The Anatomy of Duterte’s 2016 Campaign

Witches and oracles have their crystal balls and entrails. But for us mere mortals, we must look to the past in the hopes of predicting the future. What insights can we learn from the 2016 elections with regard to the upcoming 2022 elections? 

Duterte’s Winning Combination

Upon reviewing the results of the 2016 Presidential elections, one finds that the bulk of Duterte’s votes came from three distinct areas: Mindanao, Greater Manila, and Cebu/Leyte. 

  1. Mindanao. All  but 5 provinces and 4 cities voted for candidate Duterte.  Duterte’s commanding win in this region gave him a base of 6.12 million votes right out of the gate. The region looks to be firmly in Duterte’s grasp, as his former aide- Bong Go- received 5.34 million votes from this island region during his 2019 campaign for Senator. 
    However, Duterte could not have won purely just on Mindanao votex. He had to source 10 million more votes to get his winning 16 million. To do that, he had to win voters in Luzon and Visayas. 
  2. Greater Manila. This region is comprised of Metro Manila plus the adjacent provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, and Laguna. This area delivered 5.72 million votes for candidate Duterte. Notably, Duterte’s win in this region eroded Grace Poe’s expected voter base in Luzon. 
  3. Divided Visayas. Duterte won only a handful of provinces in Visayas– Bohol, Cebu, Leyte and Southern Leyte. This was enough to counterbalance Mar Roxas’ bailiwicks of Panay and Negros Island. 

The Three Faces of Duterte

How did Duterte reach out and appeal to the voters from these key regions? One political observe compared the Duterte campaign to a “trimester.” His campaign could be neatly divided into three “phases,” in each of which a different side of Duterte was presented. 

  1. Duterte as Regional Candidate. This started in 2014 when then-Mayor Duterte went on a “road show” to discuss Federalism among key southern provinces. According to known political consultant Lito Banayo, the listening tour went through Butuan City, Pagadian, Puerto Princesa, and Cebu City. Later on, Duterte would strengthen his regional message by advocating for Federalism as a cure for “imperial manila”. He also emphasized that only “someone from Mindanao” could conclude the peace process with the moro insurgent groups. Finally, Duterte emphasized his nature as a “true” Bisaya due to his ancestral ties to Cebu and Leyte, in contrast to Mar Roxas who “perpetuated Manila-centrism.” 
  2. Duterte as Crime and Corruption Buster. This version of Duterte focused on his record as a tough, no-nonsense Mayor who mercilessly slammed the breaks on crime, drugs and corruption in Davao City. This was the Duterte who promised to end crime in 3-6 months. This message was targeted at what Nicole Curato called the “latent anxieties” of voters in Greater Manila. 
  3. Duterte as Man of the Masses. Finally, Duterte’s image was calibrated to reach out to voters in classes D and E. Key aspects of this image include refusing to wear formal clothes, cursing, and making tasteless jokes- in direct contrast to the “clean” imagery of Mar Roxas and Grace Poe. 

Words by: Melchor Alejandro
Edited by:
Christina Salazar

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