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Political Dynasties in the Philippines: In My Opinion

Next year’s Philippine midterm elections are fast approaching and it paints an all too-familiar image once again: candidates that are ei...



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JR Lopez Gonzales 2:37 PM 0

Since his official replacement of Martin Diño in December last year, Rody Duterte has been one of top contenders for the presidential post. And just when people initially downplayed his entry to the race, his astonishingly high poll ratings tell us that he this veteran politician might become the next president of our democracy.
Mayor Rody Duterte at a speaking engagement in SMX. Looking so ambassadorial.
(Photo taken from Rody Duterte for President Movement International Facebook page)
And we all have a common mental picture of Mayor Digong: that tough, polo shirt-wearing probinsyano from down south. Juxtapose him with the other well-dressed presidentiables and one might consider him short of a presidential timber.

However, during the first PiliPinas 2016 presidential debate held in Cagayan de Oro City last month, the feisty mayor was able to show his more ‘diplomatic’ side by showing up looking prim. With his signature Visayan accent, he echoed his platforms of curbing criminality, drugs, and corruption. His media exposure for the debate made him a talk in the Twitterverse; considering that his ‘typical’ media coverage are those rifts he’s had with the admin bet, his potty mouth, or his “fondness of women.” For the entire debate he was calm, he was composed… and he surprisingly wore a barong.

He sure may look thuggish on the outside, but he sprinkles his discourses with metaphors and hyperboles to show to us that he’s also got the gift of gab. No wonder he got the largest leap on the survey as released yesterday by The Standard Poll. The poll was conducted from February 24 to March 1, just a few days after the televised debate.

But just what makes Duterte so appealing that his popularity cuts across all social classes? Let’s explore why there’s more to Davao City’s “Dirty Harry” than that which meets the eye.

Let’s first look on how he carries himself in public. Personally, his overall getup reminds me of the late Lee Kuan Yew in one of his televised speech during a Singapore General Assembly in the sixties. The fact that Duterte usually underdresses and looks rugged, challenges the popular notion of our chic politicians. He subtly tells us that he is no different from the rest of us.

A photo grab of the late Lee Kuan Yew, speaking before the General Assembly in Singapore in the 1960s. (Screen grab from YouTube video, "Lee Kuan Yew: In His Own Words - The Mandate To Rule")
From his outward appearance, it is apparent that Mayor Digong is not afraid to show the many sides of his colorful personality. And it has been consistently doing wonders for him. He’s a politician with a tough, “street thug” manner, as how his daughter Sara Duterte puts it; yet he was in tears during his “homecoming” in Cebu province two weeks ago. It is undeniable that his extremely strong appeal comes from the fact that he is a stranger to the world of “elitist” politics.

Duterte tells it like it is. And because the election fever is also hitting the United States, one cannot help but notice Duterte’s interesting parallel with Donald Trump. They got the same straight talk and no holds-barred style. Although I think their similarity simply ends there. Rody Duterte had been the mayor Davao City for 22 years; Trump was the host of The Apprentice for 14 seasons. I rest my case.

Mayor Duterte’s sound bites always make good TV. His crass humor sets him apart from the other presidentiables and he uses this to parry verbal attacks aimed at him. Whether it’s a criticism on his womanizing; he’ll just tell you that “it is biology”. Another example of his ability to take things light is when he mentioned in one of his speeches that “he also obtained an undergraduate degree”, but unlike Mar Roxas’ which was from Wharton, he jokingly told the public that his was from Watsons.

During the PiliPinas debate, when he was asked by Mike Enriquez on whether he thinks he should be followed as a role model by the youth, given his proclivity to blurt out cuss words or his alleged execution of criminals. Duterte simply dodged the question. He instead masterfully responded to the allegations by saying that “most of it is true” and that he “does not deny it”.

He's always got that 'masa' look. Rody Duterte at his house in Davao City.

(Photo Courtesy of Rappler).
And regarding the alleged acts of lasciviousness complaint filed against him, Mayor Digong responded that it was merely fabricated. He proceeds and jokingly tells us that there’s only one instance where he placed his hand on the shoulder of a woman – and it was his mother who got angry. Some may call this as distasteful, but Duterte’s ability to use humor to shield him from a supposed threat is unparalleled.  All to the delight of the public, of course.

This Bedan lawyer throws off grandiloquence a la Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Surprisingly, his snappily responses during interviews remind me of the lady senator’s wit. No wonder they praised each other during the debate where their new ‘loveteam’ was born: #DuRiam.
It is a well-known fact that part of being a politician is his or her ability to communicate a message. This is why politicians and their staffs carefully craft speeches and appearance to invoke positive sentiments in their constituents. Mayor Duterte is well aware of this. But instead of following the norm of using a politician’s filter, he boldly speaks out. His “political psychology game’ is highly underrated yet very effective all because he is not afraid to show his humanity.
Against the admin candidate, he pulls off tricks from Lao Tzu’s Art of War. Knowing that Mar Roxas has a choleric temperament, he simply provokes the well-spoken secretary from all sides. And for some reason, Roxas often responds erratically and lets it get the best of him.

Mayor Rody simply has the ability to connect with not just the law-abiding segments of our population, but also with the ‘unreformed’ sector of our society. In the words of Ben Tulfo at his radio show, Mayor Digong “knows how to speak the language of the criminals”. All of the bad elements, according to the Mindanaoan politician, must stop. In his campaigns in the provinces, he warns them that if they won’t - it will be hell for them or the Manila Bay. And then he ends his speech with a kowtow.

A large amount of Pinoy political communication style is guided by basic psychology: moral judgements are not the result of logical reasoning, but of automatic and intuitive feelings. All politicians aim to evoke emotions from the voters. Strong emotions, such as fear and anxiety can be used as a basis to attract mass political support.  In a 2014 research entitled, Tears and fears: How do emotions change our political attitudes?, US researchers found out that anxiety, even if their cause has nothing to do with politics, can result in a hardening of our views.
A candid photo of Rody Duterte in 1998, shedding a tear for an 18-month old child who died during a landslide.
(Photo courtesy of
Applying this to Pinoy politics, the masses’ hidden fear of heinous crimes and of drugs makes them more likely to vote for Duterte who openly advocates a tough stance against crime. As a political observer, I definitely agree that the illegal drugs here is as alarming as what heroin is to the United States. Drugs should be a national issue but for some unknown reason, only the Davao mayor - of all the presidentiables - highlights this as his core policies.

And while he does not have TV Ads like the other presidentiables, Duterte’s campaign is the first ever campaign to be run outside Metro Manila. That’s why it is not surprising that other avenues to get his message across is carefully utilized. He’s had a bunch of social media antics – he danced with American missionaries, appeared in various Vines, or greeted criminals their ‘last Christmas’. After all, the Duterte camp does not only consider the large media networks to be the only “truth machines”. And for that, they do not have to spend billions of pesos for air time.

Duterte has clearly defied all the expectations both from the masses and the political pundits, alike.  He is now statistically tied with Grace Poe for the top spot in the presidential surveys. Most independent university polls also say the same thing. It is undeniable that the Rodrigo Duterte persona, together with his sound policies, strikes a chord with a lot of Pinoys who are already fed up with the same old trapo tactics.

But will his financially-limited campaign continue to gain momentum until the last days of the campaign period? I guess it’s hard to tell. The polls anyway, are but snapshots of people’s preference for a particular time frame. The final and most important survey will still be the Election Day on May 9th.
President Rody Duterte?

(Photo taken from Rody Duterte for President Movement International Facebook page)
And only after that, could we finally assess Duterte’s impressive run. There are only two outcomes, anyway: whether he would finally taste defeat from an election; or become the first president from the Land of Promise.

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