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  • The Duterte Reader: Critical Essays on Rodrigo Duterte’s Early Presidency ed. by Nicole Curato
  • Arjan P. Aguirre
nicole curato, ed.
The Duterte Reader: Critical Essays on Rodrigo Duterte’s Early Presidency
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2017. 348 pages.

Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s meteoric rise to the presidency in 2016 has undeniably left many scholars on Philippine politics dumbfounded. Duterte’s campaign departed from traditional campaign methods that had proven effective in getting popular, wealthy, and dynastic personalities elected. His presidential campaign was exceptionally focused in using social media as a tool in influencing people’s perceptions and opinions. It attained the rare feat not only of successfully mobilizing voters in a highly fragmented area such as the island of Mindanao but also in garnering support from people of different backgrounds, religions, economic statuses, ideologies, and so on. His assumption of power was filled with so much controversy and anxiety. The first months of his administration saw the institutionalization of some of the most divisive policies—the drug war, Ferdinand Marcos’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery)—the Philippines has ever seen in recent decades. His presidency has been heavily criticized for normalizing political improprieties (e.g., public cussing, indecent jokes), appropriating populist tendencies (e.g., antagonizing “yellow” forces, fostering public paranoia), and undermining political institutions (e.g., persecuting the opposition, vilifying media institutions, tolerating the proliferation of fake news), among many things.

From these ongoing discussions, A Duterte Reader: Critical Essays on Rodrigo Duterte’s Early Presidency gives an overview of how contemporary interlocutors think about the emerging insights, realizations, articulations, and narratives regarding Duterte and his presidency. Drawing from the perspectives of academics, activists, and journalists, this reader offers one of the most comprehensive examinations and critical interrogations of the Duterte presidency: the man and the myth as well as the institutions and dynamics surrounding his administration and the outcomes thus far. This compilation of essays tackles how and why Duterte’s phenomenal rise to national prominence disrupts and perpetuates elite democracy in the Philippines (4). The editor, Nicole Curato, is a sociologist and a recipient of the Australia Research Council’s Discovery Early Career [End Page 542] Research Fellowship at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra.

As Curato explains, The Duterte Reader can be arranged according to the following themes: (1) electoral insurgency and the inevitable rise of Duterte, (2) the liberal ideas and illiberal fantasies of his regime, and (3) crass politics and spectacle-driven publics that emerged in his presidency (4–5). This thematization aims to capture the elusive understanding about the person behind Duterte, the institutions and structures that work around him and his supporters in the government, the myths that reinforce the articulation of his visions for the country, the messy and unstable dynamics that complicate the political situation in his regime, and the enigmatic outcomes of his rule that further divide the public.

Expounding on the first theme, electoral insurgency and the inevitable rise of Duterte, are the essays of Carmel Abao, Jesse Altez, Cleve Arguelles, Kloyde Caday, Ronald Holmes, Anna Pertierra, and Julio Teehankee. They discuss how and why Duterte’s rise to power disrupts Philippine electoral politics and perpetuates elitist politics. The book offers insights about the following factors that influenced Duterte’s come-from-behind victory in 2016 and the widespread popularity that he currently enjoys: activating populist tendencies (305–10); sustaining deep connection with the general public (58); continuing efforts to undermine the dominant EDSA People Power narrative (265); promoting the emergence of a post-EDSA narrative (50–53); promising inclusive politics for the diverse peoples of Mindanao (111); and appropriating melodrama in politics (222). These essays present the earliest and most wide-ranging analyses to date of the Duterte campaign, with its multifaceted operation and the gargantuan political support during the incipient stage of his presidency.

Abao’s essay, for example, articulates the populist tendencies of the Duterte regime by focusing on the antagonistic pairing of populism with pluralism. Duterte’s populism is attributed to his ability to exploit the growing cynicism and disillusionment of the...


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pp. 542-545
Launched on MUSE
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