The Duterte Presidency as Selective Subversion: Repudiating Some Practices, Reaffirming Others

Gene Segarra Navera

This paper examines how the rhetoric of Rodrigo Duterte as president subverts the long-standing tradition of presidential rhetoric in the Philippines. His rhetoric of subversion is both refreshing and unsettling. On the one hand, he goes against some of the practices of previous presidents and this renders him heroic among the nationalist and/or anti-elitist electorate. On the other, his brand of subversion unsettles because it is curiously selective. In his speeches, Duterte merely reaffirms other practices adopted by his predecessors, but this is often eclipsed by his attention-grabbing subversion of selected practices. The paper proposes that subversion in Philippine presidential rhetoric is never radical; it is only selective. This is because the president, in his exercise of his expressive function, remains circumscribed by tradition; a strong and powerful schema always precedes him. The possibility of unshackling from tradition remains elusive as long as the president is tied to dominant and enduring interests and is encumbered by previous discourses. Cases involving subversive rhetoric by previous presidents are brought to the surface in order to support this point.


Gene Segarra Navera is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for English Language Communication of the National University of Singapore where he teaches ideas and exposition modules on the following topical foci: Oratory and the Public Mind and Discourse, Citizenship and Society. He holds a PhD in English Language Studies (NUS) and writes in the areas of rhetoric and public address, critical discourse studies, and writing and speech communication pedagogies. He is the author of the book The Rhetoric of PNoy: Image, Myth and Rhetorical Citizenship in Philippine Presidential Speeches (New York: Peter Lang, 2018).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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