Filipinos are well-known for their love for drama. This affinity for the dramatic has even spilled over into the political arena, where actors and actresses (and their celebrity offspring) have gone from the silver screen to national and local elections with so much regularity that no one blinks an eye. This love for drama has also goaded the Filipino people into electing officials who do not hesitate to bring the drama into public.
The current Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, is a larger-than-life character. A tough-talking, salty-tongued, former mayor, like a sheriff in old Western movies, Mr. Duterte rid his city of criminals, unafraid to show force, and with a seeming disregard for the rule of law. This catapulted him into national prominence and helped him win the 2016 presidential elections.
However, a growing body count in his “war on drugs” has caught the attention of the international community, which has gotten alarmed at the spate of extrajudicial killings that have followed in the wake of Mr. Duterte’s elections—a number that has, by some estimates, risen to the tens of thousands.
That the strongman rose to take the highest seat of power in the land should not come as a surprise to anyone, based on the track record of political success of other colorful and charismatic personalities in the Philippines.
We can trace this back to another strongman who led the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the country for 21 years (1965-1986). Mr. Marcos and his wife, Imelda, a former beauty queen, were media-savvy individuals who enjoyed great popularity, even has Mr. Marcos plundered the national coffers to the amount of US $10 billion over his long rule. Many Filipinos, however, saw the First Couple as the embodiment of myth and legend of “Malakas” (Strong) and “Maganda” (Beautiful) and were not just unfazed at Mr. Marcos displays of force against voices raised in dissent, but applauded him for it. To them, he was the Lawman who brought Peace and Order.
President Duterte seems to be stepping into the former strongman’s shoes, and in some ways, taking things even further. His nicknames— “Duterte Harry” (based on the popular and extremely violent Clint Eastwood film series) and “The Punisher,” evoke gun-toting, bloodthirsty, shoot-to-kill action movie heroes who get the girl in the end. He is also well known for not mincing words, liberally peppering his speeches with vulgarities and anatomical references, to the shock of most, but to the delight of his myriad supporters.
As further proof of the unique amalgamation of show business and politics in the Philippines, we should look no further than the 2016 elections, where more than forty show business personalities ran for office—from the local government units, all the way to Congress and the Senate.
President Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, the current mayor of Davao City has shown that she shares her father’s outsize personality. The Mayor has a history of not reining in her temper when she feels she has been wronged. In a scandal in 2011, when she was already Mayor of Davao, she punched a sheriff in the face four times, after the sheriff insisted on proceeding with a demolition of shanties in Davao’s Agdao district.
Last week, Mayor Duterte-Carpio did not hold her tongue in comments she made about House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who had allegedly said she was a member of the opposing party. She said that Speaker Alvarez, who is one of the President’s alter egos in Congress, is an “insecure slob” and a “fat sleaze,” and declared that the President, and the country, would be better off minus Mr. Alvarez.
In a message to news outfit Rappler, Ms. Duterte-Carpio wrote, “This insecure fat sleaze is the epitome of the idiom barking at the wrong tree,” and furthermore, called the Speaker an “asshole” in a Facebook post.
True to her father’s style, she lashed out, “You messed with the wrong girl,” on the post.