The Economist on the dangers of Duterte


I TAKE a break today from personal journalism to take account of how the outside world saw our recent elections and the victory of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

Although news on the elections was reported far and wide, incisive reporting and commentary was scarce. (There is now a lot more international reporting and comment on Duterte, as his mouth overwhelmed his inhibitions.)

In its issue of May 14, The Economist, the respected international news magazine, published a substantive report and comment on the victory of Duterte in the May 9 elections, and what it portends for the Philippines. The piece is curiously titled, “The Dangers of Duterte.”

Humbling of the Filipino oligarchy

Few Filipinos read it at the time of publication because access to The Economist is by subscription (print and online), and it costs a tidy sum to get a physical copy of the magazine, and partake of its inimitable style and penetrating insights on what’s happening in the world.

Several readers (Filipino and foreign) have called my attention to The Economist report.

I reprint the report here today as a service to readers for two reasons:
First, The Economist concluded perceptively that the elections were essentially a defeat and humbling of the “self-selecting” Filipino oligarchy.

Second, the magazine sees an uncertain and unclear future ahead with Duterte in charge. It concludes its report with these unsettling words: “It is not clear what is to be feared more: Mr Duterte ignoring legal norms and trampling his country’s democratic institutions, or the old elite regrouping to frustrate him, inviting political chaos. The Philippines’ future risks being a mix of both.”

I will write The Economist shortly to inform them that I filched its report for my column. So here is the proof of my transgression.

 The dangers of Duterte

The Economist May 14, 2016
DURING the six years of President Benigno Aquino’s administration, the Philippines has amazed itself and others by being both boring and successful. Once South-East Asia’s chronic underachiever, with a sluggish economy and a politics that puts showmanship over substance, the Philippines belatedly took the path of other, more successful economies. It adopted policies (now there’s a novelty) and these have encouraged foreign investment, spurred spending on infrastructure and boosted consumption. Growth has been a healthy 6% a year, the best among the region’s bigger economies. Jobs have been generated—call centres in the Philippines handle many of the world’s complaints. And social spending has risen even as the national debt has come down. Now all that progress is thrown in doubt with the emphatic election as president of Rodrigo Duterte, a loudmouth pursuing a wildly populist campaign (see Briefing). After the dull-but-sound Mr Aquino, the great risk is that bad old ways are about to return.

Mr Duterte—aka “Duterte Harry” or “the Punisher”—is the long-standing mayor of the city of Davao on the troubled southern island of Mindanao. What he lacks in policymaking interest or experience he made up for during the campaign with the showmanship that had been absent from national politics. Many Filipinos loved it.

He joked about sexual exploits with mistresses and he publicly entertained rape fantasies. In a Catholic country, he made people laugh by saying of Pope Francis that “your mother’s a whore”. He treated allegations of his links to vigilante killings in Davao with pride. And when he promised that he would, as president, dump the corpses of 100,000 gangsters in Manila Bay, the crowd went wild. That claim, a promise to declare a “revolutionary government” if he cannot get his way in pushing through a vaguely defined new “federalism” for the country, plus a vow to shut down Congress if it ever tries to impeach him, are pretty much the only policies he has articulated. Little things like due process, he suggests, are for wimps.

The elites in Manila are in shock at the defeat of their candidates. But they have only themselves to blame. They always found it more pleasant to take the case for liberalisation to Davos than to the millions of Filipinos, especially in the provinces, who have missed out on the fruits of growth. And, in their gated communities in the capital, they failed to grasp how much petty corruption and gun violence blight ordinary lives. The mayor of Davao understood.

The elite rarely mix with ordinary folk, apart from maids, chauffeurs and deferential farm hands who have worked for generations on the vast haciendas of the landowners (such as the clan the Aquinos married into). So they failed to see resentment growing at their wealth and complacency. Shortly before the election, Mr Aquino warned of a return under Mr Duterte to something like the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, (who put the country under martial law, tortured thousands and stole billions). Mr Aquino called on the other presidential candidates to come together to defeat Mr Duterte. They didn’t. Now they should acknowledge that the “people power” revolution in 1986 that unseated Marcos, and put Mr Aquino’s mother in power, has ossified into a self-selecting oligarchy.

Question is how Duterte will govern

Now that the oligarchy has been humbled, the question is how Mr Duterte will govern. In foreign policy his blunt style is cause for concern, at a time when extreme delicacy is needed in responding to China’s high-handed maritime claims in the South China Sea. As for the economy, Mr Duterte’s record in Davao, where he cut crime and encouraged investment, suggests that he may not be opposed to business. Indeed, unlike Donald Trump, to whom he is sometimes likened, he proposes no radical change of economic direction. Rather, he says he will hire the country’s foremost economic brains and put them in charge.

Perhaps that is why the stockmarket bounced on news of his victory. But much remains vague. He is thought to want to scrap competitive bidding for infrastructure contracts. If so, he will frighten off the foreign investment that has underpinned the Philippines’ boom.

With so much uncertain, it is not clear what is to be feared more: Mr Duterte ignoring legal norms and trampling his country’s democratic institutions, or the old elite regrouping to frustrate him, inviting political chaos. The Philippines’ future risks being a mix of both.

‘The Punisher’

The other notable international report on Duterte’s electoral triumph was published by Time magazine in its issue of May 23.

Time rehashed an old cover story on Duterte, which it titled “The Punisher.”

The magazine summed up Duterte as a mix of populist rhetoric and public crudity.

It tellingly underlined Manila’s vital role in Washington’s “rebalancing” to Asia.

A diet of populism and crudity is not likely to sate and govern a nation of 100 million.



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  1. Edwin B pedroso on

    I personally believed that the so called oligarchs of this country no longer detest the takeover of government by the perceived lower class because the process that made it happen is by no means constitutional. Majority of our people now are aware of what is proper and improper. Any mark of irregularity will be met by resistance. In other words leaders from the educated middle class though categorized under the “lower” class is already acceptable to the oligarchs. To connive and start unrest to just to prove the lower class can not manage this government, could be an irreversible mistake that will lead to what happened to all great powers before they became great that is the so called ” bloody revolutions”. We have passed the test of being reasonable citizens during the People Power. Let us try this new government for offering solutions to the ills of our society which has victimized us all by dividing us as a people. Give us the lower class a chance by withholding the unsheathing of the sword of war. After all it is us, the Lower Class who do the shedding of blood. The oligarchs will pay some of us to do the dying and for those who choose to fight for this government will die a hero? No winner really. We as a country is the loser.

  2. Heneral Luna on

    Every Person has their own unique persona. How to become a Leader/President?

    He led Davao for the past 20 years, street lingo for street thugs/outlaws.

    as Madam Senator Miriam said – these utterances are “hyperbole”.

    Use more of critical thinking, some comments are superficial. Stop being spoonfed by media, most of them are sensationalized reporting.

    Now is the time for Change, Start in ourselves!

  3. In times like these all we can do is imitate the Lord Jesus who, prior to his ignominious passion and death, prayed not for his will but for his Father’s will be done. God is a loving and merciful Father. He knows what is best for his children. So, let us trust him as Jesus did. Let us pray for our new President that the Holy Spirit may be his unfailing light and guide during his coming presidency.

    • Let’s hope that people are not going to sit around praying for god to solve all the problems in the Philippines.

  4. The first thing Duterte should do is go after and jail the pork barrel thieves from Aquino’s term and conduct a complete investigation of the 150 billion DAP Fund. He should seize the Comelec servers and conduct a system audit to install the real winners of the elections.

    This will force Aquino and his liberal party to move faster than they would like to impeach Duterte with Robredo replacing him as president.

  5. Alfred B. Virtudazo on

    Let us give Duterte the chance to prove himself. Lets wait and see in six years time. He made it in Davao in 20 years time maybe he can do it in 6 years. For me continuity is key.

    • Davao is no different than the other cities in the Philippines.

      Murder rates among the highest in the world.

      Cebu – 93 murders per 100,000

      Zamboanga – 81 murders per 100,000

      Davao – 71 murders per 100,000

      Gen Santos – 71 murders per 100,000

      New York City – 7 murders per 100,000

      United Kingdom – 1 murder per 100,000

      It’s more fun in the Philippines ?

  6. arnel amador on

    i did not continue reading the economist report because it appears that they don’t know the real score in ph. the victory of prez digong says it all. whatever amazement the limited circle of the economist felt only showed that gains in ph economy is only belong to limited cirlcle, in which the economist also belong. for us living outside the high fence of the rich and famous do not need to contend it’s report. we are not the recipient of those figures they got. day in, day out, our pocket does’t change. our only wish is to come home alive and sleep well at night…

  7. Steve Baker on

    The Economist at one time was a credible journal – no more. Today, it is nothing more than a condescending apologist for the bloated, welfare state. I would take whatever it says with a grain of salt.

  8. Amnata Pundit on

    The Economist is magazine of the powers that be that rule the Western world, and as such, if there is a plan to destabilize Duterte who is clearly not their man, then this magazine will be one of the first to know. Read the last paragraph again: we are being forewarned.

  9. Whatever the Economist writes will not matter. It is just another foreign publication that looks at things from thousands of kilometers away. Parachute journalism as usual.

  10. Rudi Miranda on

    Thank you Mr. Yen Makabenta! And, no thanks to The Economist. I always wonder why many Filipinos and some journalists would rather want readers to read foreign opinions about the Filipinos. Please, let us write our own story. The Economist article is just like a ‘Daang Matuwid’ apologist black propaganda gossip.

    • The readers wants the truth in news reporting not a slanted one being done here in our country. Your idol , the presumptive president, the other week said that our media is corrupt, now you want us to ignore local news written by foreign correspondent? These foreign correspondents are vetted among the local reporters. Are you just pretending or really ignorant of what are you saying…

  11. It seems to me that almost all the critics of the incoming President focus on him and not his goals to get rid of corruption in government, drug dealers and other criminals. It gives the appearance they are in favor of the corruption and not against the corruption. This country, without the corruption in government, can prosper above and beyond all past governments.

  12. Allen Llamar on

    What your grind against him Mr. Makabenta, your reaserching just about every periodicals just to justify your editorials.

    Your beloved candidate is lost gone couldn`t win, adios, e.g.(Roxas, Poe and Binay) get over it, this is the time we can have a bisayan Pres. and you bringing him down you are just a fine example of a PINOy CRAB MENTAL, pag umaangat hihilihan pababa.

    Your a low life man, got no balls using your pen to destroy others this a 2nd type of low life journalism according to Pres. Duterte a mouth piece of vintage interests group and it is you.

  13. A more independent foreign policy would be welcome…the USA has bases all around China and makes threatening statements towards China, yet we’re suppose to believe China is the aggressor??? Using an American law firm to take your case to Hague arbitration court is a bit much. STOP being a vassal state-find more reliable allies. All the best to a Duterte presidency….give him your support.

  14. ERAP was very popular back then just like DUTERTE.
    the senate president at the time of erap was a PIMENTEL. it’s another PIMENTEL duterte.


    what do you think may happen under this new government?

  15. Bullshit magazines ang pag lago ng ekonomiya ng pilipinas na sinasabi mo ay hindi ramdam ng sambayanang pilipino, ang serbisyo ng gobyerno ay worst ever since at halos lahat ay mga kurakot, mga gago kayo kainin mo yang magazine mo, kupal!!

  16. It is really a big gamble. Question to ask : Will the military let Duterte violate the Constitution ? Will the Oligarch let Duterte run our economy ? Will the US let Duterte run this country the way he likes ? And the biggest question, will the temper of Duterte be controlled by anybody , his wife or his daughter ?

    • He is not serving yet…..too early to judge…….The President can will suspend the Habeas Corpus is valid enough and declare military zone if the Philippine is in Danger …..

  17. The Economist don’t know what it is talking about. For sure it was not referring to the Philippines because I and majority of the people of the Philippines didn’t even noticed nor experienced that illusion of a healthy 6% growth of our our economy. I can’t vouched for that personally because I am here when these writers are out there looking inside. It’s all bloated data beyond comprehension because all we experienced really are the hazardous effects of mismanaged agencies from the top posts to the lowest echelon of every gov’t. Offices. We have traffic nightmares on a daily basis (being stuck in traffic for hours translates to billions of pesos loss in terms of productivity, fuel, and opportunity), corruption in congress (we paid the senators who impeached corona by P 50 m each except for 3) , the current gov’t cannot account for funds disbursed under the corrupt ridden DAP running into trillions of pesos, the mrt-lrt mess which cost us taxpayers of millions of pesos with a disaster type of service, the looting in customs and immigrations, the incompetence in NAIA, and more and we could go on and on with these miseries for the last 6 years and the Economist said we grew by 6%…bwakang…na nyo!!!…mga ulol…kung yan Lang nag laman Ng magazine nyo…it will be of better use in the toilet…pweeee…

    • rodolfo paulino on

      well said!. . they don’t know what’s happening here.. and most of all they are not Filipinos. . .let them go to hell. . Duterte is still in Davao. . he will be the President at the end of June. . give him a chance. . give a chance to 16 million Filipinos who voted him as President. . .anak ng pagong! nakaka-high blood kayo!

    • Archie Hyde on

      Your comments and observations about this article and the state of the Philippines under the non-existent management of Aquino is 100% correct! No one else has provide the resolutions for the ailing Pinas economy and social problems that Duterte has down, the rest of the presidential contenders and the elite were for business as usual because it is in their self interest…..especially Roxas and his Liberal Party and those oligarchs who own all the shopping malls! As for the 6% annual growth this was off the backs of the Filipino overseas workers who pumped US23 billion cash into the economy each year and nothing to do with any non-existent “good management” practices of Aquino or his Liberal Party! Indeed Aquino and his bunch of political crocodiles just laid back and learn to manage corruption better to more efficiently steal from the masses…this suited the oligarchs and elites as it left them with full control of the cookie jar to make the Philippines a paradise for their retail mall operations and keep foreign competition out of the Philippines unless it was under their control…The next 6 months will be very interesting as Duterte is carrying the hopes and dreams of 90% of the Filipino population for a fair and equitable country on his shoulders! I also know a lot of foreign investors are also wishing for his success in bringing Pinas into being as a level playing field as they can see the potential the Philippines has in achieving growth well over 6%.

    • it’s not the govts fault if you didnt progress despite 6% growth in production.

  18. Will Duterte Survive the Presidency!

    Does Duterte degrades the office of the President with his manners, behavior and talks laced with profanities, impulse-driven statements on variety of topics of significance or not, big or little impact on governance? I very much think so!
    Duterte’s foul-mouth, cussing, cursing and catcalling in public well-documented by media, especially against the church, media and business oligarchs and killing criminals without due process, looks like the pre-cursor of his presidential conduct though he promised to morphose mildly while in office.
    My question and great concern is that did the 16 million voters for Duterte became enthralled by Duterte’s trash talks of killing criminals and drug lords, speeches of cursing the Pope, and using the F-word, mother whore, even though his governance policy is obscured by this abhorrent behaviour!
    Duterte’s election mandate is not supported by the majority even if he garnered 16 million votes since the rest or the other 24million (Roxas-9 million; Poe-8million; BINAY-5million and Santiago-2million) voted AGAINST him!
    This indicates that 24 million voters will be closely watching and will sharply scrutinize his behaviour and governance and policies, and will oppose him if they contravenes with the interest of the majority populace, business interest and the democratic ideals of the nation. It does not follow that Duterte’s staying power as Davao mayor for 22 years and election as President means he is great! No sir! The people who voted for him just wanted “changes” for the better than to stick to “status quo”. Pnoy, the even less than mediocre President, will leave no legacy at all, whose slogan of “daang Matuwid” is just a zigzagging road to perdition that people opted for a drastic change (like improving the poor’s living condition and rising crimes, drug infested communities, murders, carnappings, riding-in-tandem killings) that they hope Duterte will bring to an immediate drastic and dramatic end!
    However, recent events has shown Duterte enjoying his rantings against the media, church, big businesses, statement of shutting down Congress, if and when it blocks his political agenda. Further, his cabinet composition have allocated top posts for the CPP, MILF and MNLF in the name of peace.
    In this process, Duterte is stepping hard on the toes of the right wing of society like the anti-communists, anti-MNLF and anti-Bangsangmoro Group, like the military, police, the church and big businesses. It is possible that Duterte may ruffle the feathers of the elite oligarchs, church and the rightists and form a group to mass-protest for the ouster of Duterte. This group can come from the 24 millions voters who voted against Duterte despite his 16 million gullible electorate and a supermajority Congress to support him.
    Duterte’s unorthodox crudity in office will reflect adversely on the nation for disrespecting the office of the President for his vulgar, unbecoming manners, foul-mouth, undiplomatic approach to media interactions and disregard of the rule of law and human rights!
    If Duterte does not morphose into a tamed leader, he might not be able to survive the six-year term in the office and may find himself out of Malacanan and in the street gutter which he after all will deserve!
    Anyway he declared he does not give a damn as he is prepared to loose the Presidency or his life or his honor, if he has one!
    Good luck Duterte may your tribe decrease!

    • If Erap Estrada was removed with 40 percent plus of voters, it is so easy for a people power on a 32 percent plus on voters. You cannot rely on the temperament of Pilipino voters. I truthfully like for Duterte to succeed . I do not like people power again because it creates instability to all parties. Erap is no match to Duterte if we base it on temperament. Erap has more class being a movie actor. Duterte is a loose cannon. He is a gutter politician. I have not seen a person much less a presidents that talks and acts like Duterte.

    • That is why 16M voted him since they believed the capability of Duterte to stop the growing crimes and corruption of this country as per his experience as executive on the troubled Mindanao. They believed we need iron hand to break the skull of our lawless countrymen. The 24M who did not vote for Duterte should repect the outcome. Blame the multiparty system for creating such divisions among the us. I do not vote for Duterte, but as a citizen to our country Philippines, it is my duty to respect and support the the elected president. Lets give him his chance to prove his worth before we make criticisms. If we criticise our leader even before he sits, what kind of subordinate are we? This is why we dont progress as a nation since we are greatly divided. Leni has her support for Duterte. We should be like her.

    • The biggest measurement is Dutertes control in our country. Will he enforce the mandate given by 16 plus million voters. My opinion is there is anarchy everywhere , in the streets, the barangays, public officials, drugs, traffic and government spending. Can he fix this monumental problem. To Duterte, it is not only drugs that is destroying this country. It is CORRUPTION. As far as I know, no president was able to solve this problem.

  19. ernie del rosario on

    You seem to have concluded from the Time magazine article the following: “A diet of populism and crudity is not likely to sate and govern a nation of 100 million.”

    Let’s see first before we conclude. It is still 21 days before Duterte assumes office.

    Although the meaning of crudity seems clear enough, The Free Dictionary which serves more than 8 million visitors included the following as one of the 7 definitions offered: “Statistics in an unanalyzed form; not adjusted to allow for related circumstances or data.”

    Isn’t it possible that the author from Time just as many come-and-go foreign “parachutist” journalists in writing his article just landed and hanged around the bars of the top hotels in Manila and drew his conclusions from his interviews of Filipino oligarch habitues of these places on the basis of statistics in an unanalyzed form and not adjusted to allow for related circumstance and data not found in expensive hotel bars ?

  20. Rio Legaspi on

    I will not assume that only few Pilipinos read the article, I read Time magazine issue on Duterte and I am reading The Economist also, that is the consequences of working abroad.

    Honestly, I am a critique of our government starting with the dictator, to Cory up to Pinoy. My generalization in all this governing mishap was the root cause which is the moral fo u nation of our country. Religion is the one to blame in all this scenario. Why? Because it weakened the reasoning power of the people resulting to creation of oligarchy. The government and the Church are the culprits to sum it up resulting to weaken all institutions and peoples integrity.

    While the elite are relaxed and abvocating freedom of speech, most of their time are occupied on how to enrich themselves. From real journalist down to ordinary citizen, government criticism was the in all corner. The point is the government does not count it as a threat until this person (Duterte) came into the spotlight!

    After the election; I stoped my own opinion writing in my FB account, due to only one reason:

    1. Following daily news on him, I am almost tempted to voice out my opinion, in the end I controlled myself not do do so because for now:negative utterances are not facts and valid. I will consider it as a strategy testing the water if it is hot indeed! The person is of different character and his bad mouth is his gateway in winning this election. Above all, my opinion will be useless because he is not a ligitimate president at the moment! Not to mention the psychology that he wants attention also and he is good in pissing off the status quo. I had a clue also that he will never heed advice, so it’s quite a waste to criticize him for now not to mention that is is only verbal! (I am not talking about his past stunt in Davao for past 20 years), that one is real and criticism is applicable. His doing right now is a test on who is with him and who is not, this person is a game player indeed!

    Later on I render my own opinion and analisis when his bad mouthing was put into actions and reality. Of course the danger is real.

    • The biggest question is will his persona change drastically when he assumes presidency ? I am a student and a follower of human nature. My answer is no. A person does not change overnight. He is what he is. Better brace yourself for 6 very long years. You got what you paid for. When a person buys a cheap second hand car, expect problems, ver big problems.

    • Angelina Ang on

      Old Habits Never Die

      “Watch your thoughts; they become words.
      Watch your words; they become actions.

      Watch your actions; they become habits.
      Watch your habits; they become character.

      Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. ”

      We can only pray for a KARMA to come in due course of time

    • @To The Max

      He doesn’t need to change. He changed Davao to be one of the best cities in the Philippines. If he can make our streets more safer like in Davao city. I’m fine whatever bad mouthing he does.
      Moreso, the Peso got stronger. Druglords are offering big money for his head.

    • Davao is no better than the other cities in the Philippines.

      Murder rates among the highest in the world.

      Cebu – 93 murders per 100,000

      Zamboanga – 81 murders per 100,000

      Davao – 71 murders per 100,000

      Gen Santos – 71 murders per 100,000

      New York City – 7 murders per 100,000

      How is it better ?

  21. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    08 June 2016

    Not many Filipinos are able to read The Economist which easily is one of the best magazines in the whole world for the very high quality of its reports, articles and editorials.

    So, I sincerely compliment Yen Makabenta for doing the Filipino people, the Manila Times readers in particular, a big favor for quoting that particular article in The Economist “on the dangers of Duterte.”

    If a President Rodrigo Duterte runs true to form, which is the despotic if not lawless way he pursued as the 20-year Mayor of Davao City, It is possible that the Philippines is facing what the historian ARNOLD TOYNBEE characterizes as “a time of troubles.”

    He vows to kill 100,000 corrupt Filipinos–with him as the sole judge–and dump their carcasses in the Manila Bay “to fatten the sharks.”

    He has encouraged Filipinos–who are civilians not policemen!–to kill drug pushers, a blanket authority he gives without benefit of law, which will easily make it possible for these civilians who have grudges or scores to settle with their enemies to kill these–and justify their lawless acts as following Duterte’s mandate for them to kill “drug pushers!”

    He has no tolerance let alone sympathy for “corrupt” journalists who deserve to be ASSASSINATED! And he warns journalists not “to cover him.” Under a Duterte regime, press freedom and freedom of expression could be suppressed–making it possible for any crime a President Duterte may commit willy-nilly not to be exposed.

    And that’s not all.


  22. This is a new era in the history of Philippine politics. Mayor Rody Duterte’s rise to power is because the so called elite of the Philippine Society failed to understand the needs, the cry for justice of the Filipinos from all sector of livelihood, from the small barrios of every locality to the mainstream of the cities. Yes they failed the expectation of the filipinos that they will have a glorious life after the rise of President Aquino. Now they will be History, and another page, a new one will start all over again. Will President Duterte be successful in his quest? Only time can tell. We can only hope for the better.

    • Let this be clear to all Pilipinos, Duterte won because the Liberal party political machinery failed to destroy Duterte or too late to destroy Duterte. Remember, VP Binay was the sure bet to be our next president 3 years ago. Nobody can beat VP Binay that that. Liberal party destroyed Binay thru corruption hearings in the senate. Next victim was Grace Poe with 40 percent approval rating. Sure bet even Erap was pushing for Grace. Liberal party destroyed Grace for Citizenship and residency problem. After that it was sent to Supreme Court but by time time, Grace is so down she cannot campaign. She was destroyed. 2 weeks before election, a ad by Trillanes against Duterte was shown on TV. A few days of showing the ads, the courts stop the ad. Thanks to Senator Cayetano. Next was the bank account of Duterte 5 days before election. But the voters made up their mind. Too late. If these was done 6 months prior to election, I am 100 percent sure that Duterte will lose.