Weekend Open Thread: Trump’s Somewhat Plausible Model for Success, New Philippines President Digong Duterte

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Could Trump ride a Draconian, anti-corruption, nanny state platform into the White House as Republicans swallow hard and accept it? Well, he has to try *something*!

Could Trump ride a draconian, anti-corruption, nanny state platform — NO LATE MUSIC! —  into the White House as Republicans swallow hard and accept it? Well, he has to try *something* — and this just worked in our biggest protege political culture!

I know that big local things are happening this week, but in my house we’ve been following the first ten days of the insurgent Presidency of Rodrigo (“Digong”) Duterte, who began his six-year term of office on June 30.  Duterte interests me because he offers a plausible model both for the Donald Trump campaign and for a Donald Trump Presidency.

Duterte’s odd mix of authoritarian and populist politics echoes that of Trump, but there’s a big difference: having spent 22 years as Mayor of Davao — the 4th largest city in the Philippines and the largest one outside of Manila and two of its neighbors — Duterte is as formally “qualified for the Presidency” as Trump is not.  (It’s sort of like comparing Jerry Brown to Jerry Seinfeld.)

Trump has various other foreign “models” that don’t fit him quite as well — such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin (Trump doesn’t have the guts) and Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (Trump doesn’t have the money or dominant media ownership).  But Duterte did just win a strong Presidency in a Western-style political system (one which, as is true of much Filipino culture, is patterned largely on its former colonial and still political patron, the United States).  Like Trump, he has a confusing left-right mix of positions, under a more straightforward authoritarian substrate.  Republican strategists don’t need me to figure out that the themes in Duterte’s campaign are ones that Trump may want to adopt.

Filipino-Americans will likely know much or all of this information, but it is worthwhile for Americans to know it as well, in part because Duterte is a likely and successful model of what Donald Trump’s candidacy might aspire to be. A summary from a Filipino news source of 11 points of his platform follows the biographical and political information in the next several paragraphs; it will be linked and summarized at the end of the article.

First, some biographical information:  Duterte is the first Philippine President from Mindanao, the southern of the two largest Philippine islands. (Luzon and Mindanao comprise about 70% of the country’s land mass.) His ancestry, however, traces to the Visayas – the collection of islands in between the two mega-islands. Duterte, an attorney, was the long-term (22-year) Mayor of Davao, the most populous city on Mindanao and the fourth largest in the country (the others being Quezon City and Manila and Caloocan, adjacent to its west.)

Duterte’s daughter Sara, who has been designated as the First Lady of the Philippines rather than his common-law second wife, is the present Mayor of Davao. She also preceded him in his final term as Mayor after he had to step aside due to term limits. Sara and her two full brothers are from his marriage to his first wife, Elizabeth Zimmerman, daughter of a German (by some accounts Jewish) immigrant and a Filipina mother. That marriage was annulled after 25 years, with the children retaining their legal legitimacy.

Duterte’s political ideology is difficult to classify in standard American terms. It is notably anti-civil-libertarian – favoring harsh restrictions on non-political liberties, though more respectful of political civil liberties, and extreme measures such as extra-judicial killings. (These are not simply right-wing repressive measures; he has been supportive of the communist New People’s Army of Luzon in its extrajudicial eradication of drug lords.) On the other hand, his platform is notably anti-corruption – a claim made by many, but one that seems to have been born out by his mayoral tenure in Davao. Like Trump, and like many other male politicians in the country, he would be considered hostile to women’s issues (e.g., making a grossly trivializing comment about rape during his Presidential campaign) and has been an unabashed womanizer (which is what killed his marriage); but, like Trump, he has also been described as being relatively enlightened in his dealings with the women who surround him in professional settings (and enjoys the support of his ex-wife and his children.)

In the often used two-dimensional (left-right and authoritarian-libertarian) framework for political classifications, Duterte would most clearly qualify as extremely authoritarian – but at this point it is surprisingly unclear that his rule will be politically rather than simply socially repressive. (He aims much of his most dramatically repressive intentions at government officials themselves.) He has described himself as being “a man of the left,” concerned with the honest and competent provision of government services, although many American liberals would find his stands on social issues disqualifying. (By American standards, though, few Filipino politicians from most any faction would qualify as being liberal, given the dominant influence of the Catholic Church on politics — to which the main cultural counterweight comes from even more conservative evangelical churches on the right. And he at least professes to be favor tolerance of LGBTs.)

The very-left wing Jacobin magazine has an interesting article on his contradictory politics – https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/02/duterte-philippines-election-maoists-cpp-marcos-death-squads/ – calling him promising in some ways, a likely disappointment in others, but most of all a Markos-style political dictator in the making:

In the parlance of the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), whose leadership is an ardent supporter of Duterte, the nation suffers under “bureaucrat capitalism,” entrenched by the country’s colonial history and a crony system facilitated, ironically, by the Marcos dictatorship — a return to which many of Duterte’s fans aspire for.

He reserves his strongest attacks for the nation’s landlord class, a vaguely defined “sugar bloc” — a reference to the current president’s family and the administration’s hand-picked successor, Mar Roxas. Never mind the fact that these clans have long ago departed from a reliance on sugar cultivation, and now have diversified monopolies in media, commercial real estate, privatized public utilities, and the commercial conglomerates that Duterte does not speak against.

Feeding off the public’s desire for security, he poses a simplistic war against a variety of scapegoats, from rice smugglers and corrupt government officials to drug addicts. For the failures of the current political system, he suggests concentrating executive power to clean up house through what can only be assumed would be a transitional dictatorship toward the introduction of a federal-parliamentary system.

I’ll hope that Jacobin won’t mind my going slightly over my ration in quoting from their (long and informative) article:

While he calls himself a “man of the Left, even a “socialist,” his positions on economic issues, exposed in a 2015 Asia CEO Forum, include promises to ensure stability for business investors, not-so-veiled threats to extinguish the legislature, and guarantees of a more efficient bureaucracy with streamlined processing of business permits and lower taxes. To great applause, he concluded with the remark, “good governance is good business

More recently — in a political campaign where murder has been openly endorsed the most times in the country’s history — he has threatened to “kill” trade unions that threaten corporations.

Elsewhere, Duterte has spoken of mega-infrastructure projects as a solution to Manila’s traffic woes, to be financed with billions of dollars in foreign loans. Less transparent are his connections with elites in his home province of Davao, who have ties with Mindanao’s unique political ecology of conflict. There, where drugs, arms, the Maoist insurgency, and a “legal” economy of large-scale mining and logging feed off each other and prosper under the protection of that region’s most powerful political clans.

I don’t know how better to put this: Duterte reminds me of no U.S. politician more than Donald Trump – if Trump were as formally qualified for the Presidency as, say, Jerry Brown rather than Bobby Brown. And that concerns me, because Republicans are smart enough to figure out that Duterte’s success can offer them a pathway to victory.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at 11 points that a Filipino news publication says constitute examples of Duterte’s plans in office, some of which (again by American standards) you may find surprising. (This post was widely read after being shared by the head of the Philippine National Police.)  Note that some of the material is in Tagalog; I’m going to present its gist, where that appears, as translated to me by the Filipinas in my household:

  1. NO DRINKING IN PUBLIC PLACES: Don’t drink in allies, plazas, etc., under pain of arrest. Drink in your house – and if you don’t have a house, don’t drink.
  2. NO COLLECTION FOR STUDENTS: This is an unfamiliar issue in U.S. politics. Schools that plan trips, events, and parties for their students often “tax” them (“collection”) to pay for them – a practice that, among other things, raises the possibility of corruption. Duterte pledges to end the practice, saying that if schools can’t afford an activity then they shouldn’t have it at all.
  3. CURFEW FOR MINORS (with a twist): All minors are to be home by 10 p.m. – but if they aren’t, they will not be arrested. The local constables should find their parents’ houses and arrest them instead. Constables that don’t follow this order (out of laziness or corruption) will be fired.
  4. SPEED LIMIT ON MAJOR BOULEVARDS OF 60 KPH (37 MPH): Major thoroughfares like EDSA (site of the “People Power” revolution) will be lowered – and if police look the other way, he will come after the police.
  5. WAR AGAINST DRUGS: Appropriately rained and armed constables with, supervised by local officials, will be allowed to kill local drug traffickers and punish users, usually after trying them in kangaroo courts.
  6. GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES BEHAVIOR: Government employees must be courteous and friendly to everyone, including smiling. Popular sentiment is that this is a problem.
  7. CORRUPT OFFICIALS: Corrupt officials must resign or retire. Otherwise, they will be sent to areas controlled by the local Al Qaeda affiliate and will not be ransomed if captured.
  8. DOCUMENT PROCESSING: Given that we have computers, in all government institutions, clearances and business permits should be processed in no more than 72 or he will ask why. If you don’t want to work, speak up, because other people would like your job.
  9. HEAVY FIREARMS AND NPA REBELS: He will not allow licensing of heavy firearms, though those who have licenses can keep them if they get permits – except no one can have a large armory because history shows that that leads to corruption. NPA (Luzon communist) rebels must recognize that he is in the government: while he is from the left, he is their enemy, although he extends his hands to talk peace.
  10. VIDEOKE LIMIT: No home karaoke after 10 p.m. so as not to disturb neighbors’ childern.
  11. DEATH PENALTY: Death penalty for serious crimes will be imposed by hanging. Those committing heinous crimes will be hanged twice to make sure they’re dead.

Look part some of the specifics: this set of positions suggest an overall public persona — one focused on promoting moral probity and social consideration in governance and in personal behavior, as well as business-like competence, concern for the weak, and extreme willingness to punish — that seems to pretty well reflect what Trump’s better written recent speeches offer to the public.  To Democrats, it’s completely laughable — moral probity? social consideration? business-like competence? concern for the weak? — to think that DONALD TRUMP, of all people, could try to sell himself this way.  And yet Filipinos might have said the same of Digong Duterte half a year ago — and that worked.

Trump’s hitting Hillary on the likes of moral probity (emails, transcripts) and concern for the weak (this will be TPP) is probably as good an avenue as any available to him.  I think that Democrats already knew that.  What may be more surprising to them is how — and how well — it worked this year, in a political culture much like our own.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)