The major trend in central-local relations in the Philippines under the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte has been the capacity of the presidential palace to exert a very tight grip over local politicians—arguably the tightest since the martial-law dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1986).
This trend has emerged even as Duterte has done strikingly little to advance the reforms that many local politicians have been keen to champion. He abandoned the federalism agenda which he had touted in the lead-up to his presidential campaign in 2016, and which had been eagerly supported by local government coalitions. In addition, the president backpedaled in delivering a financial windfall to local governments as promised in a landmark 2019 Supreme Court ruling on the primary national revenue sharing program. This decision, known as the Mandanas ruling, is the only major win for local politicians since Duterte came to power. Yet its implementation has been conveniently pushed out to the very end of his term in 2022.
If Duterte has failed to deliver, why do so many local politicians remain beholden to him?
Our report outlines the combination of old and new schemes employed by Duterte to ensure his effective grip on local structures throughout the archipelago. These strategies highlight the president’s predilection for authoritarian rule and successful consolidation of political power at the centre.