The Philippines is far away and the country’s political culture is not well known in France. Rodrigo Duterte, the "strong man" of Manila, is the typical example of a leader who came to power through the ballot box but whose exercise of power, of unprecedented brutality, breaks with democratic traditions. François-Xavier Bonnet, associate researcher with the Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia (Irasec), allows us to better understand where Rodrigo Duterte comes from and what he represents.
Michel Duclos, Geopolitical Special Advisor, editor of this series.
Rodrigo Duterte, elected on 9 May 2016 with 39% of the votes (the vote is in one round) is probably the most controversial President in Philippine history. Alternately nicknamed by the Western media the "Trump of the Philippines", "Dirty Harry", "The Punisher" or even, in the newspaper Libération, the "serial killer", Rodrigo Duterte built his entire election campaign on an unorthodox program to eradicate criminal activities, particularly drug-related ones, and to restore security within three to six months. He also proposed to eliminate corruption among civil servants, to simplify and accelerate administrative procedures, to allow for divorce and same-sex marriage, to improve traffic in Greater Manila, to reduce inequalities in rural areas (agrarian reform), to improve the speed of the Internet, etc. This catalogue of heterogeneous measures enabled candidate Duterte to "cast a wide net" and speak to all classes of society. His charisma as an orator combined with a strong dose of humor and machismo, along with a very strong presence on social networks, can explain his excellent scores in the election, in all social classes.
An unyielding mayor in a violent city
Rodrigo Duterte, born in 1945 and son of a former governor of the province of Davao (on the southern island of Mindanao), spent his entire political career in Davao City. In 1986, he was elected deputy mayor, and then mayor of this city, and remained so for 22 years. In the late 1980s, Davao City was called "Little Nicaragua" because communist and Muslim guerrillas sent death squads there to assassinate soldiers, politicians, businessmen and other "enemies of the people", and crime syndicates took advantage of this chaos.
Rodrigo Duterte's reputation grew because of his ability, thanks to a carrot and stick approach, to transform Davao City into a city with a flourishing economy, where the safety of both the people and property was ensured, on an island ravaged by various guerrillas. The first strategy - the carrot - aimed to sign secret peace agreements between the City Hall of Davao and various rebel groups that stipulated, for instance, that Davao City was a neutral area that could be crossed by the rebels as long as they left their weapons at the entrance of the territory.