Why Duterte had to happen

Published June 25, 2022, 5:00 PM

by AA Patawaran

As the 16th President of the Philippines gives way to his successor on June 30, is he turning over a nation much better than he found it?

In 2016, in the 16th presidential elections since 1935, 16 million Filipinos voted Rodrigo Roa Duterte for president.

Compared to his contenders, this former mayor of Davao City was little known. He was up against national figures—then Vice President Jejomar Binay, the senators Grace Poe and Miriam Defensor Santiago, and then secretary of interior and local government Mar Roxas.

Duterte campaigned on a hardline anti-crime platform, but he also promised genuine change. Change was reason enough to drop the tried and tested for 16 million voters. No longer under the spell of the trappings of leadership, they chose this tough-talking candidate, who couldn’t be bothered with such things as presidential comportment or the rules of dressing or political correctness, even good manners.

One year into his presidency, Duterte invited 12 bloggers to Malacañan Palace. I wasn’t a blogger, but I was one of them. I wasn’t exactly a supporter either, a fan as I have always been of eloquence, wide vocabulary, personal style, and good bearing.

This audience with the President ran from a 7 p.m. dining engagement, where we were served almondigas soup, rellenong bangus, and pandan cake to a 3 a.m. “merienda” of pancit canton and pan de coco at the presidential residence Bahay Pagbabago, formerly Bahay Pangarap, across the Ilog Pasig.

ODE TO DUTERTE Cover design by Jules Vivas, Illustration by Pinggot Zulueta

At one point, because I found him very fatalistic, saying things like “I don’t need to finish my term, they can assassinate me or remove me from power, or I can die any day now because I’m old,” I told Duterte, “But you owe it to the people to finish your term.” Also, short of saying I wasn’t exactly his supporter, I said to him, “Maybe we do not need a good president, what we need is a president, who inspires us to be better people.”

That evening he struck me as very shy, and self-effacing, the total opposite of the former Presidents I have had the opportunity to be up close and personal with, who seemed to be so aware of their power, who seemed so sure of their place in the room. While having our photographs together, I realized belatedly that I had my arm around the shoulders of the President of the Philippines, so very subtly, as the cameras clicked, I slid my arm down, thinking it would be inappropriate to post a photo of us together on social media like we were just drinking buddies.

Duterte was also self-deprecatory. When we asked him if he read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War because “your moves are so Art of War,” he shook his head. “Ang mga librong binabasa ko nung college, mga Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Harold Robbins (The books I read in college were the likes of Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Harold Robbins),” he said.

No longer under the spell of the trappings of leadership, they chose this tough-talking candidate, who couldn’t be bothered with such things as presidential comportment or the rules of dressing or political correctness, even good manners.

I openly supported President Duterte for 100 days, the prescribed honeymoon period for an elective official, only making occasional political posts when I felt very strongly about certain issues, such as our relations with the US, or reproductive health, or the church’s involvement in politics. At the height of the pandemic, when fear was at an all-time high, I was so disappointed that I did not hear from Duterte what I wanted to hear—a carefully worded message of comfort and reassurance—that I called some of my friends in government and said, “Why don’t you tell him to just stick to the script?” One of them said, “Hindi siya ganyan (He’s not like that), but he is working really hard trying to get us through this. And he really listens to the experts.”

My anti-Duterte friends would sometimes corner me to ask, “Why do you support Duterte?” I would tell them when not in the mood to explain myself, “At this point in our history, like a revolution, Duterte has to happen.”

I admit that sometimes when I say that, I mean we get what we deserve. I mean why do we expect light in a country we have plunged into darkness? After all these decades of leaving the running of our country in the wrong hands, why do we expect something good? Why do we expect to find a good leader in a bad nation, a nation of bad people, for whom abuse of authority, corruption, inefficiency, and myopic vision are the accepted norm?”

But really what I mean is that we do need a President who isn’t so high up there, perched on higher ground, perched on a high horse even, whose understanding of the condition of the Filipino people is drawn from books or the reports of his think tank, whose members often are as far removed, if not further removed, from the people.

What I mean is we do need a President who doesn’t care about appearances, who doesn’t care about the consequences of standing up to the powers-that-be, like the US, the Catholic Church, the oligarchs, who control everything.

So now it’s 2022. Duterte, as it turns out, is about to finish his term. On this page, we’re looking at what he has done over the past six years in more concrete terms, such as numbers, and let it speak of whether or not he is turning over to his successor a nation much better than he found it when he took his turn at Malacañang six years ago.

Below is but a fraction of the achievements of the Duterte administration.

BALANGIGA BELLS A war booty of the US Army, the Balangiga Bells finally made it back to the Philippines, a milestone in world diplomacy


ACCESS TO FREE TERTIARY EDUCATION Signed are the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act that grants free college education in all state universities and colleges, as well as the Doktor Para sa Bayan Act that supports medical scholarships. The President also institutionalized the alternative learning system, established transnational higher education in the country, and signed the Free internet Access in Public Places Act


PUBLIC COMFORT The Diesel Multiple unit train, part of the North-South Commuter Railway project of the DOTR and the Duterte administration, unveiled. The introduction of bullet trains in the country is one of the various efforts in improving the transportation sector


MISSION IMPOSSIBLE On April 26, 2018, one of the country’s major tourist destinations, Boracay was temporarily closed to the general public as part of the government’s efforts to rehabilitate and redevelop the island. Also accomplished was the cleanup of Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay


DEPARTMENT OF MIGRANT WORKERS In support of OFWs is the establishment of one-stop service centers, OFW bank, OFW hospital, and OFW housing


INFRASTRUCTURE The Build, Build, Build program, as of writing, has completed 29,264 kilometers of roads, 5,950 bridges, 11,340 flood control projects, 150,149 classrooms, 214 airport projects, and 451 seaport projects


TAX REFORMS Signed into law are the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE), as well as the Innovative Startup Act, among others, to aid the ailing economy


UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE The Universal Health Care Law grants all Filipinos ‘immediate eligibility’ and access to the full spectrum of health care, including preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative care


LAND DISTRIBUTION Distribution of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) to farmers in Bangsamoro, Negros Occidental, etc.


GEOPOLITICAL SHIFT Manila pivoted to Beijing without losing Washington’s support, and our new place in Asia’s geopolitics opens us up to other diplomatic heavyweights like the EU, even Russia



ART FOR ALL Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) outreach programs in the provinces


TOURISM The Philippines’ travel and tourism contribution to the economy is considered the fourth fastest-growing in the world in 2021, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council



PANDEMIC DEATH TOLL Is at a minimum compared to other progressive countries. The Philippines has a 0.05 percent Covid-related deaths of the total population (110M) in contrast to the US with 0.29 percent of total population (350M) and Brazil with 0.33 percent of total population (220M)