Hasan Minhaj, an American whose family migrated from India’s Uttar Pradesh, has adopted one of the worst characteristics of some white Americans: a condescending attitude toward Filipinos. On his Netflix show Patriot Act, Minhaj did a “comedy” routine that might as well have been a paid political advertisement for anti-Duterte candidates running in today’s midterm election in The Philippines. Ironically, Duterte’s own incisive jokes that were played during the show appeared to get more laughs from the studio audience than Minhaj’s own brand of uptight liberal anti-humour.
And yet, if some of Minhaj’s viewers know little about the current state of politics in The Philippines they might mistake Minhaj’s liberal diatribe disguised as comedy for a factual analysis of contemporary affairs in The Philippines.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte remains one of the most misunderstood leaders in the world and part of the reason is because smug first world liberals (including first generation Americans like Minhaj) cannot fathom that a country like The Philippines requires unique solutions to unique problems that have been caused by the colonial mentality of previous Filipino rulers who instead of charting an independent course of development for the nation, preferred to lick the boots of foreign masters.
In order to help those with little previous knowledge of The Philippines to understand the truth of Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity, here is a simple guide that explains Duterte’s success, his beliefs and his popularity to those who are curious about the dynamic Philippine President and his political beliefs and public accomplishments.
1. The drug war
Duterte is most well-know outside of The Philippines for his drug war. While many only discovered the Philippine President’s hard-line against what ought to be called narco-terrorism in 2016, in reality Duterte has been waging a war on the drug trade and drug culture since he first became mayor of his hometown of Davao City in 1988. Duterte realised early on in his political career that drugs not only destroyed individuals but had a negative effect on society as a whole.
For those in the west where marijuana legalisation is becoming increasingly common and therefore associate Duterte’s drug war with some sort of 20th century US style war on marijuana, one should note that the drug problem in The Philippines centres around a particularly potent and explicitly dangerous form of meth known as Shabu. Individuals on Shabu are a danger not only to themselves but to their families and strangers. Shabu takers are widely known and feared due to the fact they commit the most gruesome crimes against humanity throughout the nation.
From armed theft to random murder and breaking into family homes and raping everything from infants to the elderly, those on Shabu are transformed into horrific monsters that no society should have to deal with. This is a far cry from the ‘weed culture’ of certain countries and to this end, Duterte has voiced a position in favour of legalising medical marijuana.
But when it comes to hard drugs like Shabu which have turned once peaceful towns and cities into war zones reminiscent of something in Yemen or Syria, Duterte has taken a zero-tolerance, hands on approach to the drug problem which remains one of his most popular policies in a country crying out for human rights for the normal law abiding citizens.
It should be further stated that Duterte has never given so-called “shoot to kill orders” but has insisted that when a suspect is a clear and present danger to those around him, police and civilians have the right to restrain a dangerous individual with lethal force as a last resort in order to avoid the bloodshed of innocent people. Duterte has further expanded rehabilitation programs for those who voluntarily turn themselves in or are peacefully apprehended- thus proving that the “death squad” narrative is not only taken out of context but is totally misrepresented by many so-called journalists.
Finally, as the Shabu trade fuels violent armed gangs of mafioso warlords as well as terrorist groups ranging from the far-left NPA to Takfiri groups aligned with Daesh (ISIS), Duterte has done a service to the wider global war against terrorism by attacking a crucial funding source for barbaric terrorism.
2. Economic revival
The Philippine economy continues to grow under Duterte’s reforms. By expanding trade, aid deals and investment partnerships with countries as diverse as Russia, Japan, China, South Korea and fellow ASEAN members, The Philippines secured its position as the world’s number one investment destination according to US News and World Report.
Duterte has further instigated the ‘Build, Build, Build!’ program which seeks to create jobs and modernise the country’s infrastructure with ambitious mega-projects and local revitalisation intransitives throughout The Philippines.
Under Duterte, while inflation is high, this is part of a global trend where developing economies are coming up against the reality of a rising US Dollar while according to the Keynesian economic model for growth, countries experiencing rapid economic growth as The Philippines continues to do, will necessarily see manageable levels of inflation in the short term. In any case, this is beneficial to the export market which the Duterte administration seeks to further cultivate.
3. Anti-corruption/poverty relief
Duterte has taken the same zero-tolerance/no-nonsense approach to corruption among business oligarchs and public employees as he has with drug traffickers, dealers and users. Nearly 500 public servants including corrupt police, bureaucrats and politicians have been arrested for their involvement in the drug trade under Duterte, while the business oligarchs operating illegally on the tourist island of Boracay have had their illegally consecrated property seized while the government continues to work on fixing the environmental disaster caused by their black market operations.
Duterte has further reformed tax laws, business permitting and labour laws in order to empower workers, small businesses and entrepreneurs while cutting down on red tape and waiting times at government offices. Duterte has also modernised the passport of the Philippines thus making life easier for foreign workers and frequent travellers, all the while investing more money into education and poverty relief.
4. Peace at home and abroad
Duterte has shunned the opposition’s reckless policy of confrontation with China. The opposition’s Sinophobic policy is manifestly suicidal considering that The Philippines has a mechanically outdated armed forces while China has one of the most modern and capable armed forces in history.
Furthermore, Duterte has categorised China not as an adversary but as a partner both in terms of trade and investment but also in terms of the management of maritime resources. When President Duterte first met with President Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader hailed a “golden era” of bilateral relations – thus demonstrating the scope of geopolitical realignment under Duterte’s leadership.
Since then, Duterte has agreed to work with China on the mutual exploitation of resources in the South China Sea which will be to the economic benefit of both countries, but particularly to The Philippines which will benefit from China’s world-leading technical expertise. Duterte has taken an historically tense situation and transformed it into a new meaningful win-win relationship which links China to a rapidly growing south Asian partner. In return, Duterte has stated that China has pledged to come to the aid of The Philippines should its sovereignty be threatened.
Inside the country, Duterte has combined a firm pledge to fight terrorism with a pro-peace policy with moderate Moro (Philippine Muslim) groups in the southern island of Mindanao. Duterte has pledged to fully implement the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which offers autonomy to Moro communities on the same model that Duterte hopes to apply to the entire country under a new federal constitution. Duterte has likewise said that he is ready for peace talks with the far-left NPA but only if they renounce violence and come to the table in a serious and respectful manner. The NPA has yet to make good on its required portion of the deal.
5. A new multipolar/non-aligned foreign policy
In addition to opening up a “golden era” of relations with China, President Duterte also made an historic visit to Moscow where Russian President Putin pledged to work with The Philippines on security issues. Russia has already given The Philippines multiple shipments of free modern weapons to help the armed forces tackle terrorism and heavily armed organised crime syndicates.
Duteret has also taken a lead in ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) through his pioneering of a win-win cooperative format to the South China Sea dispute. Here, even Vietnam has begun to slowly embrace such a format for dropping hostility among Asian partners.
Likewise, Duterte has pledged to end long-standing territorial disputes with Malaysia and instead embrace pan-ASEAN cooperation which prioritises economic integration and connectivity over frozen conflicts. Likewise, Duterte has intensified relations throughout Asia including with India, Myanmar, Japan, South Korea and Turkey.
Duterte has stated that the colonial mentality in The Philippines must be firmly rejected in every sense and furthermore, while not pushing the United States away, Duterte has vowed to work with the US only if Washington ceases its colonial style meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. While Duterte has won the respect of Donald Trump as the US President also takes a firm line against narcotics, the meddling forces in the US Congress and so-called deep state continue to antagonise Duterte, thus making his relations with powers of the wider multipolar world far more meaningful in the long term than relations with the US hegemony which once ruled The Philippines as a colony.
6. Church and state
While most nations have a deep state, The Philippines has a deep church. The Roman Catholic Church in The Philippines which itself is a legacy of Spain’s colonial subjugation of The Philippines, continues to actively undermine the rule of a temporal (legally secular) democratically elected government all the while playing a role in society that is more akin to a fifth column than an organisation intended to provide spiritual guidance.
As a victim child abuse by a paedophile priest, Duterte has taken it upon himself to maintain the legal separation of church and state while encouraging Filipinos to cease from blindly following the dogmas of an institutional church that has all the signs of corruption, maleficence and hypocrisy that are normally associated with deep state organisations whether it be central banks, intelligence agencies or a secret police force.
Duterte has expressed his support for same-sex unions and is likely to soon sign legislation which will legalise divorce for the first time in the modern history of the country. Just as most of the successful nations in the 21st century have a clear line drawn between institutional faith and state, so too is Duterte working to modernise his country in this way.
President Duterte remains a popular leader whose current drive for fundamental constitutional reforms will help to modernise the democratic system in The Philippines which has been susceptible to manipulation by wealthy oligarchs, cult like political parties and corrupt former leaders. Far from being the “dictator” that some foreigners accuse him of being, Duterte is actually working to develop a system which would severely limit central control and weaken the ability of a future leader who might have dictatorial ambitions. Crucially, Duterte has accomplished all of this in spite of inheriting a legacy of a poorly run economy that was ruined by the majority of his predecessors dating back to 1987.
Rodrigo Roa Duterte is humble in his lifestyle, courageous in his service to his country and answerable not to anyone but his electorate. It is for these reasons why millions of Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike find Duterte to be an inspirational figure who leadership is not only respected but admired.