A new edition of the US publication Time Magazine features a cover image of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungarian Prime MInsiter Viktor Orban under the headline “Rise of the Strong Men”.
While Time is trying to imply the worst of the leaders mentioned, in reality for many in The Philippines, a country that since 1986 has been blighted by weak and often corrupt leadership, have embraced Time’s depiction of Duterte as strong. This is the case for the very simple reason that after so many years of weak and ineffectual leadership, the majority of Filipinos have rallied their support for Duterte for the very reason that he is strong. Duterte has indeed proved that he is strong when it comes to fighting crime, authoring and executing a new multi-polar non-aligned foreign policy, making new international partnerships, turning the South China Sea dispute into a win-win compromise, reforming tax and labour laws, building new infrastructure and tackling both private and public sector corruption.
To tackle all of these major issues while still pushing for the big win – a new federal model of government, one would have to be strong and this is exactly what Duterte is. The fact that he is named alongside Vladimir Putin the man who saved Russia from economic depression and geopolitical embarrassment and turned it back into a superpower, the most important and historically important Turkish leader since Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey in in 1923 and one of Europe’s most successful 21st century elected leaders, is rightly a compliment. Furthermore, in spite of being in office for a shorter period of time than Putin, Erdgoan or Orban, Duterte’s strength has come to national attention even while only being in office for less than two years.
Of course for the liberals at Time Mazagine, strength isn’t a compliment but an insult. They would prefer countries like The Philippines, Russia, Turkey and Hungary to be run by weak people who are technocratic rather than innovative, submissive rather than pioneering and passive rather than assertive.
But for the people of The Philippines, strength is a virtue as is evidenced by Duterte’s consistent popularity when he was the Mayor of Davao and now President of the nation. The same is true for President Putin who just won an election with over 76% of the total vote and Viktor Orban who just won an election with 133 out of 199 possible seats in Hungary’s National Assembly. Furthermore, next month when Turkey holds a Presidential election, Recep Tayyip Erdogan will almost certainly win in a landslide.
So not only are all of the leaders that the magazine names strong, but behind them is the strength of the people who continue to hand them victories in election after election. Interestingly, Putin, Duterte and Erdogan share another similarity as each was the leader of a prominent city before entering national politics. Putin once led the government in Russia’s second biggest city St. Petersburg, while Erdogan once a popular mayor of Istanbul and Duterte was the long serving mayor of Davao City.
In life, some of the best jokes are unintentional and the same is true with the best compliments. For The Philippines, for the first time since the long rule of President Marcos, there is a leader who is known throughout the world. Duterte has put The Philippines back on the political map and in this sense, he is a strong man that the majority of Filipinos and others can look up to as an inspiration.