Reviewing Dutertismo

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies

As President Duterte approaches the one-year mark in office, he remains as popular as ever. Over the past 12 months, the President has successfully defined his leadership — what some call Dutertismo — in the context of the challenges to the country, old and new. People have come to trust his leadership style, often marked by a consistent exercise of political will, a deep personal connection with constituents, and an ability to define some key visions for the country. The Philippines has not had a leader quite like him, and most Filipinos have opened their minds to him in optimism and in trust.

His legitimacy underpins the public’s early trust. In comparison with the trust ratings of previous leaders, President Duterte’s first year remains on strong footing. Reading the trust ratings, which peaked at 91 percent in July 2016 (Pulse Asia), one can almost forget that he did not win 91 percent of the vote. The smooth conduct of the 2016 automated election, though one of the most hotly contested in history, was rated by various studies as one of the most credible, with 83 percent satisfied with its conduct and 74 percent trusting the results (Pulse Asia, July 2016). This allowed the vast majority, whether they voted for him or not, to quickly give President Duterte a measure of optimism. In contrast, Gloria Arroyo, who entered Malacañang under highly irregular (2001) and scandal-ridden (2004) conditions, never won anywhere close to the same level of support.

He commits to his issues. In the last 12 months, the President has shown how he makes commitments and follows through on them. He has drawn clear lines regarding the war on drugs and the crisis in Marawi City. Even as we debated the lengths to which he should go on these issues, none of us doubted (at least, not for long) that he was willing to go the distance and see his vision through. This attitude is clearest on any topic related to law and order, and he not only sets the terms of engagement (e.g., offering to talk in exchange for ceasefire) but also presents himself as a stickler who sees to it that his conditions are met. Where they aren’t, he is willing take a hardline approach.

This is not to say that the President’s decisions have been universally popular. His foreign policy statements are often at odds with public sentiment, whether on the West Philippine Sea or in choosing the Philippines’ partners. The discord is obvious when we compare the countries that Filipinos trust and the countries that this administration is working with the most. Nevertheless, the President’s willingness to swim against the tide of public opinion and take unpopular action shows another facet of leadership.

He maintains the mayor’s touch. In all this time, the President has not lost the mayor’s touch. He not only connects with ordinary Filipinos, he also remains willing to lead from close to the frontline. He visits wounded soldiers and policemen, condoles with widows, and meets with overseas.

Filipino workers on his trips. He might not be fighting in the frontline himself, but you can trust that he is not cocooned from the realities of this country or from the consequences of his policies. This is not only the most personal brand of his leadership; it may as well be his most appealing characteristic in the eyes of our countrymen.

Finally, this administration has no shortage of ambition for the country. Its flagship projects, foremost among them the “Build, Build, Build” program, show our leaders’ willingness to think long-term about the country’s needs. It is an ambition that all Filipinos can rally around, considering the dire condition of infrastructure nationwide. Beyond this, advancing tax reform and the possibility of federalism make it obvious that the President and his team are willing to think big and set major reforms in action.

Even so, this administration has had its share of hits and misses, and there is no getting past that. Yet with Mr. Duterte at the helm, we are in a unique time in Philippine politics. Regardless of one’s political color, Dutertismo is a force to be understood and to be reckoned with. The next five years promise to be as interesting as the first.

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