“He was very adamant about solving the drug crisis in the Philippines, the problem which he believes needs the most attention from the government. He was quick to impose policies that apprehended drug dealers and users, keeping them away from the streets as fast as possible.”
Before Rodrigo Roa Duterte became the 16th president of the Philippines, he kept the public at the edge of their seats by going back and forth on whether he will vie for the highest position in the government or not.
However, eventually, he surprised both supporters and opposers by announcing his bid for the presidency, teaming up with former Speaker of the House of Representatives Alan Peter Cayetano, who ran for vice president.
Duterte received both praise and contempt from the Filipinos. Some argued that he was unfit to run a country despite his career as a Davao City mayor. On the other hand, those who saw progress in Davao believed that Duterte can develop the entire country to be as disciplined and advanced as Davao.
Months later, he won the presidency by a landslide, surpassing his competitors Mar Roxas, Grace Poe, Jejomar Binay, and the late Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
The man whom the public urged to run
Born in 1945, Duterte grew up in a family with close ties to local politics. His father was formerly a provincial governor, and the family had links with the powerful families in Cebu province, where the family patriarch was once mayor.
He trained as a lawyer and later became a state prosecutor before being elected as Davao City mayor in 1988. Duterte retained the position for 30 years, making him a favorite among his constituents.
While in office, Duterte tackled some of the Philippines’ pressing issues like crime, corruption, and militancy. All three dropped significantly during Duterte’s time, earning the confidence of his constituents.
Even as mayor, Duterte already exhibited his unapologetic behavior where he continually shows everyone who’s boss and how they shouldn’t mess with him. Many around the city know that they should abide by his rules because he closely monitors the city and visits government agencies unexpectedly to see if its employees are doing their jobs properly.
His efforts and initiatives made him well-loved among the residents of Davao. After decades of peace and prosperity, they wanted Duterte to step up his game and replicate his achievements on a national scale.
Despite Duterte’s disinterest in the presidency, people urged him to run regardless. Cayetano already started campaigning for Duterte even though the latter continuously denied the invitation. Yet the people’s call became too overwhelming for him to ignore. As a result, Duterte gave in and announced his bid for the position, much to the delight of his supporters.
During the campaign period for the 2016 presidential elections, a great part of the public championed Duterte as the president the country needs because he offers a new approach to governance characterized by a strong desire to put Filipinos in their place using strict laws and regulations as opposed to the lax yet ineffective environment they’ve gotten accustomed to for decades.
Assessing his leadership style
It didn’t take long before Duterte started his plans for the country when he assumed the role of president, beginning with the “War on Drugs” campaign, which he promised to eradicate in six months.
He was very adamant about solving the drug crisis in the Philippines, the problem which he believes needs the most attention from the government. He was quick to impose policies that apprehended drug dealers and users, keeping them away from the streets as fast as possible.
Under his decree and the promise to create a safer country, authorities quickly joined the mission by taking suspects into custody as fast as possible. His autocratic personality required police and military personnel to follow him without question. It also helped that most of his cabinet members and government officials supported him since the campaign period.
Time Magazine even recognized him as a strongman, putting him alongside the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Yet even though the campaign intended to lower the crime rate and drug use throughout the country, it soon encountered new problems such as overcrowding in jails and correction facilities and unlawful prosecutions.
Human rights experts and organizations were quick to condemn the ‘War on Drugs’ by deeming it as a tragic waste of human life. It can also be an interpretation of Duterte’s leadership style, where many commented to be ill-prepared, especially since the scope and limitations of running a nation are different from a city.
Years later, Duterte continued to demonstrate his leadership style governed by firm decisions and aggressiveness to assert his domination in crises and situations.
As many people know, the incumbent president doesn’t mince his words when asked about his opinion. He doesn’t shy away from cussing or challenging personalities like Pope Francis I and former USA president Barack Obama. Duterte also drops truth bombs on several government agencies and institutions in the country, which almost always surprises the public.
His communication skills, for some, resemble a strict father who expects change and order from his family. The Philippine president’s way of speaking became endearing to thousands of Filipinos, especially since they saw immediate results following his “sermons” or statements.
Unfortunately, most of his statements also come across as tactless and tasteless, earning him criticism from private individuals and organizations alike. Duterte was also frequently called out for making sexist jokes that no longer sit well with the public.
Most of the time, Duterte relied on spokespersons representatives from his team to clarify any misunderstandings, perform damage control, and get his point across.
But among all the challenges that arose during his term, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that tested Duterte’s capabilities as a leader the most. The continuous community quarantines were a temporary solution to what became a long-term problem.
Filipinos started clamoring for more from the government, asking for a medical solution instead of a military one, calling for financial aid to help them survive amidst a global health crisis, and more. Despite Duterte’s efforts to create a task force and update the public about the situation, it just wasn’t enough at first.
But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. With ramped up vaccination efforts and many Filipinos putting to heart the health and safety protocols that the government set, the Philippines is nearing the light at the end of the tunnel in its fight against an invisible enemy as COVID-19 cases have gone down fast, with the country even at a better place than many of its Asian neighbors.
Like every other president of the Philippines before him, Duterte has both positive and negative traits in his leadership style.
And now that Duterte’s nearing the end of his term as president, his constituents are looking back at how he led the Philippines during his time. They now remain hopeful that in May, their fellow countrymen will elect a leader who can replicate Duterte’s successful projects and learn from his mistakes in the past to secure a more effective government.