Can Duterte win?

Patricio N. Abinales

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

In the end, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is most effective only in his local realm

Duterte’s heimisch, no-nonsense style of governing has raised his profile beyond his home city. The national stage appears ready to accept him, and he has responded by hinting at a strong interest to be the head of state.

In a leaked YouTube video, he talks about Davao as a model for the nation with a wink directed at us saying, we do what Duterte and the Dabaweños have done, and the nation prospers.

Cynics, critics and columnists agree that it will be difficult to replicate Davao elsewhere. A city’s peace, stability and growth can only go so far. Of course, his supporters can call these the fantasies of pundits and a media that likes sound bites and saturnine forecasts.

The assumption here, however, is that Duterte is already president. No one has asked the question: what would it take for him to win?

History reveals some interesting comparisons here. Those who became presidents and vice presidents mainly began their pilgrimages to power in the legislature where networks and alliances are first built via patronage, the sharing of state largesse, “arranged” marriages and sexual trysts.

What Benedict Anderson calls a “self-conscious ruling class” begins and sustains itself in the halls of Congress and the Senate, rarely in the mayor’s office or the governor’s palace.

The late president Manuel Roxas and former president Joseph Estrada began as local officials, but Roxas only stayed briefly in his local post before heading to Congress and the Senate. Estrada never left San Juan until he became senator and then vice president. 

Of the 11 vice presidents, only four (Fernando Lopez, Carlos P Garcia, Joseph Estrada, Jejomar Binay) were local upstarts. Two of them, Lopez and Garcia, did not linger in their local bailiwicks and in no time jumped into the national arena (See Table below). 

For Digong, the nearest comparison might be Estrada. But Erap’s first national seat came during exceptional times – he became senator in the first “real” elections since the fall of Marcos, and when Corazon Aquino was still vulnerable to external attacks and internal sabotage.

Duterte and context

The absence of crisis is what Digong faces.

Despite news of corruption in high places, or the bumbling over national security by those on top, the country’s health is stable.

This puts a damper on Digong’s image as the Jeanne D’ Arc who will pull us out of the rut.

Then, there’s the electoral machine. Digong will have to build an electoral network that cannot rely on the traditional sources of support – Congress and the Senate. The politicians who control these two institutions may invite him as a “guest candidate,” but at certain costs. Would he be ready to make compromises over spoils and largesse available for plunder? Worse, congressmen and senators might just ignore him.

The mayors’ and governors’ leagues are the other paths to national power, but Binay and Roxas are already way ahead of Digong in the race for support. Finally, Digong may have his Davao experience to lean on, but in an increasingly expensive electoral competition running on the basis of performance, this will not be enough to bring him the votes. Money does.

He could still get the support of civil society, but given how divided the political forces in it are, their game-changing ability is limited. Overseas Filipino workers (8 million strong!) are also a possible source, but their record in participating in national affairs has been consistently dismal. They would rather work than think about politics back home.

So what’s left, as a source of support, is – alas – this amorphous, unwieldy mass called “the voters.”

There is no doubt that a lot of goodwill towards the charismatic mayor prevails, but given how difficult it is to determine the voting patterns of Filipinos, Digong will have to do a virtual 24-7 glad-handling (plus follow-up by his people) to get that critical mass.

The exceptional legal mind, Tony La Viña, wondered aloud on his Facebook page if the second part of this essay would lead to an endorsement. Unfortunately, it will not. (READ: Digong Duterte in our minds)

The truth is in the end, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is most effective only in his local realm.

And, Tony, my fellow Mindanawon, will agree with me that Digong’s political value lies not in a national office but in working closely with politicians who share his vision of replicating the Davao experience all over Mindanao and the rest of the country.

After all, in the end, all Philippine politics is local, and it is there where real power lies.

Table: Political pilgrimages of Presidents and Vice Presidents:



First Public Office

Vice President

First Public Office


Manuel Roxas

Municipal Council, Governor, Congress, Senate

Elpidio Quirino

Congress, Senate


Elpidio Quirino

Congress, Senate

Fernando Lopez

Mayoral post (Iloilo), Senate,


Ramon Magsaysay


Carlos P. Garcia

Congress, Governor, Senate


Diosdado Macapagal


Emmanuel Pelaez

Congress, Senate



Ferdinand Marcos


Congress, Senate


Fernando Lopez

Mayoral post (Iloilo), Senate


Arturo Tolentino

Congress, Senate


Corazon Aquino


Salvador P. Laurel



Fidel V. Ramos


Joseph Estrada

Mayoral post, Senate


Joseph Estrada

Mayor, Senate, Vice Presidency

Gloria Arroyo

Senate, Congress


Gloria Arroyo

Senate, Vice Presidency, Congress

Noli de Castro



Benigno Aquino III

Congress, Senate

Jejomar Binay

Mayoral post

See Part 1 of this essay (Digong Duterte in our minds) – 


Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI
Download the Rappler App!