A populist president in the Philippines – echoes of Trump?

Austin Bay has some interesting thoughts on newly-elected President Duterte of the Philippines.  Here’s an excerpt.

Filipino voters knew about what happened during the two decades Duterte ran Davao City. Crime rates and Islamic terrorist activity declined considerably. By 2005 Islamic terrorists and other criminals usually avoided the place. Now Duterte is applying his aggressive approach to fighting crime on a nation-wide scale. Since July 1st the few active Islamic terror groups left and the many drug gangs are taking heavy losses and looking for ways to deal with this unprecedented threat. Abu Sayyaf and other ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) type Islamic terrorists always fight back (and lose) but the drug gangs and are expected to be more flexible. In Davao City such compromises seem to have been avoided and threats of increased violence against government leaders was also ineffective. But now there are a lot more enemies a reformer has to deal with.

Duterte has been dealing with assassination threats and other intimidation since the 1990s and apparently knows how to protect himself and his family. As president Duterte’s aggressive anti-crime approach has had immediate results for most Filipinos. Crime is down and it’s the criminals, not the average Filipino, who are now living in fear. That is enormously popular with most voters. Some local and many foreign critics consider these vigilante methods illegal, immoral and ineffective. That remains to be proven. In the meantime these methods have, since July 1st, left over 3,500 known or suspected drug gang members and addicts dead. Most were low level dealers but these are criminals the people see daily and hate the most. As a result a recent opinion poll found 91 percent of Filipinos approved of this new “shoot on sight” approach.

While Duterte encourages Filipinos to personally fight back against crime and corruption, this is also an enormous police operation. Since July 1st over a million homes and workplaces have been visited by police investigating crime. This has resulted in the surrender or capture of over 715,000 drug suspects. But 93 percent of these were drug users and the rest were either distributors (“pushers”) or low level supervisors of distribution. Duterte had said he could arrest nearly two million drug suspects by the end of the year and use information collected from interrogations and searches of so many suspects to identify and prosecute the people running the drug gangs and the corrupt police and politicians who traditionally protected the drug operations. That process has already begun and so far there have been nearly 19,000 police raids resulting in the apprehension of about 19,000 suspects (6 percent being killed in the process). Among the dead were at least 17 corrupt cops working for the drug gangs, sometimes quite openly. Several dozen more senior police and political officials have admitted to drug gang-related corruption and surrendered.

. . .

Duterte is responding to the widespread feeling that some kind of radical solution is needed. Duterte apparently realizes that he has a short period of time to make some fundamental changes before public enthusiasm wanes and his powerful opponents (major drug gangs and corrupt senior politicians and bureaucrats) get organized. What worked in Davao City may not work on a national scale and that won’t be obvious until late 2017.

There’s more at the link.

I can’t help thinking that President Duterte’s approach seems to have more than a little in common with Donald Trump’s election campaign in the USA.  Mr. Trump is making the same populist appeal to American voters, and it seems to be having an effect.  From calling for not just an end to, but a reversal of the influx of illegal aliens, to emphasizing law and order, to cutting out bloated, inefficient government departments, Mr. Trump is appealing to a great many voters.  They can see for themselves the problems he’s identified, and they know the present system is doing little or nothing to fix them.

I doubt whether Mr. Trump would issue a “Get them all!” call for vigilante justice and violence against criminals, as President Duterte has done.  Nevertheless, after many years in the Third World, I can understand the visceral appeal of such tactics.  Sure, a lot of innocent people get hurt when they’re applied;  but the problems also get addressed, and frequently reduced to a level of minor background noise rather than a foreground clamor.  A lot of people are willing to tolerate infringements on their own privacy and security in order to accomplish that.

That, of course, is the frightening thing for those of us who take the constitution seriously.  We place a great deal of emphasis on the Bill of Rights.  In order for populist approaches to succeed, at least some of those rights will inevitably be honored more in the breach than in the observance.  Mr. Trump’s recent call for increased New York City-style ‘stop-and-frisk’ tactics are a good example of that.  So much for the Fourth Amendment!  Nevertheless, popular support for efforts to reduce crime may well support such measures;  and the Peelian Principles of law enforcement may go out of the window in the process.  It’s going to be a conundrum for many of us.

I think events in the Philippines will bear watching . . . as they will in this country as well.



  1. Yeah. I've heard the libertarian poseurs too.

    They know all about personal rights and freedoms, and sweet bugger all about personal responsibilities. Most of those idiots are pot heads, but the Constitution is not about some fuggin stoner's right to smoke weed.

    You got a choice, Pete. Either you can have law and order, or you can have those that have no respect for it using you for a door mat. Surveillance and vigilance prove innocence as well – and that is something the libertarians tend to forget.

  2. Glen Filthie, excellent generalization and mis-characterization of libertarianism. Besides which, I'm not sure that Mr. Grant has at any point stated a political affiliation. Respect for the U.S Constitution is hardly limited to a single political movement.
    Want to talk about law and order? Maybe remember that the Constitution is the basis for all law in this country, and it's violation in the supposed pursuit of law and order simply means more violated rights and LESS order, as strong arm government becomes the order of the day.

  3. Freedom is an odd thing. People talk about how much they love it and how important it is. Then, when they feel desperate enough, they'll willingly turn it over to the first person who promises to make their problems go away and who seems to have sufficient power to make it happen. Then, when the inevitable tightening of restrictions occurs, when the freedom to come, go and do as you please, as long as you don't infringe upon the rights of others, becomes sufficiently limited, they complain and wonder how things reached this point. I'll take the risk of reduced surveillance thanks.

  4. The problem in America, like so many others, started in the 1960's. That's when the concepts of justice, law, and order for the public good were thrown out in favor if broadening rights for criminals. The results of that movement are all around you today – the fundamentals of respect for the concept of law and order that we have in our cities. Organized rioting, arson, and looting.

    The fundamental problem is a denial of reality. Career criminals do not change, and the community is best off without them.

  5. As a side note, the libertarians have heard it all, too. From "why would you object if you have nothing to hide" to "sometimes you have to put up with a little inconvenience for safety," the litany of reasons to put up with (or even embrace) the loss of freedom is always the same – as if freedom and security somehow despise each other.

  6. While I agree that you could see echoes of President Duerte in Donald Trump, the societal situation and the level of violence and trouble involved are orders of magnitude different; I would say that they are so different that the only similarities are 'as in a mirror darkly' to use an old phrase.
    Remember that the Philippines have a long history of strong men, violence, and corruption that dwarfs what we have seen in the US, not to mention terrorism and multiple guerrilla movements causing social havoc in parts of the country.
    As far as Libertarians, I would respect them more if they did the actual work of a party and worked from the local level to the national level, as the Republicans did on the 1840's and 1850's – to me, the current Libertarian party is full of chiefs who want national control but won't be the foot soldiers to get the movement there. Combining that with their party atmosphere and lack of gravitas makes it impossible for me to take them seriously. When you throw in a presidential candidate who is almost as much for big government control as the Democrat candidate and who seems to contradict his party's platform at every point, and any respect I could have had for the party goes out the window.

    1. In point of fact there is some serious down ticket work starting up for the Libertarian (big L) party. And to clarify, I myself am not a Libertarian but politically independent.
      It's taken them a while, but the small l libertarians are starting to unify to…well…as much an extent as they are capable.

  7. I don't think I've "mis-characterized" libertarians at all. I've had the discussions with the idiots that want to legalize all drugs, that think the cops are jack-booted thugs, then crap all over me because my rights are not violated one iota by them not being able to smoke pot. Then they start whining about Officer Friendly and the current militarized police forces. Yeah – those stoners seriously think Officer Friendly should be able to handle riots like the ones in Ferguson and Charlotte with nothing more than a warm smile and a .38.

    I live in the real world. All men are not created equal. The Constitution is about guarding freedom and liberty – not about enabling thugs, sleazy lawyers, or crafty politicians. It's not about letting marginal stupid people cop out on responsibilities. Morals and ethics are an integral part of that document and far too often, I see brainless libertarians on the wrong side of those. They're getting worse too. Fact is if our host were a modern libertarian – I wouldn't have the time of day for him.

    There was a time when libertarians were made of better stuff, maybe. But that certainly goes for all the parties I guess.

    1. And yet, even though our host didn't bring up libertarians anywhere in this post, your response to people's concern about a violation of citizens person and property is to compare it to people who make a big deal about marijuana.
      You essentially state that either we have Law and Order or we have personal rights. You further make the characterization that this is the only issue with which the libertarian movement is concerned.
      And furthermore, while we are certainly in agreement that the Constitution is a thoroughly moral and ethical document, it nowhere mentions citizen responsibilities; Rather it lays out in fairly straightforward language (a miracle given the number of lawyers involved in its drafting) exactly what powers government has, and where those powers stop.
      Your stated belief that all men are not created equal betrays you. That is elitism in its base form, and your evident disdain for those who believe our government has overstepped it's bounds is symbolic of why so many people are disillusioned with the state of liberty in our country.

  8. My favorite photo from the Vietnam war is the police officer shooting a captured terrorist in the head at close range. Instant justice, confidently administered. The terr was wearing civilian clothes, Geneva convention on prisoners of war did not apply to him.
    Shooting drug dealers dead on the spot may sound extreme. However, desperate times call for desperate measures, hence I approve. Carry on, President Duterte.

  9. all men are created equal, but are not created 'the same' .
    we are to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. but the criminal will receive different [not 'the same'] treatment than the just man.
    that is the theory.

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