How did Rodrigo Roa Duterte win the last 2016 elections?

What kind of campaign did he use?

How was he able to position himself amidst all the other political candidates?

The story of Duterte’s rise to power didn’t start from his being elected as Mayor of Davao.

It was more complicated than that.

A lot of factors are needed to be considered when trying to analyze his persona.

One would need to study Duterte’s habits, character, and the way he handled his politics in a place considered as one of the most impoverished and violent places in the country.

But that would take years and years of close study with the man himself, perhaps mapping out his philosophy and understanding his motivations and interests.

This is not the goal of this article.

This article comes from the point of view of the bystander, the talks with the simple man/woman on the street, and the hundreds of Facebook posts, tweets, conversations, media reports, and observations with Duterte’s followers and critics.

But it mostly comes from my personal experiences and grappling with the ideology that his political machinery espouses.

Magnified Victimhood Mentality

Perhaps the central platform and thesis of Duterte’s strength are how he continues to successfully divide the people and the country, literally and figuratively.

He posits the concept of grand victimhood, of being a by-product of “Imperial Manila’s” greed and corruption.

This assertion, while not being entirely accurate, can also never be completely wrong; however, it is easy to use this narrative because the ravages of poverty are more immediate in the eyes of the people of Mindanao compared to the entire country.

You see, the history and culture of Mindanao are far removed from the entire country, being that it has been ravaged by war and poverty since Spanish colonizers came to power.

And that becomes another narrative that chooses to implicitly refuse to recognize the entire nation’s history from its independence from Spain to be a sovereign nation.

As far as most people of Mindanao is concerned, they are the “original” Filipinos akin to the American Indians of the U.S.

But it does not end there; the tragedy of the south and the existing narrative resulted in deepening “Tribalism & Regionalism,” which resulted in Duterte utilizing this division in enhancing his mass base and mobilizing grass-roots organizations.

This is highly evident when he used the slogan in his campaign run, “Bisaya Na Pod” (It’s Time for the Visayan), capturing the imagination and fantasy of having the first President from Mindanao who was able to experience firsthand the “crimes” perpetrated by “Oligarchs” of “Imperial Manila.” 

Unconsciously Duterte’s use of the Bisaya language also affirmed the overall experience of Filipinos from the south, whose shared experience is discrimination based on their identity.

It did not help that Visayan’s are usually cast as maids, helpers, drivers and made fun of because of their accent in T.V. shows and movies since the beginning of Philippine cinema.

This strengthened Duterte’s mass base even further; people who consider themselves victims of this massive discrimination started to come out of the woodwork. They recognize and associate themselves entirely with the persona of Duterte, also a victim of again “oligarchs” and “Imperial Manila.”

They thought that perhaps this time their voices will be heard; indeed, a person who came from one of the country’s poorest regions will be able to understand their plight and institute “changes” in society if he’s able to grasp the power of national government.

Besides, he has the experience of being one of the longest-serving mayors in the country who almost single-handedly made Davao the way it is today.

The problem with this narrative is that it failed to account for the reasons for the greed and corruption of the entire political system the whole country was predicated upon, resulting in its massive poverty. In effect, Duterte and his followers just assumed that poverty would be non-existent if only he has the reins of power and his trusted aides. A standard populist leader’s move and worldview.

The brilliance of Duterte’s political narrative had been to continuously shift the blame to a symptom instead of addressing the root of the problem.

And this time, the symptom Duterte blamed is the failure of the previous government to address DRUG ADDICTION. His answer to this is by becoming the strict father; everyone needed to discipline his spoiled children.

The intended effect is that it created an illusion of fear and created the need for an iron-fisted ruler.

Duterte, after winning the Presidency, would eventually bloat the number of drug addicts in the country, paving the way to Extra-Judicial Killings (EJK), resulting in thousands of Filipinos dead.

A Campaign Platform Based on Resentment, Arrogance & Deceit

While other candidates’ trumpets on hopes, dreams, promises, perhaps Duterte was the only candidate who empowered resentment.

He was quick to use his speeches as a vehicle for blaming anyone or anything in that manner.

It also did not help when Duterte’s fake news abounded social media, as its consolidated attacks against mainstream media became a stepping stone to mirror his pronouncements while fueling sensationalism and controversy.

Duterte and his P.R. team were able to effectively utilize social media by controlling social discourse and reducing all the ills of society to a Marxist framework of power and exploitation. Something rampant in how the left simplifies and reduces all society’s ills only as between a victim and oppressor.

The rich versus the poor.

The Visayan versus the Manilenyo

The oligarchs versus the working class

Given the above assertions by Duterte, the entire structure of Philippine society became victim to the reduction and trappings of group identity as its sole explanation for everything wrong in the country while irrationally positing that there is a need for an alternative nay a “savior” in a grander sense of the narrative.

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 dangers of identity politics are highly evidenced by the experiences of Marxist regimes like Russia, China, Cambodia, where millions of people were murdered, tortured, and jailed not only because they belonged to a different class of society but that they also do not share the same values of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Interestingly, the CPP-NPA-NDF is considered the longest living Marxist group that is waging a protracted people’s war and has since enjoyed the Philippine political space by fielding legal fronts under party lists, has never waned in their influence.

The Marxist worldview, albeit not entirely practiced in the entire country, has always been tolerated amongst the intellectuals belonging to the Academe (mostly U.P. and its other branches in the country along with its other public school counterparts) and the intellectual circles of society.

It is an open secret that the CPP-NPA-NDF has worked side by side with Duterte in all his years as mayor of Davao; this is further realized when the left helped him in his election campaign, thus ensuring his Presidential win.

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 reason the left has to justify such a narrative is to point at the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, without (again just like Duterte) viewing it in the right historical and economic context. It also did not help that the moderate left (the one’s belonging to the RJ group after the Re-Affirm (RA) and Reject (RJ) split also believes the same narrative)

And who else is the recipient of this blame but the “Yellows,” the previous administration, believers of Liberal Democracy or the so-called “Dilawans,” the “Capitalists.” The people who are tasked to continue the promise of EDSA 1986. The people were primarily responsible for upholding the 1987 constitution.

Duterte and the left using the Marxist framework, proceeded to do their work of demonizing and discrediting the spirit of EDSA and arguing that the “Yellows” betrayed its moral mandate by promoting (you guess it right) “Elite Democracy,” a democracy that only serves the interest of the few “Oligarchs” and of “Imperial Manila” (further magnifying regionalism). Duterte and the left were so successful in pushing this narrative as such that there are only a handful of people left in the Liberal Party after Duterte sat in power. This also weakened support for Liberal Democracy from the masses.

Please make no mistake about it; the language Duterte used in his Presidential campaign is all leftist language; in fact, even his son Baste Duterte went around the country proclaiming that his father’s brand of political ideology was leftist.

Duterte is a leftist populist leader and a master of schismo­genesis, who, upon wresting power, he decided to bite the leftist hands that propelled him to Malacanang.

The Return of The Marcoses In Malakanyang Via Duterte

I have half a mind to state that the Marcoses never left the country. Indeed, if they just remained dormant and given their audacity and the stubbornness of their supporters, they were able to return in the good graces of 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.

There has been no torturer, jailer, murderer that has been brought to justice under the eyes of Pres. Cory Aquino, to say the least, and even after she stepped down from power.

There has been no law passed that would block the Marcoses specifically or their followers inside the government to not run for office.

Worse, the education department did not bother to include the lessons of martial law in its textbooks.

It is as if Marcos and Martial Law never happened.

However, giving the benefit of the doubt to Pres. Cory Aquino and her administration, the country at that time, were in massive debt, and like an old car wreck, it was running on fumes. In short, there was no budget in the government. The Marcoses siphoned out everything after they left the country.

Not to mention the twelve coup-de-Etat’s that Pres. Cory Aquino underwent that time; one can only wonder how much more she and her family could suffer.

Still, it behooves me to ask, what happened to civil society at that time? Why did we allow the return of the Marcoses in the country and even the body of the dictator back in Ilocos?

One would have to look at the available political opposition at that time, which was the massive left that gained popularity under martial law but was eventually dismissed after EDSA 1986.

The problem was that around that time, the radical left (national democrats) itself, which was the prominently active voice of the opposition (aside from the social democrats), was also having a war with itself by having purges all over the country, which would eventually result to a massive cleavage of the once monolithic solid party and having them break into different factions of Re-Affirm (RA) and Reject (RJ) groups and would soon find each other killing their former comrades.

The Marcoses, in the middle of these political skirmishes and with the support of then-President Fidel V. Ramos, a second-degree cousin of Ferdinand Marcos and one of the Rolex 12, discreetly brought themselves back in the country.

Unfortunately, the narrative of having received the Marcoses back in the country also meant the implicit acceptance of their return to society and being forgiven of their atrocities; this became a prevalent theme in the circles of the Marcos family’s campaign and future supporters.

This narrative became so strong that they could wrest power again in the different branches of government. Imelda Marcos became a congresswoman, Imee Marcos became Governor of Ilocos (her son also holding key government position), and Bong-Bong Marcos became a senator and came in second for the vice-presidency 2016 Elections.

These wins sealed the next move that the Marcoses would eventually make in the advent of the internet. That is by sanitizing the Martial Law of Ferdinand Marcos and actively promoting historical negationism through social media advantage and benefit for Duterte as it empowered his strongman persona.

The Marcos Family will eventually be found utilizing Duterte the way they influenced his father Vicente Duterte throughout his entire political life, in exchange for the promise of having their Dictator patriarch buried in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.

Duterte’s Presidential Win

Duterte won because he was able to rally the different sectors of society with different political personalities; the chief was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the country’s previous presidents like Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Estrada.

But what is more surprising is that he was also able to unite with the radical left, the Muslim secessionists of Mindanao, the Marcoses, and most of all, having the backing of a rising superpower – China.

Duterte was also able to take hold of the middle and lower class plus a significant number of the upper class.

By further utilizing social media platforms through fake news and paid trolls, he could sway public opinion and demolish all 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 DavidDuterte 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.

Nonetheless, Duterte’s political machinery was enough for him to top satisfaction ratings and polls consistently, regardless of the number of scandals he was faced with while maintaining his continuous rise to fame and power, not to mention his immense luck.

So you see, this strange confluence of Duterte’s wit and charm only equaled by his “Masa” appeal and diplomatic genius would eventually seal the fate of Philippine Democracy that while after becoming President, he unceremoniously sent to jail Senator Leila Delima, removed from the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno and convict Rapplers Maria Ressa while shutting down ABS-CBN.

Recommended Reading: “Beyond Will & Power: A Biography of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte” by Earl G. Parreño


A Psychological Standpoint on DDS Cognition and Behavior

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)