Rodrigo Duterte: The Legacy of a Widely Popular Strongman President

New PRIF Report analyzes the reasons for Duterte's popularity and the implications for the Philippine democracy

Filipina women at a demonstration. One is holding up a sign which reads "UN "Duterte is not a murderer, he's just a strict leader who means business!"

Photo: © picture alliance / | Michael Debets

Rodrigo Duterte's term as President of the Philip­pines from 2016 to 2022 had a major impact on the country. Although his extremely tough approach to combating drug abuse problems was accom­panied by numerous human rights violations and killings, Duterte consis­tently achieved approval ratings of around 80 % during his presidency. In this PRIF report, Peter Kreuzer looks at how this can be explained, what influence Duterte had on public expec­tations of govern­ance and politics, and what impli­cations this has for Philip­pine demo­cracy.

In the first step of the analysis, Peter Kreuzer uses survey data to show that Duterte did not use an existing demand for tougher anti-crime measures, but that he was only able to success­fully make this issue a high priority among the Filipino popu­lation through his election cam­paign. The second step sheds light on the political culture of the Philip­pines. Surveys in this regard reveal a wide­spread accep­tance of violent conflict resolution or enforce­ment of interests, an instru­mental view of demo­cracy and human rights, which are primarily seen as a means of satisfying basic human needs, and wide­spread support for the concept of a strong, powerful leader. In the final step, the evaluation of Duterte's presidency by the Filipino population is examined in more detail. It is shown that both his concrete measures and his political style are met with great approval. Kreuzer concludes that supporters of liberal demo­cracy in the Philip­pines must recognize that the population prioritizes basic needs such as supply and security over principles such as the rule of law or human rights. Accordingly, they would have to demon­strate in the future that it is possible to satisfy these needs while respecting liberal demo­cratic principles.

Peter Kreuzer is a Senior Researcher and head of the project "Democracy beyond legitimate coercion: Deadly use of force by the police in the Philippines and Brazil" at PRIF. His research focuses on ethno­cultural conflicts and re­pressive political violence in Southeast Asia.

Download: Kreuzer, Peter (2023): Rodrigo Duterte: The Legacy of a Widely Popular Strongman President, PRIF Report 7/2023, Frankfurt/M.