The Philippines: ‘Dancing with Duterte’

President Duterte cutting the rug? [Photo source: Getty Images by Ryan McVay]

By JoeAm

There is a dance going on.

It is fairly obvious what is happening in the Philippines, even if the nation’s journalists are lost in awe over the plaza decorations rather than the dancing. And the nation’s people are lost in slumber over there under the mango tree, believing that a macho poser will take better care of them than freedom will.

In the Philippines, dynasties are often forever. Once power is obtained, it is retained. Power begets power. President Duterte is no different. He has the power now and no constitution or liberal democratic ideologue is going to drag it out of his family.

It also looks to me like President Duterte is the “Dance King” of the Philippines, being quite busy twirling three different dances at the same time, all with the end game of retaining power.

Dance #1: The Martial Law Two-Step

The President has been trying from Day 1 to conjure up an enemy so substantial that it would require the response of nationwide martial law. Once nationwide martial law is in place, he can remove any and all objection . . . and objectors . . . jail ’em, shoot ’em, pay ’em off. The nation is his.

He started with drug users as the enemy. Well, the bloodletting turned people against that war so he had to back off. Then ISIS came into Marawi and radical Muslims were the foil, but that just turned Mindanao over to martial law. Then, the NPA, street protesters, and ‘yellows’ threatened the (amazingly fragile) state’s stability. And just a couple of weeks ago, it was “crime” that had become the nation’s enemy, with the President claiming that “radical change” was coming (Malacañang: ‘Radical changes’ related to fight vs drugs, crime; Rappler).

Each attempt to exert authority has generated loud protest, requiring the Administration to “walk it back” and deny that nationwide martial law is being considered.


Then why not show the Philippines as a strong nation rather than one under attack by so many enemies?

Dance #2: The Federalism Fandango

Well, Federalism is not really the idealistic form of government it is touted to be, is it? I mean, if the idea is to empower local governments, why have Marawi and Boracay been taken FROM local governments? Clearly, Federalism is a vehicle, not an ideal. And the vehicle is the transitional powers that would be assigned to President Duterte. Those powers, in the doing, would become permanent.

The federalism initiative is struggling along because the Constitutional Committee doing the writing has some honorable characters on it, and because the Senate is not on board with the idea. Why would senators vote for a measure that would toss them out of their jobs? Then we have the real deal killer, that surveys of the public indicate that most Filipinos do not agree to Federalism.

So this particular fandango is tripping along with too many feet under the twirling President.

Dance #3: The Duterte Hip Hop

As with any mayoral election, the method is to threaten, cheat, buy, or otherwise game the election process to a certain outcome. For President Duterte, this means putting in place a president in 2022 who will pardon him and his cohorts in constitutional crime and keep authority within the family.

This is problematic because the Duterte family has competition, perhaps foremost from the Marcos, Arroyo, and Poe camps, and from that outlier Alan Cayetano who seems destined to write the family name into the diplomatic dirt in the meantime. And then there is the opposition, perhaps best represented by Vice President Robredo, but these ‘yellows’ are not really the dirty players we typically find in local elections. So they are weak.

My guess is that President Duterte will keep it in the family, and we will see the conscious and planned elevation of Sara Duterte onto the national stage over the next few years. In fact, it was recently announced that she will accompany the President on his overseas trips to prevent any more diplomatic gaffes like “the Korean Kiss” (Daughter to accompany Duterte on foreign trips; Gulf News Philippines). And she might show up on the 2019 senatorial ballot, which would be an excellent platform from which to run in 2022.

Well, hop hop is a tad wild with so many people on the dance floor who have to be bumped aside so that Sara can swing. But it is doable, within the system.

The Democratic Waltz

There are some other dancers on the floor, too. They favor the smooth harmonies of laws and democratic principles and decency. They want a government that is productive and fair. They are thankful for freedom of expression and believe they can compete well if given opportunities for education and employment.

These democratic dancers will argue that democracy is healthier and better for Filipinos than a dynasty. It will feed people better. It will make sure they have due process and human rights that other nations guarantee their people. It will inspire them through achievement rather than order them about.

This particular ballroom delight is slow. It will take four years to see who the next Dance King or Dance Queen might be.

The dance floor . . . for now, anyway . . . is open to anyone.


39 Responses to “The Philippines: ‘Dancing with Duterte’”
  1. No Peking Opera yet for now.

    Good thing. Too strange tunes.

  2. NHerrera says:

    Nice. Now we are into dancing. Dancing away our troubles — and Duterte’s troubles. Filipinos penchant for instant gratification seems to detour now to a looming instant dissatisfaction. Or am I dreaming from too much beer and dancing?

    The full-scope democratic dance is still the way to go.

    Irineo, re Peking Opera or Chinese Music, our ears just have to get used to it. But not to worry PTV will make sure we get used to it.

  3. edgar lores says:

    1. I like the metaphor of dance and the alliteration of “dancing with Duterte.”

    2. We are, of course, graceful bamboo dancers, nimbly stepping out of the threat of being caught in the trap of two closing bamboo poles.

    3. The “tinikling” is supposed to be the national dance. What are the threatening bamboo poles to the Filipino way of life?

    3.1. Corruption is the major cause for most of our ills. Poverty. Criminality. Traffic. No due process. No peace of mind.

    3.2. And as if existential threats were not enough, there is the specter of China becoming the clickers of the bamboo poles. Right now, Duterte & Company are the clickers, and they are clicking at a faster pace. Many have died.

    4. In addition to the “tinikling,” I believe the dominant dance under the Duterte regime is “itik-itik.” This is the simple mimetic dance of a duck’s movements with “short choppy steps and splashing water onto its back while attracting a mate.”

    4.1. The honorable members of Congress are afraid to stand up for the nation and are silently ducking their heads. And the citizenry are sitting ducks.

    • What is interesting to me is that, like Arroyo before, President Duterte is struggling to get his way. I think martial law is greatly opposed by a lot of people (AFP, for instance, and a number of senators), federalism is likely to die a slow, ineffectual death, leaving only the due process of elections. Well, that is not certain, either. But it says that the ‘opposition’ needs to have a strong election campaign, and do what they can do to stop candidates from buying positions or rigging the ballot boxes.

  4. karlgarcia says:

    Because the trains( martial law and federalism )keep breaking down, the Duterte regime can not do the Train Dance.
    Even if they try to rail road it.

    • Ha, yes. What I find disconcerting is how nasty the government’s people are, with Uson’s threats against yellows, Sassot’s unbelievable slanders, the National Youth Commission head’s fake statement about Vice President Robredo. I don’t know if they are desperate, trying to stir up opposition, or are just plain evil people. I also note that there was an article today about Bong Bong Marcos’ presidential aspirations. I suppose he could swing a deal with President Duterte for a guaranteed pardon. But I think Sara Duterte Carpio is more likely the President’s choice. Marcos is rather like Sotto, a flash point for objection.

      • karlgarcia says:

        It is unfortunate that Uson and Sassot never tires of doing what they do.

        I think with Sara joking or not that she will go by family tradition and decide two months before the polls, she will run for Senator in 2019.
        Lastly,if we are talking about guaranteed pardons, then she is the number one choice.☹️

      • NHerrera says:

        We may sometimes give too much credit to what a President can do even one with authoritarian tendencies. Ultimately, he is a creature of the environment he operates in, and as already noted there are evolving dark clouds on the setting Duterte operates in. The BBB program and the TRAIN associated with it has to contend with international events — US Fed moves, tariff war, oil price movement, and the continuous fiascos associated with Chinese loans aka debt traps in third world countries. There is of course the glaring inconsistencies of the supposed propagandized benign effects of inflation and China’s WPS behavior contrasted with actual events — in the latter, the harassment of Filipino Fishermen by the Chinese navy, a gut issue. This environment working against the regime is not mitigated by the usual “tool” authoritarian regimes have ready recourse: an Armed Forces willing to be totally used — which is not the case. Even the Senate — Sotto notwithstanding — may not be as pliant as before.

        • Yes, I think you are right. The closer we get to the 2019 elections, the more we may find senators starting to split with the Duterte line. Some of the issues (WPS, EJKs, fake news propaganda, TRAIN) may become toxic for them.

  5. caliphman says:

    The two dance scenarios do depict the two main ongoing strategies Duterte is pursuing to exercise power beyond what the constitution allows. I would however differentiate between the current period where his primary emphasis is to consolidate power and to pursue his national agenda and priorities. The consolidation process is largely done with the legislative and the judicial branches which were constitutional checks to that power now largely under his sway, pun intended. This without the use of military force or constitutional changes but the threats of which are a reminder to the government and political leadership that their positions and powers are at risk if they do not dance to his tunes. What is perhaps missing from these scenarios is that the emphasis will shift from power consolidation to perpetuation as the constitutional end of Duterte’s term nears. Like Marcos and other dictators, power and if not its perks , corrupts and Duterte with his signature appeal of living simply will be no exception. Like Marcos, if the regime senses that its political,popular, and electoral grip is in decline and prospects for reelection or voting in a surrogate are dim even with massive cheating, then the extraconstitutional strategies become primary alternatives. The best hope for those pushing for a democratic dance is that the regime will not preserve power by extraconstitutional means but will risk the same electoral process that ushered it in. How likely is that dance happening? Maybe if Duterte remains trusted and popular.. Even if he is reelected, it may not be all bad if the vote is fair and reflects the democratic will of the people, or at least a lawful plurality of them. Fool me once…etc.

    • Very interesting and I would say plausible scenario. It is rather like the schoolyard bully . . . or China . . . who says “I’m taking it, whatcha gonna do about it?”. . . calculating that people will do nothing.

    • NHerrera says:

      In all Administrations post-Cory, all have been subjected to charges for one thing or another. To add to the note — if not perpetuation, there is the necessity of at least living in relative peace till natural demise comes. If a non-Duterte President, is elected there is a big likelihood of charges being made on Duterte for a myriad of items we do not have to enumerate. The strategy may then evolve, at the very least, to the instinctive need for survival. Not that he is alone in this: others of his cohorts have that need to; and so these like minds may cook themselves something to prevent their ruin.

  6. Quaddie says:

    Sorry if this is a bit out of topic. I just wanted to share this article from the Sydney Morning Herald.

    Beijing uses infrastructure as friendly forerunner of political power

    Link is here:

    • Thanks for that info, Quaddie. I know tensions between Australia and China are ratcheting up. Even commercial developments are mainly Chinese-benefit, critics say, citing a 28 story construction project rising in Fiji that employs almost 100% Chinese workers. For sure, the Philippines should do an audit of the programs and immigration patterns into the nation from China to verify that work that could be done by Filipinos is not being done by Chinese workers.

    • NHerrera says:

      Thanks for posting the link. The ideas contained in the link is not new but nice to read a variation of the theme of China’s pattern of moves or strategy especially directed on the vulnerable countries, the PH included.

      To a certain extent, Trump’s moves on trade against China — unfortunately done also to allies — may be a counter to this strategy of China. With its economy restrained, more than it does US in the trade war underpinned by a barrier placed on China’s intellectual property thefts, China has to adjust this Pac-mannish behavior. However, this counter may not be enough, especially since Trump is erratic in his moves — example being his moves on ZTE.

      • The ZTE case is not over yet, as US Congress appears to oppose the Trump action to let ZTE off the hook. I suspect the legislators are being lobbied hard by American business interests.

        • NHerrera says:

          Thanks for the info. Therein lies the difference. The Legislators there are not totally restrained.

  7. madlanglupa says:

    What horrible timing. Might as well make Rizal breakdance in his tomb.

  8. Andres 2018. says:

    “Bilog ang mundo.”

  9. NHerrera says:

    The Game of Chicken aka Trade War goes merrily along. Against a bully, the little fellow is probably well advised to back down. But between the US and China, neither would want to be seen as the one to swerve while the other barrel through.

    Meantime the little fellows may get trampled down. To our Economic Managers: how will this weather affect our part of the world?

  10. Zen says:

    I like this much, more like my cup of tea on the Philippine scenario through analogy. Thanks Joe. By the way did you see this 71 year old actually dance? He doesn’t enjoy it more than his karaoke. Maybe this old man has become tired, too tired for his age maybe and conscience is bearing him down, too. He must know his many shortcomings even if psychopaths don’t normally. That alone for me is too much to wrestle with, he has gone beyond all guilt of conscience that himself, his Fentanyl, nor his minions can assuaged.

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