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How Duterte’s Time in Power Shook Up the Philippines

Rodrigo Duterte

Rodrigo Duterte

Photographer: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images


The Punisher. Dirty Harry. Donald Trump of the East. These were nicknames given to President Rodrigo Duterte, a fiery populist who waged a deadly war on drugs in the Philippines. Elected in 2016, he scrambled the country’s international loyalties, shook up big business and angered women’s groups and the Catholic Church. And that was before missteps in handling the Covid-19 pandemic led to one of the highest case rates in Southeast Asia and tens of thousands of deaths, tanking the economy as well. Yet Duterte remains popular with a wide base -- which helped the alliance that included his daughter pull off the biggest win in four decades in the race to succeed him.

Duterte, who is 77, was limited by the constitution to one term, which ended on June 30, 2022. After considering various scenarios, he eventually decided to retire from politics. He backed his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who ran for the vice presidency (which is elected separately) allied with former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the late dictator’s son. Election data show that Marcos owes the Dutertes for the large margin of victory. Though Marcos beat runner-up Leni Robredo for the presidency by almost 31 percentage points in the May 9 election, Sara Duterte won her race by an even bigger amount.