American professor discusses President Duterte’s successes and popularity
by Rommel Conclara, ABS-CBN News
Dr. Mark Thompson, PhD — head of the Department of Asian and International Studies and director of the Southeast Asia Research Centre at the City University of Hong Kong — recently addressed the students and faculty at UC Berkeley about the early presidency of Rodrigo Duterte.
Thompson — who has authored several books and articles on the history of Philippine politics — calls Duterte’s campaign very strategic.
He cites how even though Duterte entered the race late, the President was very effective in putting criminality as a major concern over poverty and the economy.
Also, Thompson adds that Duterte was running against opponents who had their own problems.
“There were a lot of weaknesses in what I call the liberal reformist order,” said Thompson. “Even though Noynoy Aquino was personally very popular. He wasn’t seen as involved in any scandals with his family or friends… but the whole political order he represented had run into serious difficulties, due to infrastructure problems and pork barrel scandals and so on.”
Dr. Thompson says that another reason Duterte won the presidency was that a developing country like the Philippines has been seeking a strong-armed leader.
“One reason why he’s so popular is in a context of weak institution — where somebody stands up and says, I will protect you, I will take care of you. Ordinary people will be safe under my rule, because I will go after the bad guys in this case the drug dealers and users.”
Duterte is often compared to President Donald Trump — however, Dr. Thompson admits while there are some similarities there are also some major differences.
“One could say Duterte is not a racist like Trump, apparently at least towards Muslims and Mexicans. So that’s not Duterte. He, also of course, got a history of tolerance with Islam and his whole family ties and so on… another difference is that Duterte is not anti-free trade. The Philippines benefits from a global economy. Immigration.. the Philippine diaspora is very important to the Philippine economy: remittances and so on. That said, there is some similarities in their discourse. This off-stage, back stage rhetoric. Cussing, telling it like it is… this sense of authenticity that’s similar to Trump.”
Dr. Thompson is the editor of an upcoming special issue on Duterte’s presidency for the Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, while he completes a co-authored book manuscript about the Philippine presidency.