Tracing the roots of disjunction : Dutertismo and the discourse of liberal democracy in the Philippines

  • Kristine Marie Tayo REYNALDO

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


This dissertation examines Dutertismo as an event in the context of what it put forwards as the problem-spaces of Philippine postcolonial modernity: nationalism, democracy, and development. Specifically, it investigates the substance of the contemporary disjunction between the discourse of liberal democracy, which often frames critiques of Dutertismo, and Philippine social experience. Its objective is to examine the underlying causes of the democratic "crisis" that Dutertismo represents, both material/structural and discursive/ideological.

“Dutertismo,” a populist political movement and discourse, is characterized by its subversion of the inherited norms and mores of Philippine society, and consolidation of popular support for a charismatic leader who advocates autocracy and state violence in the pursuit of national development. For its repudiation of liberal-democratic principles (human rights, rule of law, due process) in rhetoric and policy, Dutertismo has been interpreted as proof of the failure of democratization in the Philippines since the end of the Marcos dictatorship and the Cold War period. This interpretation, however, is insufficient to account for Dutertismo’s resonance. Rather than the “failure” of democracy, this research seeks to understand Dutertismo as a symptom of the conflictive nature of democracy in the Philippine neocolonial context, where liberal-democratic values may have dominance but not hegemony. What Dutertismo surfaces and amplifies are the deep-seated contradictions between the moral and political discourses that shape the elite subjects of democracy and civil society, and those that shape the politics of the governed masses, contradictions that have been effaced in official political discourse in the name of building a modern, liberal-democratic, postcolonial nationstate, and creating productive nationalist subjects.

To elucidate these contradictions that have propelled Dutertismo, this thesis analyses a range of contemporary cultural productions, including literature, feature films and documentaries, photojournalism, and music to surface the narratives that the discourse of Dutertismo constructs and perpetuates. It asks, What emotions animate Dutertismo’s movement? What structures of representation and sentiment does it draw on and shape, and how does it sustain the engagement of affective publics? What can the examination of this phenomenon teach us about the Philippine contemporary and prospects for democracy? Augmenting its primarily textual analytic approach, this research also draws on ethnographic narratives gleaned from participant observation and interviews with Filipino migrant domestic workers, Duterte supporters, labor organizers, and rights activists in Hong Kong, focusing on their political practices and embodied experience. In doing so, this thesis offers understandings of democracy beyond the terms set by the discourses of liberalism, populism, or electoral politics, and surfaces the possibilities for democratization from below. In analyzing and historicizing Dutertismo, this study aims to present a narrative about the (post)colonial experience of modernity, and what that means for the continuing translation of democracy in our present context.
Date of Award7 Sept 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorTejaswini NIRANJANA (Supervisor) & Anjeline Eloisa Javate DE DIOS (Co-supervisor)

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