy, or so-called “Dilawans,” or “capitalists”?
People whose job it is to keep the promises made by EDSA in 1986. The people were mostly responsible for keeping the constitution of 1987 in place.
Using a Marxist framework, Duterte and the left went about their work of demonizing and discrediting the spirit of EDSA and claiming that the “yellows” broke their moral duty by promoting “Elite Democracy,” a democracy that only serves the interests of a few “oligarchs” and “Imperial Manila” (further magnifying regionalism).
Duterte and the left were so good at pushing this story that after Duterte was in power, there were only a few people left in the Liberal Party. This also made people less likely to support liberal democracy.
Don’t get it wrong: all of the language Duterte used in his campaign for president was leftist. In fact, his own son, Baste Duterte, went around the country saying that his father’s politics were leftist.
Duterte is a leftist populist leader and a master of schismogenesis. When he took power, he decided to bite the hands of the leftists who helped him get to Malakanyang.
The Return of The Marcoses In Malakanyang Via Duterte
I’m not sure if I should say the Marcoses never left the country or not. In fact, if they had just stayed quiet, their audacity and the stubbornness of their supporters would have been enough to get them back into good standing in Philippine politics.
Since the 1986 EDSA People Power Insurrection (yes, it was an insurrection, not a revolution), no one was made accountable for all dictator’s crimes.
To say the least, no torturer, jailer, or killer has been brought to justice under the watch of President Cory Aquino or after she left office.
No law has been passed that would stop the Marcoses or people who work for them in government from running for office.
Worse, the education department didn’t bother to teach about martial law in the schools’ textbooks.
It’s like Marcos and Martial Law didn’t happen.
But giving President Cory Aquino and her government the benefit of the doubt, the country at that time was in a lot of debt and was running on fumes, like an old car that had been in an accident. In short, the government didn’t have any money to spend. When the Marcoses left the country, they took everything with them.
Not to mention the twelve coups-de-état that President Cory Aquino went through during that time, it’s hard to imagine what else she and her family could go through.
Still, I think it’s important to ask: What happened to civil society back then? Why did we let the Marcoses back into the country and the dictator’s body back to Ilocos?
One would have to look at the political opposition that was available at the time, which was the massive left, which became popular during martial law but was thrown out after EDSA in 1986.
The problem was that, at the time, the radical left (the national democrats), which was the main voice of the opposition (along with the social democrats), was at war with itself. They were carrying out purges all over the country, which would eventually cause the once-solid party to split into the Re-Affirm (RA) and Reject (RJ) groups and kill each other.
In the middle of these political fights, the Marcoses quietly moved back into the country with the help of then-President Fidel V. Ramos, who was Ferdinand Marcos’s second cousin and one of the Rolex 12.
Unfortunately, the story of having welcomed the Marcoses back to the country also meant that they were accepted back into society and that their crimes were forgotten. This became a common theme in the Marcoses’ campaign and among their future supporters.
This story became so powerful that they were able to take power back in the different parts of the government. Imelda Marcos became a congresswoman, Imee Marcos became governor of Ilocos (her son also holds a key government position), and Bong-Bong Marcos became a senator and came in second for vice president in the 2016 elections.
With the rise of the internet, these wins made it clear what the Marcoses would do next. That is, by making the Martial Law of Ferdinand Marcos look better and actively promoting historical revisionism on social media, Duterte was able to strengthen his image as a tough guy.
The Marcos family will be found to be using Duterte in the same way they used his father, Vicente Duterte, throughout his entire political career, in exchange for the promise that their dictator patriarch will be buried in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.
Duterte’s Presidential Win
Duterte won because he was able to bring together different parts of society and different political figures. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was the leader, and Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Estrada were the country’s previous presidents.
But what is even more surprising is that he was able to unite the radical left, the Muslim secessionists of Mindanao, the Marcoses, and most of all, China, a rising superpower.
Duterte was also able to win over many people from the middle class, the lower class, and a large number of people from the upper class.
By using fake news and paid trolls on social media even more, he could change the public’s mind and destroy all of his political opponents.
Interestingly, Duterte never lost a single election his entire political life, as mentioned in the book “Beyond Will & Power: A Biography of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte” by Earl G. Parreño.
Yet, according to Professor Randy David: Duterte did not win by a majority, but by a simple plurality of just over 39 percent of the total votes cast for President. This means that 60 percent of the voters—the majority—did not choose him as their President.
Even so, Duterte’s political machinery was enough to keep him at the top of satisfaction ratings and polls, no matter how many scandals he was involved in or how quickly he rose to fame and power. He also had a lot of luck.
So, you can see that this strange combination of Duterte’s wit and charm, along with his “Masa” appeal and diplomatic genius, would eventually seal the fate of Philippine democracy. After he became president, he sent Senator Leila Delima to jail, removed Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno from the Supreme Court, and set to convict Rapplers Maria Ressa to jail. He also shut down ABS-CBN.
By: Raffy Jones G. Sanchez
My tentative view is this:
(1) Duterte was able to evince in-group, out-group bias leading to group polarization. He was able to do this, because of (a) historicity: he was able to project himself as the alternative to the failures of post-EDSA democracy; (b) personality: as a person with charisma, he was able to inspire and bring back the political fire among the otherwise cynical populace; (c) system of sharing information: he was able to discredit credible media and drive his supporters to listen only to a distinct group of propagandists; (d) isolation: as a result of bias against credible media and of listening only to DDS propagandists, Duterte was able to create a cognitive fortress for his following; (e) othering: an essential characteristic of in-group bias and group polarization is to other the out-group and to focus only on their negative characteristics.
(2) As a result of group polarization, the attributional frame of DDS has been reformulated: they tend to attribute positive outcomes as internal to Duterte (e.g., he really has the best interest of the nation at heart; he really cares for the people; he is no non-sense; he is intelligent, etc.), while negative outcomes as external to him (e.g., pagod lang si tatay; he is just joking; it’s the people around him, etc.). As a consequence, every positive work Duterte does reinforces their favorable attitude towards him, while his negative work gets justified at the same time.
(3) Because of successfully othering the out-group, he has depicted them as the opposite of his platform of clean/ anti-corrupt, anti-drug government. Coupled with fear-mongering, he has classified the other as either red or yellow. There is hardly any color in between. Consequently, it becomes justifiable to rid the country of these reds and yellows, because they are the hindrance to a clean, corruption-free, and drug-free government peace-loving Filipinos want.
(4) In 1979, Jones spoke of the anchor-adjustment heuristic, which states that, “The attributor’s initial hypothesis, that behavior corresponds to attitude, serves as the anchor for a process in which adjustments are made to take account of other explanations for the behavior.” Because of the above-stated considerations, it is difficult for the DDS to arrive at the “necessary adjustment” to take account of other explanations for Duterte’s behavior.
It is here where we come in. If we think of their behaviors as pathological or a form of post-decisional dissonance justification, then we may arrive at a description of it. But that won’t be useful vis-à-vis the challenge of helping them arrive at cognitive and behavior change.
As a researcher on social representations for mental illness, I have learned that to battle stigma, our main tool is psycho-education and that is what we should work on even in this political context. We can borrow from our lessons on persuasion on how to be a credible persuasion agent even in the face of an audience with views opposite ours. We can apply principles on how to reduce group conflict.
We can do more research on how conflict reduction can be applied in the context of DDS. More importantly, we need to organize in a manner that is even more systematic than how Duterte galvanized his following, so that we can help them think more objectively.
Raffy Jones G. Sanchez, MPsy, RPsy, RPm earned his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology degree from the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu. At the UP System, he served as Student Regent in 2006. He was the sole student representative of the 50,000-strong undergraduate and graduate students of UP to the highest policy and decision-making body of the University, the Board of Regents.
Subsequently, he obtained his master’s degree in the same field at the Ateneo de Davao University, where he also taught as Instructor in Psychology handling professional courses. He was also a Lecturer at the University of the Philippines Mindanao, teaching behavioral sciences. He served too as a Faculty Member of the Department of Psychology, Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology. His teaching stint spanned for almost a decade.
In 2016, he ranked 9th in the Psychometrician Board Examination with a rating of 83.80%. Thereafter, in 2017, he passed the Psychologist Licensure Examination scoring 79.05%, an inch away from the top 10.
As a researcher, he inquires about the social cognitive constructions of mental illness, including substance abuse, and how these self-made realities lead to help-seeking and stigma. He has presented papers on these subjects at national conventions of the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP), the integrated professional organization of psychologists and psychometricians in the country. He is also a member of good standing of the PAP. In the past, he published about Filipino political cognition and studied about suicidal cognitions and behaviors of university students.
His practice spans in areas like psychological assessment and evaluation, grief counseling, and online counseling. He has given talks on mental health awareness in various schools and organizations. Likewise, he has been invited as a reviewer for the Psychometrician Board Examination in a number review centers and schools.
Raffy spends his spare time with his pets. He has a lovely dog named Catriona. Recently, he lost his beloved cat Bunny and is still in grief, while still taking care of his two remaining cats Anton and Anding. There is still one more cat in his house named Adeline Wunch a.k.a. Adoy. However, his brother Ryno insists that Adoy belongs to him alone.
(CTTO of the image)