Duterte Politics

How to play world politics? Let’s analyze. Learn from Duterte.

Duterte is clever. If not for what he has done for the city of Davao, he knew his foul language and unorthodox style of diplomacy would bring him world popularity. So he strategically positioned himself well, influencing public perception to put him in the same league as political elites notorious for their leadership styles. But he does this with some ironically calculated careless precision so both local and international media can grant him exclusive membership with the club of the likes of US’ Trump, Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. And rightfully so, he will soon reap the rewards. Duterte has quite successfully demonstrated openness to diverse ideologies, pushing the fulcrum further to the center. He knows when more weight is required on one end of the seesaw and when the other needs to move up. This is hardly an issue of loyalty — there’s none to speak of in politics, anyway — for after all, globalization requires flexibility of our policies that have been hinged on traditional principles reflective of our colonial mentality. 

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Duterte has conditioned the relatively conservative Asia and the increasingly liberated world to be (more) tolerant of his rough and abrasive demeanor. This helps him effectively play the game of politics where his prospective policy statements are preempted with a general sense within the international community that they could be another knee-jerk response, thus doubting (hoping for/against) the finality of such statements. It is this predictability of Duterte’s unpredictability that enables him to test the river, crossing it one stone at a time. When pushing ahead seems to escalate negative public sentiment, he pulls out; when prospects are favorable, he takes it further. And this strategy gives him a picture of implications at extreme opposite poles without necessarily materializing them. True enough, he makes foreign leaders cut short what would be bureaucratic processes to see decisions, resolutions or actions through. Their emissaries and diplomats run to Malcanang, exhausting back channeling to seek clarification and make amends. Because the international community has grown forgiving of his fickle-mindedness (which has proven to work for his administration), he affords himself space within which he could affirm his policy statements, make refinements to them, or completely abandon them before hitting worst-case.

True, Duterte leaves an aftertaste. But he proves to be that Filipino leader with a heart, someone who is human — swayed by emotions, leads with passion, and prides on being a Filipino for what he/she can become. Whether some of his attributes set a good example for the young generation is a matter best taken up as a challenge by parents and schools; he leads a country, not a household.

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