A Closer Look At The Rise Of Rodrigo Duterte

This is a response to Mark Yuray’s recent article, “How to Explain the Rise of Rodrigo Duterte”. Yuray’s post has two main assertions: first, that the Chinese Communist Party has leveraged their longstanding economic and military ties and ethnic footprint in the Philippines to propel President Rodrigo Duterte’s candidacy and shape his policies. Second, that the United States was unable to foresee Duterte’s rise or his realignment to China, and is further unable to foment a color revolution because the American imperium has reached a new level of impotence.

While the apparent facts of the matter bear out Yuray’s conclusions, his analysis is too simple and does not accurately enough portray Filipino demographics, economics, or politics.

First, Yuray mischaracterizes Chinese influence in the Philippines.

The rumor that Duterte is a possible Chinese agent – based on his open socialism, communist sympathies and connections, who took campaign contributions from the CCP – has circulated around the Philippines since the campaign. Yuray’s analysis implies that the Chinese-mixed Filipinos in the north support China’s and the Chinese Communist Party’s interests in the Philippines. In other words, he assumes that the mestizos de Sangley behave the same as the pure Chinese Sangleys. This is incorrect.

Over the course of the Philippines’ history, the pure Chinese diaspora community has largely remained separate from the Hispanicized and Americanized population of Malay and indigenous Filipinos. They did not convert to Catholicism, unlike those Chinese who intermarried with Spaniards or the local datu princes. Before and during Duterte’s campaign and presidency, the pure Chinese community in the Philippines has been one of his strongest bases of support.

Historically and today, the Catholic Chinese-mixed Filipinos live on the northern island of Luzon as well as Visayas. Aside from Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces, Luzon voted for representatives of local families, Jejomar Binay and Grace Poe; Visayas voted for Manuel Roxas. Like the Tornatrás and mestizos de Español, Filipino mestizos de Sangley have, since the Philippine Revolution, been some of the staunchest advocates of Filipino nationalism and independence.

Moreover, violence against pure Chinese in the Philippines has been increasing in the decades since Marcos’ ouster. Like those in Malaysia, anti-Chinese attacks are manifestations of Filipino resentment of the Chinese business community, perceived as a greedy, valueless, unethical, and alien hostile minority.

In emphasizing his Chinese grandfather, Duterte is pandering. He emphasizes more prominently and commonly his connections to the Moros of Mindanao via his mother, Soledad Roa, who had ties to the Muslim Camayo and Maranao tribes, and his Muslim grandchildren by his son Paolo’s part Maranao wife.

Second, Yuray ignores the Filipino oligarchy and its stake in American patronage.

Yuray does not consider the Filipino dynastic families’ degree of local control and their paramilitary, political, and economic power. Accordingly, Yuray’s analysis ignores their deep connections to the United States and the fact that they have benefited politically and economically from the past century of close American-Filipino imperial and bilateral relations.

The United States, like the Spanish Empire before it, largely left the traditional Filipino elite families to govern of the country and allowed them to plunder it as they pleased. Spanish and American policies of decentralization and local government entrusted a largely stable class of educated, landholding principalia, ilustrados, and mestizos with administrative and fiscal duties that enabled them to extract rents from the Filipino export economy for two centuries. Some families with indigenous roots have held power since before Magellan.

The Philippines is an “anarchy of families”. It is silly to discount this notion in any analysis of the country. Politics in the Philippines proceeds according to political and business clan interests rather than ideological principle and has done so since Filipino independence in 1946. The highly low-information Filipino population reliably votes based on name recognition and loyalty to established local clans. With the introduction of automated elections in 2010, the proportion of members of political dynasties at all levels of government only increased.

Globalization and American patronage after the Cold War accelerated economic growth in the Philippines (between 5% and 8% annually since 2010) that has mainly accrued to the oligarch class. In 2011, 40 richest families in the Philippines accounted for 76% of GDP growth; the dynastic class controls the majority of fixed assets. Moreover, there are 3.5 million Filipinos living in the United States who send the Philippines up to $28 billion in remittances per year, as of 2015.

The Philippines has a trade surplus with the US-aligned Japan ($12.3b Ex/$6.4b Im) and the United States ($9.0b Ex/$7.5b Im). The Filipino economy profits from these economic connections. While China is the Philippines’ second largest trading partner, the Philippines has a trade deficit with China ($6.2b Ex/$11.5b Im). Defection from the American-led globalist economic order threatens the circumstances that have only further enriched the Filipino elite.

Duterte’s popularity outside Mindanao largely rests on his populist, anti-elite crusade: “The plan really is to destroy the oligarchs that are embedded in government,” Duterte promised in August. His separation from the United States, should it manifest economically as well, would certainly impact the Imperial Manila oligarchs’ incomes and capacity for control. It might also threaten business and provincial dynasties.

Yuray’s assessment that USG was not ready for and currently cannot execute a color revolution in the Philippines is most likely correct. However, it is possible that disaffected families could seek to replace Duterte without American prompting.

The possibility of a color revolution to oust Duterte rests largely on the pro-USA (anti-China) dynasties’ and upper middle class’ will and capacity to implement one. Filipinos already had their “Yellow Revolution” – the “People Power Revolution” – to oust the State Department-backed Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. (Marcos’ had plunged the country into staggering debt.) In the United States and around the world, the People Power Revolution was hailed as an organic triumph of western liberalism and evidence that Americans had succeeded in “teaching the Filipinos democracy”. In reality, the People Power Revolution merely replaced Marcos and his cronies with a coalition of old families: The oligarchs and provincial elites effectively leveraged populist anger to recapture their former position, which they have only consolidated since.

Whether the Filipino elite class attempts to overthrow Duterte will depend on whether his regime’s anti-American stance will materially threaten a sufficient amount of dynastic interests in the military, Imperial Manila, the provinces, and the business and industrial communities. That the Marcos family has expressed support for Duterte suggests he will follow former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ example and merely retain a few current powers sympathetic to his rule, while elevating new favorites. Duterte’s recently-released campaign finance filings reveal that the wealthy Floriendo, Uy and Alacantra families are also behind him. Other political and business families that made campaign contributions have members or associates in Duterte’s cabinet. If Duterte only snubs Imperial Manila but allows enough of the opportunistic provincial elites and business dynasties to operate undisturbed, the country may remain stable.

Political and business clans throughout the country maintain private armies or own security companies that serve as not only protection from Communist or Muslim rebels and criminal violence, but also to strong-arm election outcomes, silence activists and journalists, and eliminate rivals. Members of these private armies are often also soldiers or officers in the Philippine Army or Philippine National Police.

Moreover: after decades of joint exercises and collaboration with Americans, the Filipino military at large and top Filipino security officials are very pro-United States. Whether it would, in whole or in part, aid an anti-Duterte coup attempt or protect the president against one remains uncertain.

Do the Filipino oligarchs have enough resources, capital, loyal loyalty, and paramilitary capacity to succeed in either overthrowing or fomenting popular rebellion on their own? A regime change effort would certainly fail in the event that China supported Duterte militarily. Would China even intervene if the Filipino elite attempted to overthrow Duterte? Or would China do business with whichever regime ruled in Manila? If the Americans do not intervene, it is difficult to predict how Beijing would react.

The Philippines’ future will likely be violent, whether or not the traditional oligarchy moves to replace Duterte. Given Duterte’s death squads, it is improbable that any coup effort would be peaceful. More likely than not, private armies and factions of the military would be involved. If Duterte remains, his drug war will continue and may even expand to purge accused collaborators: government officials and members of the police and military who likely have ties to rival families. If he is Beijing’s man in Manila, would Duterte follow Mao’s example?

Pray for the only Christian nation in Asia.

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  1. It’s a good article, but I have a suggestion and a few questions.

    First, only bring Mr Yuray’s name into it once or twice. The current tone feels like one-upsman-ship, which can get dander up and inhibits rational contribution. Regular readers know what you’re replying to when you reply to an article only a few days old.

    I don’t know whether this analysis is accurate or not, but as someone almost competely uninformed on the Phillipines I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. However, it opens up more questions than it answers.

    If Duterte would be such a bad thing for the local elites, why is he in power? Did he tap alternate structures? No, because he’s getting most of his funding from factions within the elite. Are they struggling with one another for power? If so, why? Sounds to me like they’ve done fairly well for themselves over the past couple decades in the current structure, no?

    Are Duterte’s backers interested in an actual pivot away from USG, or is this as much a surprise to them as it is to USG? If the latter, why? Has Duterte’s character radically changed through assuming office? If the former, what’s their goal for a pivot? Looting the country? Cozying up to China in hopes to get more local autonomy or better economic benefits? Fleeing a sinking ship? Shifting the ground to get on top of the local dogpile? Maybe they just really like not having druggies and killers on the streets?

    It’s difficult, but try to make predictions. It focuses your knowledge and helps distill it for your readers. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong in an informative way, and if you’re right you’ve demonstrated your expertise. Plus, the most important thing in politics is predictive: figuring out which way the other guy will jump.

    All in all, I’m very much looking forward to your next article.

    (You’re going to write more on this subject, right?)


    1. I apologize for taking a while to respond. Thank you for your comments. I didn’t intend for this to come across as one-upmanship, since I really do agree with much of what Mark wrote. One might even call my piece nitpicking.

      To respond to one your questions, I do intend to write more about Duterte. I originally wanted to touch on his representation of Mindanao’s regional interests, and how those interests differ from the rest of the Philippines’, but that topic deserves its own attention beyond one section here.

      >If Duterte would be such a bad thing for the local elites, why is he in power? Did he tap alternate structures? No, because he’s getting most of his funding from factions within the elite. Are they struggling with one another for power? If so, why? Sounds to me like they’ve done fairly well for themselves over the past couple decades in the current structure, no?

      There are certainly factional power struggles among Filipino elite clans. See the Aquino-Romualdez rivalry for one (http://www.manilatimes.net/you-are-a-romualdez-and-the-president-is-an-aquino/59616/) (http://www.equalizerpost.com/2013/12/the-historical-roots-of-aquino.html) and the concept of ‘Rido’ in Mindanao (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rido; http://www.nbcnews.com/id/34105360/ns/world_news-asia_pacific/t/killed-political-rivalry-turns-violent/). Page 261 of this book provides some more examples (https://books.google.com/books?id=-8YYDQAAQBAJ&pg=PT261#v=onepage&q&f=false).

      >Are Duterte’s backers interested in an actual pivot away from USG, or is this as much a surprise to them as it is to USG? If the latter, why? If the former, what’s their goal for a pivot? Looting the country? Cozying up to China in hopes to get more local autonomy or better economic benefits? Fleeing a sinking ship? Shifting the ground to get on top of the local dogpile? Maybe they just really like not having druggies and killers on the streets?

      I have been doing more research to try and answer this. It is hard to tell whether Duterte’s backers have the same goal, or whether Duterte the man shares those goals. The Moros (some separatists) in Mindanao, the Communist Party of the Philippines, Beijing/the Chinese Filipino community, and a faction of traditional oligarchs make a diverse coalition.

      To find out what the Duterte’s backers from established Filipino set I would begin from his campaign finance filings linked in the article, find out their home regions, and look at which businesses they own. That would go a long way towards finding out what keeps them in power, their rivals, and how backing Duterte would secure that power. Another document to look at would be the list of 160 judges, politicians, and policemen allegedly involved in the drug trade that Duterte listed back in August (http://www.rappler.com/nation/142210-duterte-list-lgu-police-officials-linked-drugs). Their home regions and (more difficult to find, since they are mostly local) their political connections would also provide hints.

      The Chinese government in Beijing and ethnic Chinese businesspeople throughout the Philippines likely want the entire country to come under Beijing’s influence. The CCP funded the CPP/NPA, but do Filipino communists (including many many peasants) share goals with the immensely Chinese businessmen?

      Further, there is the question of the Moro tribes and the violence on Mindanao between Filipino Christians and the Muslim Moros. The Bangasmoro Basic Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangsamoro_Basic_Law)
      which would have structured the government of an autonomous Bangasmoro region following a peace agreement between Manila and the Moro rebels, recently failed. The Moro have resisted being considered ‘Filipino’ in the past, and much of the violence on Mindanao stemmed from separatism/desire to secede.

      Duterte is for peace on Mindanao and a united Philippines that considers Christians and Muslims as brother citizens of one race (this article speculates he might want to leave the presidency as Mindanao’s Dictator For Life, but I do not agree – https://joeam.com/2016/07/13/president-duterte-its-all-about-mindanao/). It is unclear whether the extreme separatists will consent to this. A good look at the Moro issue is Peter Lee’s article here: https://chinamatters.blogspot.com/2016/05/mindanao-duterte-and-real-history-of.html . An independent Mindanao is probably unfavorable to the Chinese in Beijing and the Chinese business community, since part of the “separation from the USA” package included a railway connecting all of the major islands. Things are more complicated because Filipino communists have allied with the Moro separatists in the past, but there are communists in all regions.

      There is also the presence of the ISIS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf to consider. Duterte (graphically) condemned them over the summer but has expressed tolerance for them before.

      In any case, the USA is definitely a sinking ship. The Philippines cannot avoid being part of China’s sphere of influence. I do not see any scenario being favorable to the (very, very pozzed, and Mason-influenced) Catholic Church in the Philippines. China is not good to Christians and neither are communists, or administrations that elevate Muslims to full freedom.

      It is very complicated at the moment. Perhaps further into Duterte’s term predictions will become easier.

      1. The Catholic Church in the Philippines is Mason-influenced? Where did the Masons come from, and how did that even happen?

        1. *immensely “wealthy” Chinese businessmen, I meant to say.

        2. The Philippine Center for Masonic Studies provides an in-depth look at how Freemasonry got to the Philippines (first from Spain, then from America): http://www.philippinemasonry.org/history-of-masonry-in-the-philippines.html

          Pre-V2 the Filipino bishops/Church hierarchy were more hardline against Masonry but not so much since. While clergy have been involved it was mostly the laity. The Katipunan/KKK, an anti-Spanish revolutionary movement, was founded by Masons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katipunan). Aguinaldo and Rizal were Masons.

          See also this article from SSPX Asia: http://www.sspxasia.com/Newsletters/2002/Jan-Mar/The_Masons_at_work_in_the_Philippines.htm

          “In the end, the Catholic experts’ panel was happy to report and recommend, to the CBCP-that:

          • Freemasonry as such is compatible with Catholicism. It is only when the leaders interpret it badly that Freemasonry becomes anti-religious. Otherwise, it can coexist with the Catholic Religion.

          • Freemasonry’s intrinsic compatibility with Catholicism rests on the following facts: in religious matters, Freemasonry requires three things from its members, namely, belief in God, the immortality of the soul and moral life. Now; there is certainly nothing wrong in this. The error comes when the leaders twist this to their own purposes, proclaiming them to be the only worthwhile religious truths. In this way, Freemasonry becomes either naturalistic, considering all religions to be equal as long, as they accept the above truths:

          • The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines, is not of the Grand Orient type of Lodges which are known for their anti-clericalism. The Lodges of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines are more for fraternal and social purposes.

          • Times have altered, people have changed. Freemasons of the Philippines want a new era of mutual cooperation. It would be unkind to accuse them of ulterior motives.

          • A change of the old condemnatory attitude towards Masons of the Philippines should be adopted. It is good and opportune that the Catholic hierarchy of the Philippines request the Vatican for the lifting of excommunication from Filipino Catholic members of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines.

          “The above favorable recommendation was further subjected to a rigorous review by the Episcopal Commission of the Doctrine of the Faith of the CBCP. It similarly endorsed the report and recommendation of the panel of Catholic experts. On the basis of this careful theological study, the CBCP sent a formal petition to the Holy See, recommending that Canon 2335 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law specifically subjecting Freemasons to major canonical penalty should not be applied to the Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines (The Cabletow, September-October 1990).”

          Hope that clears things up. Masonry is still “officially” condemned but it is influential.

          1. Thanks for this and for your reply above. I really did like your article, and I hope you write more on the subject in the future since a) this is definitely a place to watch for NRx, because we need a unified, non-Ameri-centric idea of political science, and b) you seem to have some on-the-ground experience that most of us here lack.

            As to the Church and the Masons: guess all those bulls against secret societies in general and the Masons in particular don’t count for much anymore, huh? But we’ll see… a restoration of the Church is coming soon, and practically nobody is going to like it.

  2. Leaving the elites in charge is probably the best option. Jim Donald claims that the pre-war Vietnamese aristocracy had an average IQ three standard deviations (45 points!!) above the peasants. All across southeast Asia, peasants breed dysgenically while, according to Jim:

    “Anecdotes of how [noble] families were run depict horrifyingly brutal eugenic breeding. A family consisted of the children and “cousins” – numerous illegitimate children of lower status. A smart “cousin” was apt to be promoted to a child, and an incompetent child demoted to a “cousin”. Marriages were determined by parents on the basis of nobility, wealth, and ability. If my subjective impression of their ability is correct, it is absolutely no mystery how it came to pass. High female fertility, very high male fertility, plus brutal selection.”

    This is in sharp contrast to northern Europe, where everyone had to be moderately eugenic in their breeding because long cold winters killed off the stupid and improvident.

    1. Asian Reactionary October 28, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      The elites have demonstrated an extensive capability of self-destruction, and at any rate, the local elites would effectively be competing against a Chinese elite in a semi-historical conflict.

      I daresay that we, as the Chinese, will do more than fine.

  3. This is a fantastic article, the author’s intricate knowledge of the on the ground politics in the Philippines is fascinating.

    It only stands to reason that elite Filipino families with ancient ties to the USG would feel disconcerted about losing access to Uncle Sam’s pockets.
    Thus, Duterte and his new Chinese friends would be wise to make a potential transition to a Chinese sphere of influence financially worth their while.

    And for the record, I personally think a little friendly competition between authors makes everyone better.

  4. I don’t see Duterte doing anything to take on the oligarchy. For example, he has had a big opportunity in the telecommunications sector, with the corrupt duopoly PLDT and Globe collaborating with government regulators to squash the San Miguel/Telstra competition and even cheat the minority shareholders in the San Miguel telcom of value.

    Telcom service is terrible for the price. High rates and little investment by the duopoly.

    This would be an obvious and easy anti-oligarchy intervention, but Duterte would rather kill slum dwellers and political rivals. As if the value of human life was too high in the Philippines and the amount of collusion, corruption and cartels too low!!

    1. You are probably right about this. Over the past few weeks, Duterte’s visits to China and Japan were good for business for the Ayala family (with Huawei and Mitsubishi), respectively.

      If the Ayalas are backing Duterte it will probably be more of the same, plus death squads, less shabu (and possibly gambling).

      Since the Ayalas are involved in international institutions like Caritas (Catholic Charities) and the World Economic Forum, as well as Shell Petroleum and other multinationals, the “separation from the USA” might really be the oligarchy’s recognition that the USA cannot guarantee the Philippines’ security or keep the South China/W. Philippine Sea safe for trade anymore.

      We will see.

  5. Boy oh boy does the State over in the Philippines ever sound out of order. As in FUBAR that is (Duterte’s tough-guy bragging about all the people he’s going to have killed, by itself, is a massive red flag for seriously compromised authority on his part). It looks like part of a pattern whereby seemingly every society that historically came under Spanish influence ends up a basket case of anarcho-tyranny and general ungovernability.

  6. I care not what anyone has to say about this; I think the world of President Duterte. Carryon Mr. President, carry on.

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