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Thompson, Mark R. “Brute Force Governance: Public Approval Despite Policy Failure During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Philippines.” Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs (2022): 18681034221092453.


The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed enormous governance deficits globally. Several populist strongmen practiced “medical populism” – ignoring scientific advice, proffering denials, and blaming others. More technocratic leaders recognised its severity, implementing strict lockdowns. But some failed to adopt more flexible restrictions once testing improved due to local enforcement difficulties, termed “blunt force regulation.” Although neither a pandemic denialist nor an obtuse technocrat, Philippine president Rodrigo R. Duterte’s response combined aspects of both approaches with blame shifting and one-size-fits-all lockdowns while also securitising the crisis. Utilising methods developed during his bloody “war on drugs,” Duterte imposed a heavily militarised approach, scapegoated supposedly disobedient Filipinos (pasaway) and bullied local politicians. While the Philippines has been among the worst pandemic performers globally, Duterte’s approval ratings remained robust. It is argued “brute force governance” undermined the dynamics of accountability, enabling him to win public approval despite policy failure.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.