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Who Laughs at a Rape Joke? Illiberal Responsiveness in Rodrigo Duterte's Philippines

When a presidential contender makes a joke about lusting over a dead Australian missionary, calls the Pope the son of a whore, and confesses to killing criminals during his tenure as city mayor, one could expect that this candidate would not go very far. But not in the year 2016. Dubbed as ‘the year of voting dangerously,’ the Philippines rode the tide of global discontent and gave landslide victory to the controversial Rodrigo Duterte. This chapter examines the discursive underpinnings of Duterte’s rise to power by focusing on the process in which his supporters made ethical calculations from listening to his official speeches, live performance on television debates, and broader discussions in news and social media during the campaign period. We argue that Duterte’s ‘crass politics’ is a push back to the dominant moral politics perpetuated by institutions associated to the Philippines' liberal democratic elite. While we condemn the Duterte regime’s disregard for human rights and due process, especially in the context of his bloody war on drugs, we also advocate a closer look at the ethics of Duterte’s responsiveness to deep-seated injuries endured by his constituencies both among marginalised and middle-class communities. Through a careful yet critical unpacking of his ‘crass politics of responsiveness’ from ethnographic research with Duterte supporters and media analysis of Duterte’s public performances, we hope to put forward a precise understanding of the emerging moral politics that underpins this unorthodox regime.
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