Understanding Duterte

Katrina Domingo, Arianne Merez, Dharel Placido, Pamela Denice Ramos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 04 2017 07:06 PM | Updated as of Jul 06 2017 04:59 PM


The President likes to talk tough.

Expletives have been a staple in almost all of Duterte’s speeches, whether in camp visits, business fora, engagements with Filipinos abroad, and other official functions.

The former mayor's choice of words has drawn mixed reviews from Filipinos and the international community, with commentary divided between those who admire his connection with the masses, and those who see a leader who lacks finesse and diplomatic skills.

“The way he speaks resonates very well with the public,” said Dr. Jean Encinas-Franco of the University of the Philippines Department of Political Science, in an interview with DZMM.

"Common people will be able to relate to him because he is able to express the way common people express without censorship," psychologist Randy Dellosa told ABS-CBN News.

"He disregards all these politically correct words and continues to use his own language, the language of the masses, but, as a consequence, his words are found offensive sa mga progressive groups, especially his jokes," Dennis Coronacion, University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department chair, said.

Duterte has many times spewed vitriol on drug dependents, corrupt officials, political rivals, and foreign leaders and groups critical of his policies, particularly his campaign against illegal drugs.

"Swearing is very polarizing. People who want a very pedestrian type of leader will find that appealing, pero for most people, they will find that very repulsive," Dellosa said.

The chief executive's cursing habit has earned him the reputation of being both crude and stern— traits that may be useful for a man who wants to convince the public that he will deliver on his campaign promises.

"By swearing, he talks like a tough guy. If he portrays himself like a tough guy, there is an impression that he can get the job done," Dellosa said.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, said Duterte’s choice of language, while not agreeable to some, has endeared him to ordinary Filipinos.

“The public, when they listen to him, see themselves in him. What he’s saying is actually what they are saying among themselves. And when the president sees the public, [he] feels the same way. Kaya there is a rapport, there is a connection,” he said.


The President hates drugs, crime and corruption.

Since assuming power, Duterte has repeatedly lashed out at drug suspects and corrupt officials.

Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Duterte’s anti-drug campaign has been successful, citing the surrender of thousands of suspected drug addicts and peddlers.

“That we are suddenly confronted [by the fact] that the drug menace is of such a magnitude that we never thought of is already an achievement. Nobody knew about this until the president came into power,” he said.

But for psychologist Randy Dellosa, the anti-drug battle cry seems to be “getting old.”

"This was the battle cry that made him win so he is actually harping on it. He’s reinforcing it," Dellosa said.

Dennis Coronacion, University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department chair, noted that Duterte's war on drugs has also been marred by a number of "blunders" committed by some law enforcers.

"Although this is controversial, he has made some achievements there, but he also committed some blunders which proved to be fatal to his program, particularly when it was proven that the [anti-illegal drugs] program was being abused by some units of the PNP [Philippine National Police],” Coronacion said.

He said the kidnap-slay of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo inside Camp Crame, the Philippine National Police headquarters, dealt a blow to the president's campaign that the administration had to suspend anti-drug operations for a time.

"All these things made a dent on what was supposed to be an impressive anti-illegal drugs campaign," Coronacion said.

Dr. Jean Encinas-Franco of the University of the Philippines Department of Political Science, said that as Duterte enters his second year, a “long term” program in resolving the drug problem should be undertaken by the government.


“After a year, dapat may reframing naman ng strategy,” Encinas said.


The President hates to deliver prepared speeches.

Duterte's penchant for going off script may be a display of sincerity, but analysts say the president's impromptu speeches should either be tapered or polished.

"It is good in the sense that he's trying to project authenticity and spontaneity, which is good on one hand. It is good in the sense that you will see [that] the president is sincere," Dennis Coronacion, University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department chair, said.


"However, considering his penchant for jokes, offensive words, nagiging disadvantage din kasi nakaka-offend siya ng ilang sectors kagaya ng mga kababaihan or LGBT community," he added.

Contradictions between the president's sudden pronouncements and subsequent clarifications from his Cabinet on policies have also created confusion, Coronacion noted.

But Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Duterte merely aims to convey his message to a wider audience whenever he decides to ditch prepared speeches.

“He [has a] prepared a speech, if you examine it, nandoon din iyon sa impromptu. He is just saying it differently, casually, conversationally, with a little cursing, pero ganoon din,” he said.

“[It’s] important to him that he is understood by the majority of the Filipinos, and that is the kind of language that the majority understands.”


The President is old style when he speaks to the public about women.

The prevailing acceptance of the "macho culture" -- the patronage of, if not tolerance for, the domination of males over females -- in the Philippines has come to benefit the long-time Davao mayor, who has never kept his womanizing ways a secret.

Duterte was married to Elizabeth Zimmerman and together raised their children--Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, and Sebastian "Baste" Duterte--for 27 years until their separation in 2000.

Despite co-habitating with his common-law partner Honeylet Avanceña, the woman who stands as First Lady and mother of the president’s youngest child, Veronica, Duterte has been vocal about having been close to a woman politician from Mindanao.

His apparent soft spot for women has several times courted trouble for Duterte, who has drawn protests from women’s groups for subtly catcalling on ladies in the crowd and even female journalists during some of his public appearances.

Still, this habit has not affected his trust and approval numbers.

"Non-issue siya sa Filipino voters, cool pa nga tingnan... Filipino voters seem to tolerate, accept, embrace, [and that is part of] ’yung macho culture, culture of machismo," Dennis Coronacion, University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department chair, said.

"Candidates who have developed already that kind of image, dito ‘pag bad boy ka, mananalo ka. Look at Erap (deposed president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada). Erap is a self-confessed womanizer. Look at (former Senator) Ramon Revilla," he added.

For Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, Duterte is simply being truthful about his shortcomings as a man.

“He is being truthful unlike other personalities who hide, so he becomes more endearing to Filipinos because he’s very transparent. Hindi siya nagsisinungaling,” he said.


The President is humble.


Displaying his humility, Duterte has many times publicly expressed pride over his hand-picked cabinet, saying they are more qualified than he is.

"Ako pasang-awa, sila mga topnotcher, mga valedictorian,” he has said several times in public speeches.

The president would often end the remark by saying in jest that while his Cabinet appointees had better grades back in school, they still ended up working for an underdog like him.

"Basically, the underlying idea there is he is street smart and the others are not. And street smart is better," psychologist Randy Dellosa said.

Dennis Coronacion, University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department chair, said Filipinos, especially those who cannot afford a decent education, may find the joke inspirational.

"He’s telling us in a way na even if you have not gone to college, to high school, you can still be president. You can still be someone important in this society," Coronacion said.

Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo agreed. “Pinapakita niya na ang mga ordinaryo… mga late-bloomers: ‘Huwag kayong mag-alala. Look at me, I’m a late-bloomer. Eto ang gagaling nito, pero bakit ngayon sila mga supporters ko sila at ako ang main cast [member]?’”

But while Duterte’s quips may project authenticity, this may also make him seem like a mediocre leader.

"I think wala namang masama for as long as hindi siya magiging mediocre president. Kasi sometimes, ‘yung poor academic performance mo may translate to poor leadership skills, poor governance," Coronacion added.

Psychologist Randy Dellosa noted that Duterte’s joke about his intelligent Cabinet may also be seen as a form of “humble bragging."

"By showcasing his low grades, it’s a way of putting down the people who have high grades," he said.


The commander-in-chief knows the importance of being there for his men in uniform when they need him the most.

President Duterte makes sure to visit as many wakes for slain soldiers and police officers as he can. Most weekends, the President makes time to condole with families of fallen troops and assure them of government support.

Dennis Coronacion, University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department chair, said these visits are Duterte’s way to make sure that he has the heart of the military, since the leader may be vulnerable to a coup.

“He’s prone to that (coup d'etat) kasi ang kanyang image is he is a former communist member or he was once part of the communist movement when he was a student, so he has this soft spot for the communists. Highly suspect siya sa mga ano, sa mga pulis, military,” he said.

Coronacion said Duterte is “really courting the military” to ensure that no military overthrow would disrupt his stay in power.

For Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, Duterte makes sure to honor fallen soldiers and police officers as he is the “father of the country.”

“[He] must show to his family that he is concerned, that he sympathizes with them, that he gives them support morally and financially so these people won’t feel they were abandoned by the father of the country,” he said.


For the president, it's comfort over style.

This seems to be President Duterte’s take on fashion, as seen in most of his appearances. Even in many formal events, Duterte wears a barong unbuttoned at the collar, button-down shirts with sleeves rolled up, or simple collared shirts.

Psychologist Randy Dellosa said 72-year-old Duterte’s fashion style is not a surprise, given his age.

“That’s expected of an elderly person. Old dogs don’t learn new tricks. They stay in their habitual behaviors and they are not as teachable,” he said.

Dennis Coronacion, University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department chair, however, sees Duterte’s fashion sense as a political tool meant to project the image that he is with the masses.

“It’s part of his overall image that he is not part of the elite class. He is anti-elite, ‘yun ang image niya,” he said.

Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, said Duterte does not care so much for fashion, saying the leader puts importance instead on “substance.”

“What is important is substance not form. That is what he is trying to convey. You may have very fashionable clothes, you may be following the norm on how to carry a particular outfit in a particular social event, [pero] kung walang laman ang sinasabi mo, useless lahat iyon,” he said.


The President doesn't feel home in Malacanang.

President Duterte has become known for his unconventional style of leadership— among them flying home to his hometown Davao City nearly every weekend instead of staying in Manila, the seat of power.

"...That shows that this (Manila) is not his comfort zone. He is not in his kingdom (Davao City)," psychologist Randy Dellosa said of the former long-time Davao City mayor.

Dennis Coronacion, University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department chair, added that the President's Davao trips are also his way of mobilizing the south against Luzon.

"He’s trying to mobilize the Mindanao region, even Visayan-speaking people, so Mindanao and Visayas against the Tagalog, the dominant-Tagalog ethnic group [or the] the Luzon inhabitants," he said.

Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, however, said observers must not read too much into Duterte’s frequent trips to his home city.

“You must remember, the family is staying there. It’s normal for a family man like him to go to his family,” he said.