Rodrigo Duterte

The Rapture of Rodrigo Duterte

Nicole Curato, Patricia Evangelista

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

We write this as a warning. The streets will run red if Rodrigo Duterte keeps his promise. Take him at his word, and know you could be next.

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Illustrations by Geloy Concepcion Design by ANALETTE ABESAMIS and DOMINIC TUAZON


Our series of presidential profiles, The Imagined President, began with the The Idealized candidate, introducing the candidates as imagined by themselves and their supporters. (READ: The Punisher) The second installment, The Demonized, examined the candidates as imagined by their critics. (READ: The Bully). In this final installation, we give you The Candidate, a synthesis of both narratives as seen through the lens of journalism and sociology. We invite conversation and discussion, and promise, if nothing else, to tell you a story.

Rodrigo Duterte is telling a story. He stands on a stage at the center of the Amoranto Sports Complex in Quezon City, lights flashing at his back, a crowd of supporters cheering in front. 

The story begins with an assault. An inmate is holding hostages at the Davao City detention center. There is gunfire, a retreat, bodies left behind – among them the corpse of an Australian missionary.

“When the body was taken out, it was already wrapped. I looked at her face. I said, ‘Fuck, she looks like an – like an American actress, a beautiful one.’”

Her name was Jacqueline Hamill. She was 36. She had been raped and her throat had been cut.

Duterte’s voice takes on a mournful tone. “I said, ‘Fuck, what a waste.’”

His tone is wry, the horror and tragedy of the 1989 prison siege reduced to the casual seriousness of a man explaining he had ordered a beer and discovered it was warm. 

“What went through my head,” he continues, “was that they raped her. That everyone had lined up to rape her. I got angry. That she was raped? Yes, that too. But it was that she was so beautiful – the mayor should have been first. What a waste.’”

The voice of the people

We know this story. It is a story Rodrigo Duterte has told at least once before, one Thursday in January inside a room in the Century Park Hotel in Manila. It was a story so funny a gentleman in the vest of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption had to slap his knee in laughter.

Now Rodrigo Duterte is at the top of the polls. His grassroots support is nothing short of phenomenal. Jeepneys are plastered with his face. “Du30” is spelled out in packing tape on the back windows of commuter vans. The mass of humanity who cheer him on wear t-shirts painstakingly hand-lettered with marking pens in kitchens across the country, or silkscreened on improvised machines donated to satellite headquarters. Small-time vendors who make a living printing campaign paraphernalia give out Duterte posters at their own expense. Media workers have left their posts to fill the ranks of volunteer videographers.

This is an electorate that has found its voice in the mayor of Davao City. His movement cuts across class, gender and generation. He is the champion of mothers terrified of kidnappings. He is the savior of the displaced in the war zones of Maguindanao. Whatever happens on the 9th of May, an angry old man from the forgotten south has already changed the tenor of political conversation. The tone is indignant, often violent, but it is hopeful nonetheless, and it has energized a citizenry once resigned to politics as usual.

He stands instead for the

“Kill them all,” he once told a cheering crowd in Lingayen. “When I become president, I”ll order the police and the military to find these people and kill them.”

Kill all the criminals, he means. But who are the criminals? Certainly not the men and women judged guilty by the court of law – they are in jail, and offer no one reason to fear. He means the ones on the streets, the sleazy scumbags who could rape your daughter, the grinning bastard who sells dope on the street corner, the shameless little shit who made off with your purse and laughed as he ran.

It’s okay, say his supporters, because he wants to kill them, not you – not us, the good people, the upstanding people, the ones who will never break the law. Let him kill the dregs – those lives do not matter. Human rights are not universal, but particular. 

His law is the law of the jungle: kill or be killed, oppress or be oppressed. There are no mitigating circumstances. Certainly there is no room for rehabilitation once a 14-year-old pickpocket is dead. At least 12 of those reportedly executed by the Davao Death Squad were cases of mistaken identity. For Rodrigo Duterte, it is better to risk the suffering of innocents for the sake of capturing the guilty. 

There is a new religion that is sweeping the nation, and Rodrigo Duterte is its new messiah.

The church of Rodrigo Duterte

His morals are their morals. His wit is their wit. He says he speaks from the gutter with their voice. The worst of his supporters have reduced the campaign into a fundamentalist crusade. Duterte’s every pronouncement, no matter how farfetched, is now met with roaring approval. Drugs gone in 6 months. Corruption gone in 6 months. Crime eliminated in 6 months. He promises the impossible, and the more he curses, the more he is celebrated. Fuck the pope, shut down congress, kill all the criminals, throw their bodies into the sea – none of it matters to the loyal following of Rodrigo Duterte.

Who are these people, the men and women who are disciples of the angry man from Davao? Who was it that cheered with joy when Duterte reveled in his right to kiss every pretty girl on the campaign trail – then stuck out his tongue to demonstrate his technique? Who are the supporters who clapped when he claimed to have shot a student point-blank? Who are the followers who call for the rape and murder of Duterte’s critics?

“If there were anyone to be raped and assaulted by the bad elements, I hope it’s you,” said a Honda Philippines employee named Hermes Luayon to a woman who announced her refusal to vote for the mayor.

Be civil to the critics, says the Duterte camp. Be decent. Be compassionate. None of these words can describe the candidacy of Rodrigo Duterte.

Who is Lilibeth Almirante Votacion, who said she hoped all journalists from Rappler should be buried to protect Duterte from their coverage? Who is Shawnie Enriquez, who told Mar Roxas supporter Melai Cantiveros that she hoped for the rape of Cantiveros” young daughter? Who are the people who issued death threats against UP Diliman University Student Council chairperson John Paulo delas Nieves, or who harassed student Stephen Villena and put his name on a tombstone? 

These people are not a fringe group of reactionary fanatics. They are neighbors, friends, the old high school classmates who drive their children to school and post pictures of Jesus and Coach bag discounts. They are office workers who sit behind bank desks. They are the aunts who send pajamas on Christmas. They are filmmakers and fathers, call center agents and college students. They are the clerks at 7-11 who wish you a smiling good day whenever you come in for a pack of cigarettes.

They are ordinary people, good people, kind people, and they are howling for blood. They are the new normal, and they believe in the gospel of Rodrigo Duterte. All comment is heresy. All media is biased. Wait until you’re raped, they say. Wait until your girlfriend is killed. See the forums, watch the comment sections, understand how women who speak out are called ugly bitches and know-it-all whores.

The rest of Duterte’s critics have been reduced to hypocrites and armchair activists. How dare you, asks one supporter, condemn imaginary rapes instead of real oppression? Did you rise up in anger when domestic helpers were raped in the Middle East? Did you demand justice and apologies? What have you done?

The message is clear. You have no right to speak. Forget how condemning one egregious assault still allows for condemning all. Forget that one armchair activist is calling out another. The discourse has been reduced to binaries – “Better a bad joke than a bad government.” To criticize Duterte’s extremism suddenly means to stand for criminality. The same people who condemn xenophobia and intolerance and murder now fail to see the terrifying new morality that has taken hold of the country. They are not bullies, they say. They are the bullied fighting back. 

It was possible to believe there was no line left for Rodrigo Duterte to cross. Then one month before the national elections, a presidential candidate told the public that he once stood over the corpse of a woman who had been raped. He said he wished he had been first.

In the torrent of outrage that exploded worldwide after his words, the congregation of Rodrigo Duterte raised their voices, and said it was just a joke.

Only Rodrigo Duterte said that it wasn’t.

It’s going to be bloody

The aftermath of the rape joke emboldened Duterte. The embassies of Australia and the United States protested, and were told to “shut up.” Duterte’s daughter Sara admitted to having been a rape victim herself, and was dismissed “a drama queen” by her father. The Commission on Human Rights was told to go to hell. Duterte admitted to shooting a student at a school hallway. He said his dick made him cheat on his wife. He promised to pardon policemen and soldiers who violated human rights, and will pardon himself for mass murder. 

“Pardon given to Rodrigo Duterte for the crime of multiple murder,” he announced to a laughing crowd. “Signed Rodrigo Duterte.”  

Here stands a candidate so categorical in his pronouncements, so certain of his rightness, and yet so thoroughly inconsistent in his avowed principles. He trumpets his commitment to law and order, then instructs policemen to hack up criminals. He declares a government must be in service to the people, then threatens to shut down an elected House of Representatives when he doesn’t get his way. His programs support the empowerment of women, then he reduces the same women to objects, “the weaker sex” with “limited horizons” – one of whom he might allow a Cabinet seat “if she is very bright.”

Listen to him, announcing his incorruptibility and waiving his privacy. Listen to him deny allegations of unexplained wealth – “That’s garbage. You can check with the bank” – then admitting to bank accounts his own spokesman earlier denied. Listen to him bluster – he is waiving his waiver, he is demanding his privacy, he is a victim of conspiracy.

Duterte’s only guarantee is his word, but he is impossible to pin down. Find them and kill them, he says one day. Stop them and try them, he says another. His principles shift with the size of the crowd. He will sometimes apologize, sometimes retract, and will shake it all off when it gets in the way.

Who is the man we are electing? Is it the leering misogynist, or the advocate for women? Is it the defender of the law or the gun-toting bully? Is it the man who will give voice to the south or exploit their vulnerability? Is his promise of ending crime and corruption and drugs in 3-6 months a legitimate plan, or will he pass it off as yet another joke when he fails to get it done? 

This has been a story that has been told many times before. It begins with a suffering people, vulnerable to the rabble rouser standing on a soapbox. It comes with fear-mongering, with urgency, with slogans and promises. A line is drawn, us versus them. Cull all the critics, watch out for the outspoken, lynch the detractors – Dear Leader will save us, if only we let him. Some liberties can be given up, for the sake of order. The Nazis began with the burning of books – they ended with a holocaust that annihilated at least 15 million.

Thirty years ago, the Philippines put behind martial law, imposed by a man who turned into a dictator after his first taste of power. Today, Rodrigo Duterte is at the top of the polls. If he wins, his dictatorship will not be thrust upon us. It will be one we will have chosen for ourselves. Every progressive step society has made has been diminished by his presence. Duterte’s contempt for human rights, due process, and equal protection is legitimized by the applause at the end of every speech. 

We write this as a warning. The streets will run red if Rodrigo Duterte keeps his promise. Take him at his word – and know you could be next.

We write this as a warning. We hope to be– Rappler.com


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