COMMENT: Duterte leaves Philippines with a lot of 'souvenirs' to remember

·Contributor
·6 min read
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sings to his supporters during a thanksgiving concert held before he ends his six-year term, in Quirino Grandstand, Manila, Philippines, June 26, 2022. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sings to his supporters during a thanksgiving concert held before he ends his six-year term, in Quirino Grandstand, Manila, Philippines, June 26, 2022. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Covering, or even simply just witnessing, the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in the past six years proved to be… colorful. Colorful in the sense that it was not dull and uneventful. Truly, it was one the Filipinos would always remember.

Who would not remember the administration that killed thousands of people in a drug war, institutionalized disinformation, normalized misogyny and sexism, did little to strengthen our maritime dispute case against China, closed the country’s largest broadcast network, and dilly-dallied their COVID-19 action plans for too long?

His term comes to its end Thursday (June 30), but what, really, can we say about the “Duterte Legacy”?

Weakening the opposition

The Duterte Legacy can be described through a lot of factors, but I believe that the main anchoring facet of it was how he managed to weaken the opposition. Who would forget how he constantly berated his vice president, Leni Robredo, during his weekly public speeches during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when more people were tuned in to the news because of the situation? He took advantage of the high TV engagement at that time to dismiss Robredo's efforts, putting her in a bad light.

This is why Robredo's volunteer-led campaign proved to be not enough to catapult her – described by the United Kingdom-based BBC as a "dream candidate because of her untarnished public record – to the presidency.

Duterte was successful in weakening and crushing the opposition's power not only in his term but also in the succeeding term. Now, the incoming administration does not have a strong opposition figure, and this does not look good in a democracy.

Further, Duterte's troll network is a testament to just how powerful social media has become; it can make or break a country's democracy. Who would have thought that memes and GIFs as well as made-up words like "Dilawan" and "Pinklawan" can become players in the elections? Trolls’ constant attacks on Liberal Party figures like Robredo, former president Benigno Aquino III, and former senator Mar Roxas strengthened their made-up narratives against the party. This was effective, at least during Duterte's term; only 12 members of the Liberal Party secured seats in the House of Representatives in the 2022 national polls while only 18 got elected in the 2019 midterm polls. In both elections, no senatorial bet from the said party won.

This showed that Duterte was successful in weakening and crushing the opposition's power not only in his term but also in the succeeding term. This was advantageous to him because it became easier for him to do things with little to no criticism.

Now, the incoming administration does not have a strong opposition figure, and this does not look good in a democracy.

But the more looming question to me now remains: How can the opposition bounce back from this?

Silencing the media

Just last June 28, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) affirmed its earlier decision to revoke the certificates of incorporation of Rappler. This to me looked like Duterete's last hurrah before his term ends today – the exclamation mark to his consistent efforts in silencing the media; at the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Duterte’s first major “success” was not controlling the spread of the virus but the closure of ABS-CBN. And then just this month, the National Telecommunications Commission ordered internet service providers to block alternative news websites such as Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.

These attacks on ABS-CBN, Rappler, and alternative news websites were nothing but fierce forms of censorship, and a democratic and republican state with no true press is in danger.

These attacks on ABS-CBN, Rappler, and alternative news websites was nothing but fierce forms of censorship, and a democratic and republican state with no true press is in danger.

What makes matters worse is how the Duterte administration is doing these critical blows effectively. Try to name an administration in recent history that managed to attack the media on this scale, and I bet nothing comes close to Duterte.

Today, many people follow and believe the administration’s false narratives, resulting in lowering trust in the media. The true cost of this can be seen years later when people’s minds have already been polluted by the “news” that they found on unreliable Facebook pages and YouTube channels. Imagine all the decisions that people – and society, in general – will make out of pieces of disinformation disguised as news.

This year’s 2022 national election is already a prelude to the answer.

Killing as a presidential order

And of course, how can we talk about the Duterte Legacy without touching on the "war on drugs" that he invested so heavily in early in his term? I can still remember the chills from 2016, back when I was working on a morning show. Every day, our news cycle would include extrajudicial killings until the numbers went uncountable anymore. These slain human beings became nothing but a mere part of the statistics that defined Duterte's macho-style of the presidency — or mere souvenirs to remember him and his administration by.

But did the anti-narcotics drive solve our drug problem in three to six months, as he brazenly promised? Safe to say it did not; in fact, Duterte himself admitted this. It was, as it turned out, all in vain.

These slain human beings became nothing but a mere part of the statistics that defined Duterte's macho-style of the presidency — or mere souvenirs to remember him and his administration by.

The effects of this "war on drugs" go beyond the illegal substances crisis in the Philippines; it also opened the gates to mass killings, which is why Duterte's COVID-19 action plans especially during the first year of the pandemic relied on police and military force. How deploying armed authorities across the country can kill the virus, I can never know.

Now that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is already set to be proclaimed today as the Philippines's next president, what will he do in response to the failed drug war? Would he cooperate properly with the International Criminal Court in the latter's investigations of Duterte's drug war? Seeing that his vice president is the daughter of the outgoing president, I guess we already know the answer – although I would love to be proven wrong.

Today, we are already witnessing Duterte pass the baton to Marcos. I am looking forward to seeing how Marcos will do in his term. Will he choose the ethical and moral path of acknowledging the role of the opposition, defending press freedom, and upholding human rights, among many other directions that his predecessor chose to ignore? Or will he become the same dog with just a different collar — just like Duterte and his father, the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who were known for their grim history of human rights abuses, corruption, and complete disregard for the law?

We have got six years ahead to wait and see.

Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who writes in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications. He covers cultures, media, and gender. The views expressed are his own.

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