Duterte operates in zone of ‘cursed and sacred’

This article was published in Rappler.

MANILA, Philippines – Homo sacer: Sacred and cursed.

This was how host Joseph Mabilog Jr described presidential bet Rodrigo Duterte at the Scintilla Juris fraternity and Astrum Scientis Sorority’s Alternative Class Learning Experience on Thursday, March 31.

The event, held at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, aimed to strip down the popular mayor and understand his appeal.

Jorge Tigno, chair of the UP Political Science Department, called homo sacer an “apt” description, adding “somehow Duterte has managed to operate in the zone of both cursed and sacred.”

Tigno, whose areas of expertise include politics of migration, state civil society, and elections in the Philippines, went on to attempt to unravel the man. He said Duterte has positioned himself as “crime fighter…a kind of hero” but he doesn’t have a “coherent” program for the nation.


Associate professor Jean Encinas Franco said Duterte’s stance on crime and the illegal drug problem was an attempt “to instill fear by saying the drug problem is something that needs to be resolved immediately,” and that he was positioning himself as the man to fix it.

Duterte often highlights the low crime rate in Davao as proof of his abilities to tackle crime but this was only “partly” due to the Davao City mayor, Tigno said.

Franco went on to call Duterte’s language “authoritarian” and likened it to the language of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos during the martial law period. (READ: Duterte’s ‘benevolent’ dictatorship: No such thing!)

His statements, she said, were often “Trump-like,” pandering to popular opinion including promising to get rid of crime on a national scale in 3 to 6 months.

“If you do this,” Franco said, “we have to have short cuts along the way and we know what these shortcuts are.” (READ: Duterte on how to fight crime: It has to be ‘bloody’)

She doubted the prospect of this campaign promise becoming a reality. “I do not know of any president who has done that.”

On the same subject, Tigno pointed out that if any other candidate made the same claim, people would think they were “crazy.”

But a crime fighter is not all Duterte is, Tigno said. “He is more than just a crime fighter, he has a spread in his ideology that you can find a space in.”

Best, worst expectations

Franco said Duterte appeared to be popular with both women and the LGBT community, having introduced both pro-women and pro-LGBT ordinances in Davao.

Other popular policies mentioned included his stance on federalism. Duterte is known for railing against “imperial Manila,” which he blamed for poverty in the provinces. Under his brand of federalism, provinces will handle their own economic growth, not the national government.

However, Tigno was quick to point out that this would take constitutional change which is beyond the powers of the president.

Franco also took issue with Duterte’s questioning of Senator Grace Poe in the second presidential debate in Cebu City, on what action she would take should China launch a direct attack on the Philippines, like firing on a Philippine Coast Guard vessel.

“Would he have asked the same question to a man?” she asked.

Concluding the forum was a round of questions.

Mabilog asked, “If Duterte wins, what is the best thing that can happen and what is the worst?”

“The best,” said Tigno, “is he gets good advisers and he lets them work.”

“The worst, he is going to have tunnel vision and only be able to deal with one issue at a time….As a president, you can’t work like that.”

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