President of the Republic of the Philippines since 30 June 2016
Predator since taking office
Philippines, 138th/180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index
PREDATORY METHOD: “Total war” against independent media
After being elected mayor of the southern city of Davao in 1988, Rodrigo Duterte used the pretext of fighting crime to develop a style of governing that showed little respect for the rule of law. The local media quickly became collateral victims of his brutal methods, which tolerate no criticism or even nuanced coverage of his policies.
His openly populist rhetoric, which included having himself nicknamed the “punisher,” helped get him elected president in 2016. His presidency has exposed the weakness of the country’s democratic system. The executive has enormous power centred on the president. Judges who don’t toe the line are pushed aside. Congress tamely endorses all the president’s decisions. Backed by most of the private sector, Duterte easily imposes his line on media outlets owned by businessmen that support him. Independent media outlets have assumed the role of opposition, with all the risks that this entails.
Thanks to collusion at all levels within the state apparatus, Duterte has an arsenal that he can use to wage “total war” against journalists, an arsenal that includes spurious charges of defamation, tax evasion or violation of capital legislation; rescinding broadcast licences; getting accomplices to buy up media outlets and bring their journalists into line; and using an army of trolls to subject journalists to online harassment.
FAVOURITE TARGETS: The last sources of resistance
OFFICIAL DISCOURSE: Insults
“Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch” (at his inauguration on 30 June 2016).