Gangster Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines

Giles Ji Ungpakorn (22 May 2016)

The election of local Davao City “war-lord” and gangster Rodrigo Duterte raises many questions. The man has a history of human rights abuses in ordering the extra-judicial killings of thousands of petty criminals. Some of those were children. His death squads were made up of police, hired gunmen and ex-Communist Party fighters. After his recent success in the presidential election he vowed to bring back the death penalty, abolished in 2006, and boasted that some “criminals” would be hung until they were decapitated.


Duterte is also famous for his appalling attitude to women, joking about the rape and murder of an Australian nun in a prison riot. He said that he regretted that he hadn’t been the first to rape her.

Duterte is a reactionary right-wing politician who uses populist rhetoric in order to appeal to working people and the poor. He has said that he would appoint people from the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to cabinet positions responsible for the environment, rural reform and labour. His deliberate self-constructed image as a “strongman” is meant to appeal to the most backward elements in society, including sections of the middle-classes who are worried about crime. His anti-women comments go strangely together with his support for GLBT people. The aim of all this mixture of ideologies is purely to win himself mass support. There are no principles involved.

His flirtation with the Maoist CPP has been reciprocated by Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the CPP, who says that it is time for reconciliation. Today, the Maoist CPP is no force for progress. At best their Maoist ideology in the past was a form of authoritarian Stalinist conservatism and nationalism. Like all Stalinist parties they are obsessed with cross-class alliances with bourgeois politicians. The “Maoist” communist parties in China and Nepal now support neo-liberal economic policies.

If Duterte is not just talking hot air about appointing communists to cabinet positions, these appointments will not result in any serious progressive policies. There is an historical precedent for appointing leftists as Ministers of Labour in the Philippines. After the overthrow of the dictator Marcos, Augusto Sánchez, from the militant and CPP influenced KMU union federation, was appointed to head the Ministry of Labour under Corazon Aquino. When bourgeois politicians appoint people perceived as leftists to ministerial posts it is so that they can better control the social movements, including the unions. When their job is done they are then removed. This is what happened to Sánchez.

Before Duterte’s victory, Sonny Melencio from the non-Stalinist leftist party “Partido Lakas ng Masa” (literally translated as “Force of the Masses Party”), wrote that socialists should not support either front-runner in the elections. [see ]


The Liberal Party candidate, selected to succeed Aquino’s son, Benigno Noy Noy, was Duterte’s main rival. As Melencio points out, the victory of Duterte shows that the population were fed up with the old “trapo” (“filthy rag”) elite politicians who have done nothing to improve the lives of ordinary working people and the poor. Duterte’s victory is also due to the weakness of the left alternative.

He goes on to explain that Duterte reminds him a bit of Juan Peron, Argentina’s ex-populist dictator who built alliances between the left and the right. Yet Duterte shows no sign of being able to use the state to pursue corporatist policies like Peron.

Melencio has rightly dismissed the idea that Duterte is an “outsider” because he actually comes from a local political elite who dominate the island of Mindanao.

It is interesting to compare Duterte with Thailand’s Taksin Shinawat. Both are responsible for human rights abuses. Taksin tried to create an image of being a strongman and is responsible for thousands of extra-judicial killings in his war on drugs. Both drew support from ex-Maoists. However, Taksin was not a local gangster politician. He was a rich business tycoon who brought in some serious pro-poor policies, including the universal health care scheme.

When comparing Duterte with Taksin, an important question arises as to Partido Lakas ng Masa’s policy towards Duterte after the election. Melencio’s tone is too conciliatory towards this gangster and his supporters. He maintains that the old “trapo” parties of the elite are the main enemy. But Duterte is equally the enemy of working people. He says that the left should march alongside Duterte’s supporters and he welcomes Jose Maria Sison’s proposed alliance with Duterte. Yet the left must remain totally independent from bourgeois politicians, especially those who abuse human rights. The left needs to put forward a real alternative platform to campaign for a welfare state, trade union rights and an end to the oppression by the state. This is what we did in Thailand during Taksin’s government.

Of course, the left must also oppose any attempts by the mainstream parties and the military to stage a coup and if such a coup were to take place and a huge pro-democracy social movement were to arise, it would be right to stand with supporters of Duterte in opposing a threat to democracy. That is why we stood with the Red Shirts in Thailand while maintaining our independence from Taksin and the Taksin-supported UDD leadership.


Now is not the time for the left to build any kind of alliance with Duterte. For too long, the left in South-east Asia has spent time building cross-class alliances in the hope of a shortcut to power. The non-Stalinist socialists in the Philippines are much stronger and influential than us in Thailand and it would be a shame to waste the opportunity to grow even stronger.

Read more about the Communist Parties of Southeast Asia here:

UPDATE: 1/10/2016

After President Duterte compared himself to Hitler, saying he would be “happy to slaughter” millions of drug addicts in his bloody war on crime, he has been condemned by the Left in the Philippines.

Sonny Melencio, Chair of Partido Ng LABAN ng Masa (PLM):

“It is now, more than ever, up to the mass movement to take the cudgel in the fight against extra judiciary killings. This might well be for the good of the campaign. We need an independent mass movement, i.e., independent from the trapos and the factions, to carry on the fight against mass killings and for human rights”.

Walden Bello, Former Akbayan Congressman condemned the president’s human rights abuses…. “The killings will not solve the country’s drug problem. It is a war against the poor”.

Bayan (the Maoists):

“We do not subscribe to the President’s referencing of Hitler in relation to the war on drugs and the killings of so-called drug addicts. Killings by state forces of unarmed civilians, even if they are suspected criminals, goes against the principle of due process. It is also important that the President realize that the drug menace will not be solved simply by killing the 3 million addicts whom the President believes threatens the survival of the next generation. The drug problem is not a mere police problem”.

Read the analysis of PLM here:  in my view they are still too supportive of Duterte.