Cover Page


This paper touches upon one of the most odious political figures of modern world - Philippine president Rodrigo Roa Duterte who has been at his post for a year so far. The author aims to take a closer look into his personal and political qualities, figure out in which manner they influence and determine his decision-making process. The article analyses the most significant steps taken by Duterte in his presiden-tial career in order to predict further development of his international and domestic policies alongside with the possible changes in the political layout in the Philippines. Using mostly theoretical methods of analyses and induction the author makes a number of conclusions stating that despite the image of a straight-forwarded brute, Rodrigo Duterte is a much more complex politi-cian, who uses such an image for his own purposes. Being a cunning and wise leader, he knows the bounda-ries that are not to be crossed - this way even his unprecedented behaviour does not undermine his at-tempts to maintain balance among the most influential nations in the world. Massive critique from the outside world does not seem to matter to Duterte since in his politics he firstly relies on the support of his own people, who despite his unconventional methods see him not as a dictator, but as a rather unusual reformist ready to introduce in the Philippines some changes instead of maintaining status-quo. Such policy and determination adds to Duterte’s popularity among his people on the background of the former presidents’ indecisive political moves.

Full Text

On May 9, 2016, the Filipinos voted for their new 16-th president, a person who would lead the country for the following 6 years. The pre-election period of almost two years and the official campaign were tense and full of mutual accusations. Among other candidates Rodrigo Duterte appeared to be the last one to join the campaign and yet he won despite his reputation and all kinds of “cases” in his political career as a mayor of Davao City, the post he had held for almost 22 years with minor breaks to bypass the law that prohibits politicians to take the same post more than 3 times in a row. During the campaign, multiple times Duterte promised to establish the same regime and rules he used in Davao City in order to set “law and order” throughout the Philippines. He truthfully admitted that he was not going to be gentle with “criminality in general and drug lords in particular” and that his presidency can turn violent. Nevertheless, this crude rhetoric hasn’t stopped the people from giving Duterte their votes. Even more so, it surprisingly made the majority of the society see him as the only possible candidate for presidency. But how could such a blunt politician earn public admiration and love to such a wide scale, that rating of trust in him skyrocketed up to 91% 1 straight after the inauguration? The answer lies in many aspects and is well studied in numerous researches [Thompson 2016: 3-14, 39-68; Holmes 2016: 15-38; Teehankee 2016: 69-89; Curato 2016: 91-109; Reyes 2016: 111-137; Castro 2016: 139-159; Batalla 2016: 161-186] 2 done by scholars from different countries since the time Rodrigo Du- Duterte has been elected president of the Philippines on June 30, 2016. The goal of the article is neither to evaluate the quality of Duterte’s presidential campaign, nor is it to conduct deep historic comparison between Duterte and other notorious leaders of the world. This paper mainly aims at examining most significant deeds of the Philippines’16-th president so far. The author also is attempting to take a closer look into Duterte’s personality and the image he has created for himself among local public and on the global scale. Another, and final question is whether such policy, introduced by the new president is capable to bring the Philippines prosperity and happiness that was promised during the elections. Current research is partially based on other scholars’ papers, social surveys, official polls and partially on mass-media and press-releases. Some of the information was extracted from personal interviews and meetings with the experts both from the Philippines and Russia who either work for the Philippines government-related organizations or have been conducting academic research on the Philippines in Russia. One of such experts is Elba S. Cruz, PhD, MNSA, a president and CEO in the Development Academy of the Philippines and her colleague Merliza M. Makinano, a managing director in the Center for Institutional Marketing at the Development Academy of the Philippines. Among the Russian scholars, it is necessary to outline the significant input of Viktor Vladimirovich Sumsky, PhD in History, head and director of the ASEAN Center in Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Methods used in the paper are primarily theoretical. Analysis of media and research materials is done to extract and define the main characteristics for Duterte’s populistic image. Method of induction helps determine Duterte’s general political course and make conclusions on potential consequences of his domestic and international policy for both the Philippines and the region of South-East Asia in the nearest perspective. PERSONALITY AND POLITICAL CAREER OF RODRIGO DUTERTE Rodrigo Duterte was born on March 28, 1945, in Maasin, Philippines. His father, Vicente G. Duterte, was a Cebuano lawyer. Later he became the acting mayor of Danao and after that the provincial governor of at the time undivided Davao province. Rodrigo started his education at Laboon Elementary School in Maasin. But within one year, the family moved to Davao City, where he was admitted to Santa Ana Elementary School, graduating from there in 1956. His high school education was not at all smooth. After being expelled from two schools for unruly behavior, he was finally admitted to the High School Department of the Holy Cross College (now Cor Jesu College) in Digos and continued his education from there. After successfully completing high school he was sent to Manila, where he was accepted to Lyceum of the Philippines University. He graduated in 1968 with a degree in Political Science. Subsequently, he entered San Beda College of Law and in 1972 passed his bar examination. Rodrigo Duterte was far from an obedient scholar, on the contrary he himself seems not to be a stranger to violence. Speaking of his high-school years he admitted that he shot one of his classmates. As The Enquirer explains, the student bullied Duterte 2 and and got shot for that, luckily not to death. It is worth mentioning other examples of Duterte behavior such as his statements on personally killing three criminals as a mayor of Davao. He said: “I killed about three of them... I don't know how many bullets from my gun went inside their bodies. It happened and I cannot lie about it.” And also added: “In Davao I used to do it [kill] personally. Just to show to the guys [police] that if I can do it why can't you”. Duterte was elected mayor for the first time in 1988. During the following decade he was reelected twice. Due to the term-limit restrictions he did not run for mayor in 1998, but he successfully earned a seat in the Philippines House of Representatives representing Davao. Upon the completion of that term in 2001, he returned to Davao City and was once more elected mayor. The above-mentioned restrictions were imposed again in 2010, when he occupied the position of vice- mayor, and his daughter Sara served as mayor. In 2013 Duterte returned to the mayor’s office, this time alongside with his son Paolo (“Pulong”). During his more than two decades in the seat of Davao mayor, this controversial politician managed to transform the city into one of the safest areas in Southeast Asia. Duterte’s radical crime-fighting tactics earned him the nicknames “the Punisher” and “Duterte Harry”, but critics such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch claimed that Duterte was responsible for more than 1,000 extrajudicial killings. Rather than denying such allegations, he embraced them. The death squads that had carried out the killings operated with an impunity that implied official sanction, and Duterte openly praised both their methods and their apparent results. In that way, he cultivated the image of a coarse pistol-toting vigilante in the months leading up to the presidential election. His further speeches full of insults against now former American president Barack Obama, Pope Francis, US Secretary of State John Kerry 5 and many others comply to his image of a foulmouthed politician incapable of diplomacy. FROM US-PHILIPPINES PARTNERSHIP TO CHINA-RUSSIA-PHILIPPINES ALLIANCE Rough, impolite and even offensive speeches aimed at US politicians were not a sign of general hostility towards the Americans, but were mostly an answer to their certain actions. To those who in any way tried to influence or control Duterte, he specifically outlined his determination to stay independent. Despite his lack of diplomacy, President Duterte clearly comprehends the biggest dangers for his nation (potential or existing) and acts accordingly, trying not to let his inappropriate comments and jokes cause serious trouble for his country. In order to limit the control of US over the Philippines, thus ensuring his more or less independent political course, Duterte has transferred his political preferences from the Philippines long-standing partner - the USA - to other powerful leaders, who have interests in the region: China and Russia. To gain support for such a drastic change among the population Duterte uses the US former colony rhetoric, outlining multiple injustices that Washington has caused to the Philippines. During his yet brief presidency, Duterte managed to achieve the following goals: 1) putting on hold traditional relations with the United States at the same time preserving economic ties and financial help; 2) rapid improvement in bilateral relations with China, new trade agreements and about 25 billion dollars in loans 1 aimed at improving local infrastructure; 3) maintaining steady relations with Japan that continues to contribute into the economy of Philippines greatly, hoping by doing so to enhance its influence over South-East Asia; 4) expanding cooperation ties to Russia in relation to mutual trade, energy security and in other various spheres. Most importantly, Russia for Duterte is a potential new supplier of arms to the country since US stopped selling their rifles as a reply to Duterte’s War on Drugs policy. To sum it up, in terms of foreign affairs President Duterte achieved quite a lot despite his peculiar reputation. It would seem that his quite unpredictable behavior serves one goal - to fulfill the current target and at that point end here justifies the means. Everything else, as he himself once mentioned in the interview to RT journalists, is “collateral damage”. DOMESTIC POLICY - THE WAR ON DRUGS As any other candidate, running for presidential election, Duterte had formed a socioeconomic program of future national development. It included 10 main social and economic ideas. If implemented, they were promised to successfully improve general level of life in the country. Among those: maintaining high economic growth rate of the previous administration, lifting business restrictions for international investors and entrepreneurs, implementing a tax reform, funding infrastructure development, executing agricultural reform, promoting science, technology and education and so on. It was a wellbalanced development program consisting exceptionally of righteous ideas. However, during his inauguration speech Duterte added to the up-given points a necessity to intensify the fight against crime and drugs, labeling those as the gravest dangers for the Filipinos. He recited: “There are many amongst us who advance the assessment that the problems that bedevil our country today which need to be addressed with urgency, are corruption, both in the high and low echelons of government, criminality in the streets, and the rampant sale of illegal drugs in all strata of Philippine society and the breakdown of law and order. True, but not absolutely so. For I see these ills as mere symptoms of a virulent social disease that creeps and cuts into the moral fiber of Philippine society. I sense a problem deeper and more serious than any of those mentioned or all of them put together. But of course, it is not to say that we will ignore them because they have to be stopped by all means that the law allows. Erosion of faith and trust in government - that is the real problem that confronts us. Resulting therefrom, I see the erosion of the people’s trust in our country’s leaders; the erosion of faith in our judicial system; the erosion of confidence in the capacity of our public servants to make the people’s lives better, safer and healthier” 2 . Presumably, Duterte made a strategic decision to start his domestic policy with reestablishment of “law and order” using rather authoritarian and militaristic methods that are heavily criticized by Western democratic societies, but at the same time rapidly earned him the abovementioned “trust” of ordinary people. This morally contradictive decision promoted Duterte’s popularity among the nation since most of the population was tired of ineffective liberal reformism. Moreover, not just the poor and the oppressed showed their support for the new president, but rather members of all social strata, including the rich and the middle-class 3 . Furthermore, Duterte’s call to help with exterminating the drug-dealers and drug-addicts allowed people to personally take part in the “cleanings”, to become a part of the president’s policy, to directly influence the situation and to finally have a real chance to defend themselves from the usual dangers of crime and violence. People’s opinions of the president better than anything else show what issues are the most important for the biggest part of the country population. The following citations prove this point quite evidently: Bong, 31, from Cebu said: “I think it’s good that he is addressing issues like crime, drugs and corruption. I used to worry about getting robbed downtown but it’s much safer now to walk around”. Ferdinand A. Almoradie, who lives in Cagayan de Oro, says drugs were frequently sold near his home. “You could buy them on the roadside as easily as you would buy rice”, he said. “Duterte has accomplished a lot and is the right leader to serve and protect the integrity of all Filipinos. I hope that one day the Philippines will be a drug free country so that my children and grandchildren can feel safe”. Carla from Tacloban, the city largely destroyed by typhoon Haiyan, believes that regardless of what one may think of the president personally, there have been visible changes to the everyday lives of Filipinos. “I have friends and acquaintances who have been using meth for years, their families destroyed by their addiction. But today they are back with their families and trying to make up for their mistakes. “He is a man of and for the people. Yes, he is vulgar, foul-mouthed, and says what he thinks without a filter. But he is also sincere, honest, and hardworking, and he loves the poor and the weak. And he has a sense of humor to boot. Despite his rough rhetoric and unpolished behavior, he is intelligent and clever and he thinks and plans strategically” 1 . There are many more and not all of them are so positive and optimistic. Critics of Duterte accuse him of ruining democracy, lacking the understanding of political nuances and diplomacy, even almost being crazy and dangerous for the society, unqualified to be a president 2 . However, it seems that the majority 3 of the Filipinos will support the president even if they are a afraid of him or do not support some of his actions. He has shown that he is ready for real change, and for the people in most cases “some action is better than no action” 4 . To gain a better understanding of the results achieved by Duterte via his violent War on Drugs it is needed to consider the following facts: 1) around 7000 extrajudicial killings of drug-users, drug-pushers, drug-lords or just suspects 5 ; 2) around 1 million of drug- abusers have willingly surrendered and were sent to clinics for rehabilitation 1 ; 3) Duterte’s image can be easily mistaken with one of a dictator; 4) stable popularity and high trust for the president among the majority of the population, grateful for “some action instead of nothing”. Thus, the opinion that the world might have about the personality or policies of president Duterte does not matter inside the country - his ratings keep growing despite any critique from the outside world. Weather it brings the desired results, in what amount of time and on what price is a question for another research, a question that cannot be answered yet. To be equitable it is worth saying that Duterte’s domestic policy is not all about the War on Drugs. Though the volume of the paper does not allow to separately discuss this question further, it is important to outline at least several of the most significant results of Duterte’s social and economic policy in the country: 1) launch of 10-point socio-economic agenda and 2040 anti-poverty plan; 2) launch of multi-billion infrastructure development projects; 3) facilitating business activities and foreign investments; 4) organization of peace talks with rebels ongoing in Norway; 5) establishment of national emergency hotline; 6) suppressing bureaucracy, facilitation of formal procedures; 7) rigorous audit of the mining companies that have gained enormous profits by ignoring environmental security norms and well-being of indigenous people; 8) widening competitions of services & utilities allowing Filipinos gain wider and cheaper access to stable electricity, faster Internet, better basic services etc. 2 Some of these points can cause certain questions - mostly those concerning their implementation. Lack of trustworthy information from Philippines do not allow to properly evaluate the following aspects of Duterte’s policy. However, judging by the attributing traits of the new 16-th president of the Philippines, his determination has a good chance of bringing this nation its’ dignity back. To sum it all up and to finish with the major characteristics of his populistic image, he represents a kind of leader, who is: - decisive, straightforward, foulmouthed; - smart and careful enough to lead equibalanced policy among China and US as two strong states present in the region; - open-up to those powers which can bring him profit (political, strategic or economical); - good at understanding where to draw the line not to start a real military conflict; - ready for the change in all aspects; - quick to show that he is true to his promises. These traits give us a chance to figure out the very utilitarian logics that stand behind Duterte’s decision-making. It is best described by the words of Balázs Áron Kovács and Tony Lynch who wrote in their work 1 : “Drugs are a problem in the Philippines. What is the most direct way of dealing with it? Kill drug pushers and users. Is it feasible? Yes. Let us do it. China is encroaching on Philippine maritime territory. Is it possible to repel China? No. Let us deal with China, then. The insurgencies are a fundamental challenge to the state and a major loss of treasure and life. Can they be defeated? No. Let us negotiate peace with them. All these are part of what add up to an effective nation-building project, perhaps not planned, but playing out so”. And from the outside it looks Duterte does implement the policy most convenient for him at a particular moment. *** As for the perspectives lying ahead of the current Philippines president Rodrigo R. Duterte, it seems that as for the international politics he is going to keep fragile equilibrium between most powerful nations getting from each of them what he sees necessary for his country, avoiding crucial conflicts and bringing in investments for upmost projects from abroad. As for his domestic policy, it will most likely go on in the same questionable, but effective manner, preserving the “good leader” status for the new president, marking him rather a long-awaited reformist, than a dictator.

About the authors

D S Panarina

Institute of Oriental Studies of RAS, Moscow, Russia

PhD in Cultural Studies, Research Fellow at the Centre of South-East Asia, Australia and Oceania of Institute of Oriental Studies of RAS


  1. Batalla, E.V.C. (2016). Divided Politics and Economic Growth in the Philippines. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35 (3), 161-186.
  2. Castro, de R.C. (2016). The Duterte Administration’s Foreign Policy: Unravelling the Aquino Admini¬stration’s Balancing Agenda on an Emergent China. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35 (3), 139-159.
  3. Curato, N. (2016). Politics of Anxiety, Politics of Hope: Penal Populism and Duterte’s Rise to Power. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35 (3), 91-109.
  4. CY 2015 Annual Regional Economic Situationer / NEDA. Region XI - Davao Region. Reports. (2015). URL: (accessed: 08.06.2017).
  5. Holmes, R.D. (2016). The Dark Side of Electoralism: Opinion Polls and Voting in the Philippine Presidential Election 2016. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35 (3), 15-38.
  6. Nationwide Survey on the Trust Ratings of the Top 3 Philippine Government Officials and Filipinos’ Expectations of the New Administration. Pulse Asia Research Inc. (2016). URL: (accessed: 08.06.2017).
  7. Reyes, D.A. (2016). The Spectacle of Violence in Duterte’s “War on Drugs”. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35 (3), 111-137.
  8. Teehankee, J.C. (2016). Duterte’s Resurgent Nationalism in the Philippines: A Discursive Institu¬tionalist Analysis. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35 (3), 69-89.
  9. Thompson, M.R. (2016a). Introduction. The Early Duterte Presidency in the Philippines. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35 (3), 3-14.
  10. Thompson, M.R. (2016b). Bloodied Democracy: Duterte and the Death of Liberal Reformism in the Philippines. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35 (3), 39-68.



Abstract - 2343

PDF (English) - 2035




Copyright (c) 2017 Panarina D.S.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This website uses cookies

You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website.

About Cookies