There will never be another as great as our President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
Who else could do as much as him, who built us roads and bridges, renovated our airports and terminals, gave us free healthcare and college education, cleaned up our beaches, and, above all that, led us to our first Olympic gold. This is the Duterte legacy in all its glory.
It is quite a polished image, and we are sure Duterte, his camp, and his ever-loyal supporters try hard to keep it that way. But in full, it is dented, scratched, fractured—disfigured in all ways—from the details they like to leave out.
Thus, there is considerable complexity in examining what the president’s legacy would actually be. Perhaps, the glittering idealization of him will let him be remembered well. And that is certainly plausible. But we dare to say that, regardless, it will still all eventually come crumbling down.
‘Tough with a heart’
If it is any indication of what mark he might leave behind, Duterte is historically popular—more than any other Philippine president was—and the numbers speak for themselves. Five years of a dumpster fire have barely tanked his approval ratings, and he is likely to maintain that amount of support for some time longer.
And much of this is owed to his populist persona, analysts say. But more precisely, it may be attributed to the powerful kind of populism that Duterte embodies. “Dutertism”, as it has been called, has solidified an idealized image of him as a leader who is tough on the exterior but keeps his people at heart.
Whether or not he actually lives up to that perception is beside the point. As a product of the cult of personality around him, which cements his reputation, supporters have continued to highlight just about every accomplishment of his that they can think of. So expect them to continue singing him praises for longer passport and license validity, Manila Bay and Boracay rehabilitation, and government subsidies, among many others, doubtfully for their actual impact but more likely for their fascination with him.
Thus, unless a stronger political force, a genuinely damning scandal, or a convincing antithesis to Dutertism arises, the “best president” narrative will likely remain prevalent, exalting him as a man of action who fights for the little guys—at least up until the immediate future.
A tainted fist
But this kind of political devotion can remain potent for only so long. Over time, this idealized narrative will begin to fissure, especially if the country experiences a much more effective leadership. And underneath the cracks, people might hopefully see that the “remembrances” that Duterte will have left behind are not as grand as they were once believed to be. When that happens, all that will be left to look at is the aftermath of his most impactful policies and decisions.
And what a record it is: one imprinted with his bloody war on drugs that claimed the lives of thousands, his lack of assertion in the West Philippine Sea that jeopardized the country’s territorial sovereignty, and perhaps the most notorious of all, his botched pandemic response that failed to contain the virus despite numerous lockdowns, resulting in the continuous increase of preventable COVID-19 fatalities. All of these in the backdrop were the worst economic recession and unemployment crisis on record.
Needless to say, some of the beneficial initiatives that stood out in his presidency may earn him a pat on the back. After all, his massive infrastructure program and the universal health care and free tertiary education bills that he signed into law will surely count for something. But these can never outweigh the gravity of how much he has cost the Filipino people.
All in all, regardless of how carefully molded Duterte’s supposed greatness is, what he has to show for it are but a few hits and a whole lot of misses. Despite the sensationalized praises from his supporters that seek to cover his incompetence, in truth, he has mostly failed to protect the interests of the nation.
When the cult-driven image of Duterte begins to fragment, what will remain will be the barebones truth of his destructiveness. This is the Duterte legacy in all its disgrace.