Duterte’s “strongman” image, a facade of cowardice

“Strongmen” like Rodrigo Duterte exercise power through State terror and violence with impunity, couched in populist language that misleads the public and trains the guns of his armed forces and police on his perceived enemies - the people. His “strength” comes from dehumanizing the urban poor and workers by calling them “drug addicts” and “lazy criminals,” by tagging activists and political dissenters as “terrorists,” and by branding any and all criticism to his anti-people policies as forms of “destabilization.”

Contrary to Duterte’s statement that he has not put his critics in jail, Karapatan’s documentation puts the number of activists arrested and still currently detained under Duterte at 173, out of the 503 political prisoners in the Philippines. Majority of them are peasant and trade union leaders, members of people’s organizations and organizers who have been working with the poor communities to push for genuine agrarian reform, living wages and security of tenure, accessible social services, among others.

The number includes the six young peasant organizers illegally arrested in Mabinay, Negros Oriental, peasant leaders of Compostela Farmers Association, farmers in Batangas, teachers and supporters of Lumad schools - all charged with false criminal offenses in an attempt to justify their incarceration. Rafael Baylosis, peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, and his son-in-law, trade union organizer Marklen Maojo Maga, were also arrested and are detained because of fabricated charges.

His vengefulness against his critics who are vocal against human rights violations in the country has resulted to the drawing up of a fake terror list which includes UN experts and human rights defenders and to the daily threats and harassment against activists. Laced with so much vitriol, his vindictive orders and pronouncements against foreign observers and missionaries like Sr. Patricia Fox have resulted to violations on the exercise of free speech and expression. His mad thirst for sole control of power is driving him to persecute officials in other branches of government who do not share his propensity for brazen acts of violence.

Duterte’s “strongman” persona is actually a facade of cowardice of a megalomaniac. Like all other previous and current despots and tyrants, his so-called strength is an expression of his greed for power. What he truly fears is the people’s exercise of our sovereign will to exact justice and accountability.