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Why Duterte Remains So Popular

The Failure of the Philippines’ Liberal Reformism

Rodrigo Duterte delivers his State of the Nation address in Manila, July 2018. Czar Dancel / Reuters

Three years ago, as Hillary Clinton was making final preparations for her U.S. presidential campaign, Philippine Secretary of the Interior Manuel “Mar” Roxas was planning his own bid for the presidency—one in which he would run as the default candidate of the Philippines’ ruling elite. A buoyant economy, as well as the apparent success of the economic and social reforms passed by Roxas’ boss, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, made him confident of victory. But during the 2016 campaign, Roxas was effectively attacked by a populist challenger who derided him as incompetent, soft on crime, and out of touch with ordinary people. And like Clinton, Roxas lost. In May 2016, Rodrigo Duterte—a local political boss who had overseen large-scale extrajudicial killings during his time as mayor of Davao City—was elected president of the Philippines, with Roxas finishing a distant second.

Why did the Philippines, a seemingly stable electoral

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