Thinking Beyond Politics

Is President Duterte’s political phenomenon — Dutertismo — experiencing a temporary setback or running out of steam? If the third quarter survey from Social Weather Stations is any indication, there has been a notable decline in the public’s satisfaction with President Duterte just a year into his presidency. The survey, which was conducted from Sept. 23-27, found that 67% of adult Filipinos were satisfied with the President’s performance, while 14% were undecided and 19% were dissatisfied. This means the president has a net rating (satisfied minus dissatisfied) rating of +48, an 18-point decline from the +66 of the second quarter. In the same survey, 73% of Filipinos continue to trust Duterte, while 15% remain undecided and 12% give him little trust. This gives him a net trust rating of +60 (very good), down from +75 in June.

These survey results came at an opportune time, as the Stratbase ADR Institute had organized a roundtable on President Duterte’s one-year performance on Tuesday, Oct. 10. The discussion featured Mr. Richard Heydarian, who presented a Special Study for the institute entitled “Duterte’s First Year in Office: Assessing the Balance Sheet.” The study examined four areas of the president’s performance: domestic security and terrorism, foreign policy and strategic outlook, human rights and democracy, and socioeconomic reforms.

In addition to myself, responding to the presentation were Prof. Edmund Tayao, executive director, Local Government Development Foundation and Mr. Ramon Casiple, executive director, Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

In his Special Study, Mr. Heydarian, a non-resident Fellow at the institute, provided a critical assessment of Duterte’s performance, particularly on four areas: domestic security and terrorism, foreign policy and strategic outlook, human rights and democracy, and socioeconomic reforms.

First, with regard to domestic security and terrorism, Heydarian explains that the Marawi crisis in Mindanao results from the intertwining growth of Islamic State presence and influence in Southeast Asia with the stagnation of peace negotiations with the Moro and Communist insurgent groups. In order to address this problem, Heydarian advocates that the Philippine government ought to leverage its robust security ties with fellow ASEAN member-states, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as extra-regional security allies and partners, such as the United States, Australia, Japan, and European Union.

Second, with regard to foreign policy and strategic outlook, Heydarian narrates that the Duterte administration has sought to pursue a more “independent” foreign policy. However, the result of his performance has so far been a combination of short-term gains, reversible pitfalls, and medium-to-long term risks to national interest.

On the one hand, the Philippines’ strategic relations with the West has so far remained intact, particularly on counterterrorism efforts which it has sought to diversify its partnership by reaching out to China and Russia. On the other hand, Duterte’s downplaying of maritime security disputes with China vis-à-vis growing tirade against the United States may emasculate the Philippines’ bargaining chips.

Given this, Heydarian proposes that the Philippines continue pursuing diplomatic negotiations while gradually beefing up the military’s deterrence capability and fortifying its position in the hotly contested features and waters.

Arguably, Duterte has suffered the largest setback from the third area (human rights and democracy). Heydarian revealed that Duterte is facing growing challenge both on domestic and international fronts. Domestically, there has been growing societal anxiety over the gradual erosion of basic human right rights and civil liberties. The country’s democratic institutions are viewed to be under grave threat due to looming concerns over extrajudicial killings, accountability of law enforcement, checks and balances, intimidation of opposition members and public space, and the specter of martial law. Internationally, the legislatures of the United States and European Union as well as the International Criminal Court have begun voicing out their concern over the ballooning casualties of Duterte’s war on drugs which, if left unaddressed, may lead to delisting from United Nations Human Rights Council as well as imposition of economic sanctions.

Lastly, with regard to socioeconomic reform, Heydarian presented that under Dutertenomics, the President is determined to execute the “Build! Build! Build!” Infrastructure Project as his foundational economic policy with the aim of leveling the economic playing field, improving the domestic investment climate, and hence, rendering economic growth more inclusive. In order to fund his ambitious infrastructure project, Duterte is banking on expanded tax generation through the passage of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Bill. However, Heydarian points out to a few concerns, such as: the sustainability of projects; balancing of the interests of progressive-leftist cabinet members and technocratic economic managers; and policy predictability; among others.

Given the following policy ruptures and political risk during the first year of the incumbent administration, it is imperative for Duterte to go beyond mere rhetoric and pay closer attention to the visceral bread-and-butter, law and order, and governance issues of ordinary Juan which are intricately linked to Duterte’s political legitimacy, and hence, popularity.

In doing so, Duterte ought to lessen the political noise and focus on more substantial issues, most especially the implementation of the much-needed structural reforms that the Philippines direly needs in order to move up the development ladder.


Prof. Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the founder and managing director of the Stratbase Group and president of its policy think tank, Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ADRi). Prof. Manhit is a former chair and retired associate professor of Political Science of De La Salle University. He has authored numerous papers on governance, political, and electoral reforms.