Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines, is widely regarded as a controversial character owing to his unorthodox and brusque style of politics. On one side lies heavy-handed and aggressive tactics evident in his position on tackling crime. Expanding on a model that he used during his time as the Mayor of Davao, Duterte extorts a policy of extrajudicial killings and vigilante justice in his “War on Drugs.” On the other side lies his more socialist inspired “inclusive growth” programs, which seek to institute a three pillar program, comprising of sustained economic growth, social development and repairing government accountability. With policies such as making post-secondary education free nationwide, Duterte’s program has a long term goal of making “the Philippines a prosperous, predominantly middle-class society where no one is poor.”

With the diverse and almost opposing nature of his numerous policies, a question arises as to whether Duterte’s overall vision lacks a certain cohesion and compatibility. Such a question is especially relevant considering his reputation as the “Trump of the East“, relating to the two politician’s similar direct and extravagant political rhetoric. In examining this question, two considerations need to be addressed.

The first is in regards to identifying whether any central tenet exists between Duterte’s policies. As Duterte mixes aspects that emerge from all sectors of the political spectrum, any sense of cohesion is hard to identify. For example, Duterte embraces a heavily socialist ideology in regards to his position on economic development. Utilizing economic growth to provide general upward economic mobility rather than a “trickle-down” economic model favoring top-down economic stimulus, it is clearly indicative of a left-leaning policy. In contrast, his capitalization and unhinged monopolization of force within his war on drugs persists as an example of a more right-wing aligned influence. As he capitalizes on the state’s clear monopoly of force and utilizes it to directly target criminals, it represents a stark example of his mixed political rhetoric.

However, if Duterte’s all-encompassing vision is examined as a whole, a certain vague sense of cohesion in his vision for social and economic development emerges. As Duterte aims to raise the nation’s standard of living through his economic initiatives, as well as combatting what is often posited as a “moral crisis” in the form of his crackdown on crime and drugs, they both encapsulate a loose but common goal of offering the Philippines a renewed sense of a development. As the Philippines has had a political culture of less than ideal accountability, transparency, corruption and oligarchism, the call for redevelopment provides an opportunistic and an idealistic vision for the future. As Duterte’s rather unorthodox style of governance served to further differentiates him from past politicians, it further supports this rhetoric of redevelopment from past injustices and misgovernance.

The second question regards the functionality and methodology taken by Duterte towards achieving such a goal. Again, if the policies are examined on an individual basis, they function very much in a utilitarian and individualized fashion in aiming to address and solve very specific problems, albeit with Duterte’s often direct and brash methodology. For example, in his commitment to stamping out crime, his policy of extrajudicial killings and other heavy handed tactics impart a relatively ignorant populist image, positing a very clear cause and effect securitization of an issue with little consideration for any external factors. Evidently, this micro-level focus imparts a sense of populist short-sightedness. By ignoring other factors that encompass and interconnect different issues, it helps direct all efforts towards generating a short-term solution, which in turn dramatizes and exaggerates such efforts for populist appeal.

This short-sighted populistic methodology especially erodes the effectiveness and cohesiveness of Duterte’s vision in redeveloping the Philippines. Although heavily addressing the materialistic needs for a wealthier nation, it lacks the needed consideration towards social development. In Duterte’s War on Drugs, the focus is on tackling physical crime and providing a deterrence towards any future or current criminal acts. However, it fails to contribute to a stable base of social understanding upon which further long-term development can occur. As the political culture in the Philippines is compounded by an established historical distrust of authority and political culture of corruption, the aim for redevelopment not only requires a direct policing of such acts, but also a redefined base for a revitalized political culture. Consequently, by failing to address human rights and the development of an organized judicial system, Duterte’s methodology in achieving his vision of redevelopment fails to bridge the gap between such brutish crime-fighting policies and his idealistic vision for the nation’s economic future.

Such cracks in Duterte’s policies are already becoming more evident. One such incident was the recent death of a 17 year old boy in a police raid. Unlike past deaths, this death galvanized mass crowds who marched in the boy’s funeral and demanded greater governmental accountability. Facing such pressure, Duterte Although the government admitted “lapses” in its administration of the police, it went on to underscored the need for “the legal process to run its course and trust the justice system under the Duterte Presidency.” Ironically as trust and the development of an organized judicial system were both placed under question in this case, it further serves to exemplify the divide between actual policy and social development.

By Timothy Law

Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.