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Dismay, disgust, dissent: How Filipinos online reacted to issues during Duterte’s 4th year

Dismay, disgust, dissent: How Filipinos online reacted to issues during Duterte’s 4th year
Duterte’s fourth year in office is arguably his most controversial yet, as he earned the ire of many Filipinos on social media

MANILA, Philippines – Make no mistake: President Rodrigo Duterte’s term was marked with outrage, criticism, and violent reactions all over social media.

With a multitude of historical events and controversies that panned out during Duterte’s fourth year in office – including the looming transportation crisis, multiple attacks on the press, and the seemingly undying coronavirus pandemic – it’s no wonder he earned the ire of many Filipinos online.

Here’s what Filipinos talked about during Duterte’s fourth year as president.


Anti-poor commuting policies. Before the pandemic, heavy traffic was among the sources of Filipinos’ everyday discontent. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s (MMDA) yellow lane policy and provincial bus ban sparked much debate online.

Heavy traffic was seen as a class issue by netizens. MMDA was criticized for its lack of consideration for the commuting public.

Sense of nationalism. Meanwhile, the imposition of mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) for grades 11 and 12 became a hot topic on social media. Netizens saw the irony of this policy as President Duterte himself divulged the “tricks” that allowed him to skip ROTC as a student.


Metro-wide traffic persisted and it seemed as though none of the government’s solutions really worked, so Filipinos online gave suggestions. Some of them took them with humor. (READ: ‘How about according to zodiac sign?’: Netizens mock ‘brand coding’ traffic scheme)

Falling in and out of love. As the Senate tackled 3 divorce bills on September 17, Filipinos weighed the pros and cons of allowing couples to part ways when things go wrong.

President Duterte had previously expressed his opposition to divorce.

Allies under fire. Neophyte Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and pro-Duterte blogger Mocha Uson were widely criticized too.

Dela Rosa was slammed for asking whether outbreaks were created so vaccines could make money. This prompted netizens to question his credibility.

Meanwhile, Uson earned the ire of the people for being back in the government post as Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) deputy executive director. Filipinos went as far as to call her appointment “garbage recycling.” 


Up for the challenge. Amid the everyday frustration of being stuck in the streets, coupled with gaslighting public officials, netizens continuously echoed the call for a better commute. Public officials were challenged to take public transportation for a first-hand experience.

On October 11, then-presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo took on the challenge.

But as someone with a key position in government, netizens gave another condition: no “special treatment” should be given to Panelo.

After leaving his home at 5:15 am and almost 4 hours of commute, Panelo reached Malacañang at 8:46 am. This means he arrived 46 minutes past the opening hour of government offices.

LOOK: Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo is spotted by a commuter at Concepcion Uno in Marikina at around 6:53…

Posted by Rappler on Thursday, October 10, 2019

Filipinos were not convinced by this one-day “immersion” with the commuting public. 


We win as one? November rolled in with the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games hype, with the Philippines as host country. The SEA Games was a source of pride for some, but humiliation for others, as logistical difficulties and an apparent lack of preparation marred the event even during its pre-opening.

Of course, who would forget the infamous P50-million cauldron, and the alleged corruption behind it?

Wit and humor were also used by netizens to slam the government’s lack of preparedness.

Despite the initial embarrassment, the SEA Games opening ceremony was met with praise online.

Vaping bans. Duterte on November 19 announced that he would ban the importation and use of vape and said arrests will follow the next day – even when no legal basis was found for them. He also warned the judiciary, a co-equal branch, if it interfered with the ban.

This did not sit well with netizens, vaper or not.

Filipinos also called it a distraction from the SEA Games mess.

On a banning spree: Sachet away. Duterte also introduced the idea of banning single-use plastics. Issues like feasibility, alternatives, and scope of regulations were discussed by netizens.


Persistent disaster alerts. As Typhoon Tisoy hit land on December 2, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) was hard at work as they sent what some would consider jolting mobile alerts to Filipinos.

While other netizens dubbed the alerts “mini-heart attacks,” other Filipinos appreciated NDRRMC’s efforts to keep the public updated for their safety and awareness.

Filipinos also managed to lighten up everyone’s mood amid the typhoon with the hashtag #WeSwimAsOne, a play on the SEA Games 2019 slogan “We win as one.”

Quality of education. The Philippines ranks among the lowest countries when it comes to reading, math, and science, according to the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). 

Since the report went viral on social media, Filipinos started suggesting ways to improve the country’s education system, which include raising the salaries for teachers, reducing paperwork load, and training both educators and students beyond the classroom.

#SaveAngkas. Later in the month, the government’s technical working group set a cap for motorcycle taxi services that threatened to take away the jobs of 17,000 Angkas bikers. 

On December 21, #SaveAngkas then trended worldwide as Filipinos expressed anger and disappointment towards the government, as they extended their gratitude to Angkas.

New competition? Shortly after this move, the government then introduced motorcycle ride-hailing firm JoyRide as a new player in the industry. Personalities were also tapped to endorse the firm, as well as several bots, even on the firm’s first day of operations.

Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III also stated he endorsed JoyRide’s letter of application to the Department of Transportation, in an effort to end Angkas’ monopoly over the motorcycle taxi industry.

Netizens grew suspicious of the company’s motives, and called on Filipinos to boycott JoyRide.


Starting 2020 with a bang? The new decade started off on the wrong foot as the Taal Volcano spewed ash on January 12. This prompted the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) to warn of a possible “hazardous, imminent” eruption. (TIMELINE: Taal Volcano’s January 2020 eruption)

With this, Phivolcs faced much criticism for supposed lapses in issuing timely warnings for the eruption. However, Filipinos rallied behind the agency as they believed volcanic eruptions were “rarely predictable” and that the country’s scientists deserved more support.

The infamous virus. The Philippines also confirmed its first case of the coronavirus on Thursday, January 30, as the pandemic flared across the globe. Filipinos online were quick to hit the government for its inability to prevent the virus from spreading in the country. They also urged the government to issue a travel ban to and from China.


Fragile diplomatic decisions. Even after warnings from officials and experts, the Philippines sent its notice of termination of the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement to the United States. 

This came after the US government canceled Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s visa, prompting Filipinos to question the motives behind the scrapping of the agreement. They also worried about its consequences on the country’s security.

The government later suspended the termination of the agreement.

MARCH 2020

Confusing lockdown protocols. As the number of coronavirus cases in the country spiked, the government placed Metro Manila on lockdown for at least 30 days. This was announced by President Duterte in an evening address on March 12, as he announced guidelines on restrictions on travel, classes, and work. 

The guidelines left most Filipinos with more questions than answers. (READ: Questions Filipinos are asking about the coronavirus lockdown)

Elusive mass testing. Despite a steady rise in coronavirus cases, the Department of Health (DOH) on March 20 said there was “no need” to conduct mass testing for the time being. This quickly drew flak from Filipinos online.

Special powers. President Duterte signed a proclamation on March 21 asking Congress to declare a national emergency and to grant him “emergency powers” necessary to address the coronavirus crisis. 

Many netizens were angered by this move, as they said Duterte had not even made full use of the powers and resources currently at his disposal. They also compared him to local chief executives who managed to implement sufficient measures in combating the virus without the need for such powers.

#Halalan2022 also trended on Twitter as the President sought emergency powers, and as Filipinos urged each other to vote smarter in the next elections.

Pimentel’s quarantine breach. Later in the month, Senator Pimentel and the hashtag #KokoResign topped Twitter’s trending list after the lawmaker violated quarantine protocols despite recently taking a test for the coronavirus.

After getting tested on March 20, Pimentel accompanied his wife to the Makati Medical Center 4 days later, as she was due to give birth the following day. The senator was then informed of his positive result only a few hours after he accompanied his wife to the hospital. (TIMELINE: When Pimentel tested positive for coronavirus)

Many Filipinos raged against Pimentel, demanding that he be held accountable for his quarantine breach. Netizens wanted the senator to resign from office, or to even be arrested.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) initially said they would not investigate Pimentel’s case without a filed complaint, as Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra appealed for “compassion.”  The department later issued a subpoena to the lawmaker a few weeks later.

As of writing, the DOJ has yet to start its hearings on Pimentel’s quarantine breach.

Late night show. Duterte’s regular public addresses on the government’s coronavirus response were also often aired late at night – even if they were pre-recorded. Filipinos took a jab at this pattern, going as far as creating a new timezone to adjust to the President.

#DuterteStandardTime trended on Twitter on March 30, when Duterte’s address supposedly slated for 4 pm that day ended up being broadcast about 7 hours later at 11 pm.

APRIL 2020

As lockdown approached its first month, Filipinos were already bearing the brunt of the lack of safeguards in place as many lost their sources of income. Some began to voice their opinions and take a stand on different issues. Some started to take to the streets to protest and demand aid from the government.

But they were met with violent arrests and threats.

Duterte’s ‘shoot to kill’ order. In yet another late-night address, Duterte ordered the police and military to “shoot” residents causing “trouble” during lockdown. The impromptu public briefing came after 21 Sitio San Roque residents in Quezon City were arrested after staging a protest and crying for help.

His order prompted outrage from netizens, who were dismayed with the government resorting to violence instead of addressing the people’s concerns.

One netizen pointed out: Virus po ang kalaban, Mr President, at hindi ang taong bayan.” (The virus is the enemy, Mr President, not the Filipino people.)

Justice for Winston Ragos. It took only a few weeks before Duterte’s shoot-to-kill order downed its first victim.

The unjust killing of Winston Ragos, a former military man who later on was found out to be “mentally challenged,” sparked uproar on social media. A footage of the incident went viral, showing how the police poorly handled the situation. This prompted calls from the public to arrest the officer who shot Ragos.

Lockdown extension? The government also said it was studying the extension of the Luzon-wide lockdown, which was initially set to end on April 12.

For many Filipinos, it was not a question of extending the lockdown, but of whether or not the government would provide needed assistance should it be extended.

Many netizens said people would willfully cooperate with an extension, provided government intensified its relief efforts, particularly for households whose livelihood was affected by the public health crisis.

While many agreed that it was best for everyone to extend the quarantine, some expressed dissent, spotlighting the plight of vulnerable sectors.


Shortly after, Duterte announced the extension of the Luzon-wide quarantine, the first of many extensions of what has now become one of the world’s longest – and strictest – lockdowns since the virus broke out. (READ: Robredo: ‘Complacent’ at the start, PH playing catch-up in COVID-19 fight)

Education takes a hit in pandemic. Among the sectors most visibly affected by the coronavirus pandemic was education. Many schools and universities canceled classes altogether, while some resorted to online means to continue discussions or impose class requirements.

Mass promotion became one of the most urgent discussions online, as students debated which steps would be best to take.

Some clamored for mass promotion, following Ateneo de Manila University’s immediate action to end classes early and give its students passing (P) marks, in a bid to ensure the safety and welfare of the students.

However, some also argued that mass promotion would allow lax students to unjustly pass and would leave most of them unequipped.

Another looming issue that schools and students will face is the resumption of classes. University of the Philippines (UP) experts had earlier recommended the suspension of classes until December to contain the spread of the virus.

This drew mixed reactions from Filipinos. On the one hand, some favored the suspension as it would put first the safety of students and teachers. On the other hand, netizens raised the concern about teachers not receiving ample pay during lockdown. Some students also believed that suspending classes until December was “a little over the top.”

Later in May, the Department of Education (DepEd) announced that the school year 2020-2021 would open in August, a decision that was also met with criticism by students and parents.

Many argued that forcing the opening of classes as early as August could be at the expense of the students’ welfare. Meanwhile, a public school teacher shared that her students would still struggle should they opt for an online classroom setup.



Duterte later on rejected DepEd’s move to start classes in August, and insisted that there should be a vaccine first.

MAY 2020

The month of May saw some of the biggest controversies not only concerning the pandemic, but also the Duterte administration – Philippine press freedom suffering one of its biggest blows in recent history, and Congress railroading the passage of the “draconian” anti-terror bill.

No to ABS-CBN shutdown. The closure of media giant ABS-CBN on May 5 was undoubtedly one of the biggest issues that would mar the history of Duterte’s administration – the last time it was forced to shut down was during the reign of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Enraged netizens slammed the decision to shut down the network at a most inopportune time, when people are relying on news outfits for information on the ongoing pandemic.

With strict lockdown measures in place, Filipinos got creative and held instead an online protest dubbed #BlackScreenBroadcast, where participants held their own muted black-screen livestreams.

For two hours, there was only pitch darkness, silence – reminiscent of how the network went off-air on May 5.

The quarantine saga. As if terminologies weren’t already confusing enough, the government went on to baffle Filipinos with its last-minute announcements on whether the lockdown would extend yet again, and whether it would be enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), or general community quarantine (GCQ), or their more relaxed counterparts.

On May 12, a few days before ECQ in select areas was set to end on May 15, Filipinos aired their dismay after Duterte left them guessing, providing no updates on the government’s next steps – if there were any at all.

Hours after Duterte’s address, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced that only Metro Manila, Cebu City, and Laguna would be under modified ECQ.

Birthday bash. Mañanita became a favorite buzzword in May, thanks to Metro Manila top cop, Major General Debold Sinas.

Despite the ban on mass gatherings under lockdown, dozens of police officers attended the birthday celebration of their chief. Photos of the celebration captured how the attendees violated a number of quarantine protocols, among them physical distancing and the liquor ban.

Sinas’ manañita immediately drew criticism on social media as he initially denied that a party took place. Many called out the administration’s double standards in implementing laws and policies during the pandemic. 

“Law is law,” a phrase commonly used by staunch Duterte supporters to defend the closure of ABS-CBN, trended on Twitter as netizens questioned why the administration was being easy on Sinas. (READ: PNP files criminal, admin raps vs Sinas, 18 cops over birthday party)

Some netizens even gifted Sinas with memes for his birthday “bash.”

Much to no one’s surprise, Duterte defended Sinas, called him a “good officer” and “an honest one,” even saying that Sinas would get to keep his post as Metro Manila police chief.

Terrors of the anti-terror bill. War on dissent remains a de facto flagship of the Duterte administration – pandemic notwithstanding – so much so that in his fourth year in power, he certified as urgent the anti-terror bill, which is feared to clamp down on Filipinos’ basic rights. (READ: Senate approves anti-terrorism bill on final reading)

By the end of May, the anti-terror bill hurdled the committee level at the House of Representatives, a move that would fast-track its passage. This quickly drew disapproval from Filipinos, with #JunkTerrorBill landing on the top spot on Twitter trends in the Philippines.

Shortly after, on June 3, the anti-terror bill swiftly got past Congress. It is now up for Duterte’s signature as of writing.

JUNE 2020

As Duterte’s fourth year comes to a close, more problems have arisen for Filipinos, as most cities and provinces remain under GCQ until June 30. 

Debate on distance learning. On June 1, remote enrollment for basic education began, as DepEd continued to look into alternative learning modes for resumption of classes in August. Among these was the distance learning approach on which Filipinos were quite divided.

Some parents deemed distance learning the best approach, putting first the safety of the students and teachers.

However, some were firm on not sending children to school until a vaccine for the coronavirus disease is available, echoing Duterte’s position.

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Cyber libel conviction. In what was seen as another blow to Philippine democracy, a Manila court handed down a guilty verdict on Rappler chief executive officer and executive editor Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr in possibly one of the most high-profile cyber libel cases in the country’s recent history.

Filipinos online were quick to condemn the verdict, with some declaring, “The justice system in the Philippines is DEAD.”

#DefendPressFreedom, #HoldTheLine, #IStandWithMariaRessa, #CourageON, and Rappler also trended on Twitter on the day of the decision. Many Filipinos encouraged Ressa, Santos, and all other journalists to press on in the fight for the truth.

From Pride protest to arrest. Pride march has become an annual tradition for the LGBTQ+ community and allies during Pride month. This year, however, what was otherwise a peaceful protest in Mendiola turned into a dispersal as police arrested at least 20 protesters.

Many Filipinos online slammed the unjust arrest of the protesters, who were observing health protocols – the police did not cite any violations when they arrested them.

The hashtag #FreePride20 trended on Twitter shortly after the news broke. 

Duterte’s fourth year in office was arguably his most controversial yet – possibly along with his first year, when he embarked on the drug war. The Philippines is approaching its fourth month under quarantine, but COVID-19 cases still continue to rise unabated.

Many Filipinos from various sectors continue to suffer the consequences of having inadequate policies in place – locally stranded individuals feel they were abandoned by the government, some of the returning overseas Filipino workers remain stuck in quarantine, some workers have yet to receive aid, and access to education has only gotten worse for poverty-stricken households. Most of these problems have long been existing, but are now even more pronounced as the pandemic exposes the gaps one by one.

On top of that, basic human rights have been put on the back burner as the President prioritizes hurling threats against the media, the marginalized, and the very people he is tasked to serve. 

In the last two years of Duterte’s term, the question is no longer what’s in store for Filipinos, but what’s left for them. –

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