Mr. Duterte and Rolex


Without her being aware of it, presidential daughter Sarah Duterte recently made clear what the curse-laden, insult-ridden Duterte brand of politicking is all about.

At the height of the “Stupid God” outrage, Ms. Duterte recommended to all “don’t listen to him (President Duterte) when he talks about religion,” urging all to listen to her father only when he talks about his work. And right then and there, Ms. Duterte told us exactly one trait the Duterte brand shared with other product brands.

A Duterte brand eh? Do you mean Mr. Duterte’s politicking is a product? What is that? If you’ll indulge me, I might be able to clarify what I mean.

Alright then, let’s start off on brands, on why product brands define our modern world. Nowadays, thanks to the evolving sophistication of capitalism, it is really hard to divorce our modern times from brands, including even our politics. And we have to be with our times; we’re helpless about that.

Our modern world is awash with brands, no doubt. But the trouble with brands is not only choices, but also because even if all brands are actually all the same, we still prefer one brand over the other.

A good example is that between a Rolex watch and a Timex watch. Both watches merely tell you the time, yet given the chance, most of us want a Rolex telling the time instead of a Timex. The Rolex’s saleable image somehow overcomes its real content, even if Bill Gates wears a Timex.

As political theorist Patrick Ruffini puts the point succinctly: “Great brands evoke feelings that have virtually zero connection to product attributes and specifications.”

Relate that to politics and you will see why Mr. Duterte conducts his politicking in the way he does. If you accept Mr. Duterte is a brand akin to Rolex, he will evoke feelings about his brand in politics; and whatever feelings he evokes depends on which political fence one is straddling.

If one were anti-Duterte, one’s ill feelings of him come because one cannot divorce the brand from its contents.

What the anti-Duterte is really accusing Mr. Duterte of is that his brand of politicking has literally zero connection to what are the proper attributes and specifications of the presidency. His “wrecking ball” style of governance, his mores and rhetorical flourishes are supposedly plainly unfit for the dignity of his office.

Surprisingly, those in critical collaboration with the President are in agreement with the anti-Duterte. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, for instance, wishes Mr. Duterte henceforth behaves more like a statesman after the “Stupid God” remarks.

Now, if one were pro-Duterte, one places more emphasis or one divorces one’s feelings about Mr. Duterte from that of his supposedly uncouth attributes or to the contents of his speechifying. This is exactly the point of Ms. Sarah Duterte’s plea of not listening to her father when he talks of religion and other sundry matters.

What those complex feelings are, when one divorces those feelings from the content, I try to understand most of the time. But I usually end up with the one phrase his supporters often invoke about their feelings towards Mr. Duterte’s brand in politics: “He makes things happen!”

At any rate, Mr. Duterte may or may not be aware of his brand in politics, but I somehow feel he is trying his best to boost further his brand of “shaking the tree.”

Take, for instance, what the “Stupid God” remarks really mean for domestic politics. Sociologist Randy David has this to say: “It’s likely that Mr. Duterte is aware of this possibility (that Catholic supporters will desert him), but he will not be deterred by it. If, despite all this, he maintains his popularity, he would take it to mean he could henceforth do anything.”

So what it all means is that Mr. Duterte is merely refreshing and boosting his brand in politics. Why? Because one other problem with brands is that it gets boring with time and brands must be refreshed often, kept from fraying, for it to continue evoking feelings.

Of course, in these times of high prices of goods and a possible cha-cha, there is more reason for Mr. Duterte and his supporters to do whatever is needed to refresh and further the Duterte brand. And those opposing him will also do whatever needs to be done to pull further down the brand.

But the funny thing in all of this is: While we are all distracted about this battle for feelings, those in powerful positions, meaning those at the center of power, are not really of much help to Mr. Duterte: another story altogether.

Really, what can be made out of the scandals swirling around former Tourism boss Wanda Teo’s except to say the myopic business of some people with the Duterte brand is to make a quick buck?

Nicolas V. Quijano Jr. is a 40-year veteran of the rough and tumble world of Philippine journalism, and it has been his life since college. He believes nothing will replace good journalism. He can be reached at