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  • The Duterte Presidency as a Phenomenon
  • Ramon C. Casiple (bio)

Rodrigo Duterte, Jr., mayor of the southern Mindanao city of Davao, was proclaimed winner of the 9 May 2016 presidential election and assumes office as the 16th president of the Republic of the Philippines. In the process he bested the vice-president, two senators and a former senator and a key figure in the Aquino administration.

Duterte is the first provincial official to be elected to the highest political post in the country. He did it in a convincing manner, garnering more than 16 million votes or 39 per cent of the 42.5 million total votes cast in the presidential elections. In contrast, the administration and ruling Liberal Party candidate Manuel Roxas II only received 23.4 per cent of the total votes cast, a far second place.1

The Duterte Win Ends the Era of Post-Marcos Democracy

Duterte’s overwhelming victory came exactly thirty years after the EDSA (so named after the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in Manila) “People Power” revolution toppled the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos and brought Corazon Aquino to power. The 1986 uprising mandated the establishment of the revolutionary Aquino government despite Marcos’ attempt to proclaim himself as president based on fraudulent results of the 1986 snap elections. [End Page 179]

Aquino set aside Marcos’ 1973 Constitution and issued her own, self-written Freedom constitution. She later consolidated power through the enactment of the 1987 Constitution that was ratified by the people in a plebiscite. The latter became the foundation of the Philippine political system for the next thirty years.

The 1987 Constitution remained in its original form despite repeated attempts by succeeding administrations to revise it or amend its provisions. Benigno Aquino III, the outgoing president and Cory Aquino’s only son, flatly refused to even consider changing it despite proposals coming from his own party, the Liberal Party.

Duterte made changing to a federal system from the present unitary system the centrepiece reform of his campaign. To be sure, this can only be done through a revision of the Constitution. To this end, he has already indicated that he will convene a constitutional convention to craft a new federal constitution. In doing so, Duterte has signalled that the political system needs, at a minimum, further refinements, and, at the most, restructuring. A constitutional convention — as opposed to a constituent assembly heretofore proposed by past presidents — will bring constitutional change closer to the people. In effect, this will either cure the defects of the post-Marcos democracy or replace it entirely. At any rate, people’s participation will ensure that the next political system adheres more closely to their interests.

The Aquinos’ Legacy of Elite Democracy

The vote for Duterte can be considered a protest vote. In essence, it is a vote against the way the post-EDSA governance favoured the political and economic elite over the interests of ordinary Filipinos. The latter, of course, carried the whole weight of the anti-Marcos struggle and, even in EDSA, tipped the balance that ended the Marcos dictatorship.

Corazon Aquino and subsequent administrations consistently favoured the elite.2 The anti-Marcos elite dominated the government, except for some concessions to the moderate Left and known Left personalities. Some on the Left were later removed due to pressures from the Right or when they stood firm on issues of social reforms and popular democracy.3

For political scientists, the essential weakness of the post-Marcos democracy was the elite capture of political power. Paul Hutchcroft once argued that the Marcos dictatorship only gave way to an “elitist” democracy supporting “booty capitalism”.4 Walden Bello went so far as to characterize the post-Marcos Philippines as [End Page 180] a “failed democratic state”.5 The persistent internal conflicts have also been attributed to the failure of the “People Power” political order to encompass the demands of the constituencies of the rebellions.

The machinery of the Marcos dictatorship was not dismantled; nor were Marcos’ henchmen ever convicted, including those military officers accused of massive human rights violations. Many of them were allowed to join government without clearing their names or making reparations. Eventually, even the Marcos...


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