The Vigilante President

How Duterte’s Brutal Populism Conquered the Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Credit: Heads of State

In his final year in law school at a Catholic men’s college in Manila, Rodrigo Duterte shot a classmate who made fun of his thick accent. The young “Rody,” as Duterte was then known, was the son of a provincial governor on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Like many of the progeny of the Philippine political elite, he had enjoyed a privileged upbringing. He grew up surrounded by guns and bodyguards, flew his father’s plane when he was in his hometown, and hung out with the sons of local notables in his Jesuit-run boys’ school. In Manila, however, Duterte’s accent, typical of those from the country’s southern periphery, marked him as an unsophisticated provinciano. Hence the classmate’s teasing. 

“I waited for him,” Duterte would recall nearly 45 years later, when he was running for president and speaking before an enthusiastic crowd. “I told myself, ‘I’

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