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What Is the Psychological Profile of Philippine President Duterte’s Supporters

Mona is a veteran writer, educator, and coach. She is presently affiliated with Enrich Magazine and Pressenza

What kind of people support Rodrigo Duterte?

What kind of people support Rodrigo Duterte?

The popular TV show Madam Secretary aired an episode where the protagonist punched the Philippine president, “Datu Andrade”. Many Filipinos eagerly waited for the episode on its date of release. Instead, the TV station aired a rerun.

Furthermore, whereas in the past one could see the preview of the episode showing the scene where Tea Leoni punches the president on YouTube, I can’t find it anywhere now. Instead, there are splices of the punching scene with statements or other interruptions. There are plenty of those on YouTube. To my further amusement, the Philippine ambassador actually released a letter about the episode, asking CBS to “take the necessary corrective actions.

Duterte Survey Approval

A survey published the local dailies on January 6, 2017, showed an 83 percent approval rating. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, geographically, (with a ± 6% error margin), the ratings were:

  • Mindanao: 91% approval, 92% trust. (Note: Duterte was formerly mayor of Davao, Mindanao)
  • Visayas: 88% approval, 86% trust. (Note: Duterte was born on March 28, 1945 in Maasin, Southern Leyte, making him Visayan by birth).
  • National Capital Region: 80% approval, and 81% trust.
  • Rest of Luzon: 84% approval, 82% trust.

Duterte’s highest rating came from Class E (the poorest) at 88%. Although this survey took place at the start of 2017, one must wonder why the Philippine president remains popular. Who are the people who continue to believe in and support Duterte?

Duterte Supporters' Psychological Profile

Dr. Cristina Montiel of Ateneo de Manila University told Deutche Welle (DW) that the following compose some sectors of President Duterte’s fan base.

People who are very poor (Class E)

Duterte speaks their language. The poor feel empowered when Duterte flavors his speeches with threats. His campaign promised was to kill 100,000 criminals in six months, and dump so many bodies in Manila Bay that the “fish will grow fat”. Dr. Montiel also noted that Duterte's strategy behind his choice of words seems to be an intention to provoke mass threats and fear, so that people will obey what he says.

The weak, the marginalized, and fringe groups

Duterte’s tough talk gives these groups a sense of home and identity through his posturing. For example, he says, “If you break the law, I will kill you, instead of saying “you will go to jail.” Or, “When he calls Pope Francis and President Obama “sons of whores” and got away with it, his fans were ecstatic, Dr. Montiel told DW.

Right wing authoritarian (RWA) followers

Duterte Youth, including its leader, Ronald Cardema (who is also reportedly chair of the Kabataan for the Bongbong Movement that backs Ferdinand Marcos Jr.) are more defined by a personality profile than ideology. Retired psychology professor Robert Anthony "Bob" Altemeyer, in his book The Authoritarians, describes RWA people as those who:

  • Genuinely believe social change can exist under their leader, to the benefit of many.
  • Submits easily to authorities. Altemeyer considers them … a very harmful challenge”, as they “… trust (the leaders) too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want—which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal.”
  • RWA followers “find it easier to bully, harass, punish, maim, torture, ‘eliminate,’ ’liquidate,’ and ‘exterminate’ their victims than most people do.
  • Are highly aggressive in the name of their authorities.
  • Highly conventional.
  • Highly loyal to the establishment”.
  • Highly willing to justify their government’s actions.
  • If civilians break the law, RWA will be very harsh against them. But if authorities break the law, they tend to be less harsh towards them.
  • Likely to support their leader if he champions war.


The New Republic reported on “a vast and effective ‘keyboard armythat Duterte and his backers have mobilized to silence dissenters and create the illusion that he enjoys widespread public support.” The article says that these trolls:

  • Number in the hundreds of thousands. They are “both paid and unpaid” and they use social media to disseminate official propaganda.
  • Post links to hyper-partisan web sites of questionable credibility day and night.
  • They exclusively focus on provided talking points. They don’t crack jokes or use cat GIFs like most people do on social media.

Duterte started his social media trolls campaign when he was still the mayor of Davao, where he allegedly ran death squads against drug dealing. In November 2015, when he ran for president, he hired marketing consultant Nic Gabunada to set up a social media team with a budget of some $200,000. The money was used to pay prominent online voices to flood social media, popularize hashtags, and attack critics.

Duterte’s budget was much smaller than that of his opponents. Still, he won 40 percent of the vote, for which he thanked his 14 million social media “volunteers.” Online trolls can get up to $2,000 per month. Their job is to create fake accounts or “bots” on social media, which then flood the digital realm with pro-Duterte propaganda.

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Affinio, an analytics firm in social media, said that 20 percent of all Twitter accounts that talk of Duterte are actually bots that are tasked to:

  • Attack the president’s critics, including Leila de Lima, who has had death threats and online abuse for launching an inquiry into Duterte’s EJK policy and death squads when he was a mayor and she was Secretary of Justice under President Benigno Aquino III. De Lima is now in jail. Many say she is the first political prisoner under Duterte.
  • Send death threats. Ellecer Carlos, an advocate for human rights, was forced to change his Facebook profile when he repeatedly received threats of violence. This overload of pro-Duterte messaging has kept his approval rating at about 80 percent.
  • Influence approval ratings. Duterte’s online army has helped to keep his approval rating at 80 percent. For example, The New Republic cites a mother who knew about the extrajudicial killings (EJKs), and who lived in a slum. When she was asked about the EJKs, she admitted knowing about them but blamed the police, not the president. She was then asked where she gets her news. Her reply was that she gets all of her news from Facebook.

Duterte is not the first person to use social media in this way. China’s Communist Party has the “50 cent” army, which is tasked to post 450 million fake comments a year on social media.

Duterte's Troll Patrol

Karen Stenner, author of the book The Authoritarian Dynamic (Cambridge Studies in Public Opinion and Political Psychology), said that conservatives differ from authoritarians. Conservatives tend to:

  • Strongly loathe government intervention
  • Want to protect the status quo
  • Are averse to change

Authoritarians, on the other hand, are:

  • Highly hostile to difference and diversity
  • Highly regard unity, sameness, and leaders who will force these on others.

Stenner, in her paper Three Kinds of ‘Conservatism, published in Psychological Inquiry, wrote, “Authoritarianism, (and not conservatism, lack of education, or religion) is the principle determinant of intolerance of difference across time and space and domain, that is, across any stretch of history, all cultures and every aspect (including racial, political and moral intolerance).

“In light of this, it can be concluded clearly that authoritarianism has existed throughout history, and in all cultures all over the world, including the Philippines. In fact, it would not be far-fetched to say that Filipinos are experiencing a resurgence of right-wing authoritarianism today, as embodied in the Duterte Youth.”

What About Duterte’s Educated Advocates?

The above explains why Duterte is so popular among the poor, the fringe, and those who are ill informed, which in a poor country like the Philippines, pretty much sums up the majority. However, Duterte also has a lot of informed, intelligent supporters. I can personally mention three lawyers, a neighbor, and some of the most likable people I know. Some of these supporters also consider President Marcos to be a hero, so it is likely that they don’t believe that democracy works for the Philippines. Others come from the Visayas, and this regionalism may have to do with their support for him. The rest, I can’t explain. But I also know of one person who regrets having voted for Duterte. Perhaps there are more like him than we realize, and in due time, perhaps their numbers will continue to increase. At any rate, I am looking forward to what the next survey will say.

A Riveting Read

The Rise of Duterte: A Populist Revolt against Elite Democracy has been described by CNN Philippines as "A riveting read for the politically childish who are always so captivated by tendencies for authoritarian rule". It follows Duterte's political career, and you will find this to be a fast read because it is very short.


ANC The Rundown:DILG Begins Probe into Davao Punching Incident 1/3, ANC Alerts, Uploaded on Jul 8, 2011

3:11 Sara Duterte points and orders her men to get the sheriff. 3:16 Sheriff is forcibly being brought to Duterte. 3:24 Punching happens.

1:10 – 1:28 – Barilin kita.


This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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