Bandit Grabbed the State: Duterte’s Moral Politics

I am so surprised to know that the leading scholar Dr. Vicente Rafael kindly introduced and even uploaded (!) my latest piece on Duterte’s war on drugs and the poor to the academia edu. This one is published in the latest issue of Philippine Sociological Review edited by Nicole Curato.

Thank you so much Nicole for taking care of my piece, two anonymous reviewers who gave me very sharp comments, and my field informants in Manila, Davao and Leyte.

I meant “bandit” as “social bandit”, not as theft.

I appreciate both constructive and critical comments. It is always enlightening to exchange ideas with different people.

The following is the comment of Dr. Vicente Rafael.

I just uploaded a very interesting article by ‘ Wataru Kusaka, “Bandit Grabbed the State, Duterte’s Moral Politics'” to @academia!
It is an attempt to puzzle through Duterte’s persistent popularity among the very people who he has been targeting in his drug wars, showing how they in fact feel grateful–and “safe”–for having survived the killings and therefore reassured of their “goodness” as “deserving poor”, vs. those who have been killed as “undeserving poor”.

If Duterete remains popular, it is because the poor themselves have bought into the narrative of moral valuation on which his legitimacy is based. Just as the poor are often outside of the law’s protection–and in fact are often victimized by the predatory behavior of its agents–so they come to identify with Duterte’s “bandit morality” as operating outside the law to keep them safe. And being “safe” and “secure” in the context of the bare life that they lead means being spared from the fate suffered by those who are deemed “immoral” and “subhuman”. Or so the argument goes…
Here’s the abstract to Kusaka’s piece:

“This article argues that Rodrigo Duterte’s outlaw legitimacy is anchored
on “social bandit-like morality.” It is characterized by the coexistence of
compassion and violence under a patriarchal boss who maintains justice
outside of the law. Urban legends have constructed him as a social bandit-like leader. However, the “moral we” who support Duterte’s discipline to save the nation has been constructed at the cost of the violent exclusion of criminalized “immoral others.” Anti-poverty programs that aim to mold the poor into a “moral citizenry” also exclude the poor who do not adhere to civic morality, for being “undeserving of rescue.” Against this background, the majority of the poor accept the war on drugs, believing they were saved for being “good citizens,” while those who were victims were “immoral others” who needed to be punished. However, the contradiction that a bandit, who is supposed to operate outside of the state, having grabbed state power entails risks. Despite the call for a strong state, state institutions have been weakened by his arbitrary decisions to implement his “tough love,” in distorted ways, thus creating sentiments among ex-drug users that their trust in the patriarchal leader has been betrayed. Without a strong legal legitimacy, the Duterte administration may face serious criticism
when patriarchal compassion is perceived to be untrue.”