Duterte’s Resurgent Nationalism in the Philippines: A Discursive Institutionalist Analysis

Julio C. Teehankee


Early in his administration, Rodrigo Duterte, the controversial sixteenth president of the Philippines, did what no other Filipino president has done before – announce a separation from the geopolitical interests of its former colonial master, the United States of America. Beyond the personal slights caused by the US criticism of his anti-drug campaign lies a deeper sense of historical grievance that has been ingrained in Duterte’s generation and his identity as a Mindanaoan. Not only does he represent Mindanao’s resentment towards “imperial Manila,” but also a historical blowback against “US imperialism.” Duterte’s nationalist exhortations can be traced to the cycle of regime narratives in the Philippines, which serves as a medium for institutional continuity and change through the mobilisation of ideas at a discursive level. By reviving the anti-US nationalism of his youth, Duterte is repudiating the liberal reformist, albeit elitist, narrative of the Aquino-to-Aquino regimes. Duterte’s so-called “pivot to China” is also a dramatic reversal of his predecessors’ strong anti-China and rabidly pro-American foreign policy position. This paper blends Vivien A. Schmidt’s discursive institutional analytical framework with Stephen Skowronek’s concept of presidential leadership in political time to analyse how crafted narratives are transformed into governance scripts that bind together a coalition of interests within a particular institutional setting.

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