A Murderous Plague: State Hypermasculinity, covid-19, and Atrocity Prevention in the Philippines

In: Global Responsibility to Protect
Maria TanyagSenior Lecturer, Department of International Relations, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia,

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When and why do state responses to crises such as the covid-19 pandemic embody hypermasculinity? How does state hypermasculinity contribute to mortality during a pandemic? This article examines state hypermasculinity as a main atrocity risk factor and as a root cause of preventable deaths arising from failures in pandemic response. It focuses on the case of the Philippines under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte to build on feminist scholarship examining gender, crises, and the rise of ‘strongman’ leaders globally. It argues that a state’s predisposition for violence and atrocity crimes renders disease outbreaks more deadly. Significant loss of life and livelihoods during the pandemic are logical outcomes of state structures and responses that combine militarised security, paternalism, and domination of feminised ‘others’. Crucially, the implications of state hypermasculinity extend beyond pandemics as it is clearly emerging as a vector for compounded human insecurities at a time of multiple and overlapping crises.


When and why do state responses to crises such as the covid-19 pandemic embody hypermasculinity? How does state hypermasculinity contribute to mortality during a pandemic? This article examines state hypermasculinity as a main atrocity risk factor and as a root cause of preventable deaths arising from failures in pandemic response. It focuses on the case of the Philippines under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte to build on feminist scholarship examining gender, crises, and the rise of ‘strongman’ leaders globally. It argues that a state’s predisposition for violence and atrocity crimes renders disease outbreaks more deadly. Significant loss of life and livelihoods during the pandemic are logical outcomes of state structures and responses that combine militarised security, paternalism, and domination of feminised ‘others’. Crucially, the implications of state hypermasculinity extend beyond pandemics as it is clearly emerging as a vector for compounded human insecurities at a time of multiple and overlapping crises.

But what are a hundred million deaths? When one has served in a war, one hardly knows what a dead man is, after a while. And since a dead man has no substance unless one has actually seen him dead, a hundred million corpses broadcast through history are no more than a puff of smoke in the imagination … what man knows ten thousand faces?1

1 Introduction2

On 20 January 2020, the first case of covid-19 was confirmed in the Philippines.3 By March 2021, there were an estimated 800,000 confirmed cases, 14,000 deaths and a surge of approximately 10,000 new cases in one day.4 During this period, there were approximately 122 million confirmed covid-19 cases and 2.6 million deaths worldwide.5 Two years into this pandemic, there are now approximately 6 million lives lost.6 These figures are being driven by ‘worst-case scenario’ countries such as the Philippines where there have been neither significant decline in cases nor improvements in crisis management and strategy.7 Albert Camus in The Plague wrote about the profound mental and emotional challenges of comprehending and responding to mass loss of life. If as the above epigraph points out, deaths by the millions render them incrementally abstract, how then do we hold into account those who have the responsibility to protect lives and prevent these deaths? This task is even more onerous because when covid-19 became a global pandemic in 2020, the world was already in turmoil. Prior to the outbreak, there were 82.4 million people forcibly displaced as a result of ‘persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order’.8 This period corresponded with major political upheavals and transitions as the Black Lives Matter protests erupted in the United States and pro-Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill contesting the outcome of the US presidential election. In Thailand and Myanmar, pro-democracy and youth-led protests challenged outdated styles and systems of militarised authority. Their peaceful resistance characterised by three-finger salutes were met by arrests and, in some cases, deaths. Existing international human rights and protection mechanisms are being tested at a time when multiple insecurities are converging so clearly for the most marginalised.

Questions of global accountability and responsibility for the outcomes of pandemic responses are set against representations of covid-19 as an ‘unprecedented’ global crisis. The level of state emergency measures deployed in response to the pandemic – from travel bans to lockdowns – overwhelmingly substantiate how covid-19 presented unique and complex challenges to global and national governance. Indeed, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General for the World Health Organization (who), in his speech officially declaring covid-19 a pandemic alluded to this uniqueness: ‘We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus’. He added that, ‘to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world. It’s doable’.9 However, within months of the pandemic there were concerning developments reported all over the world on possible excesses of state power and human rights violations especially by military and police in the context of the pandemic response.10 In many parts of the world, representations of the covid-19 pandemic as ‘exceptional’ or ‘extraordinary’ licensed state repression and afforded a narrative to absolve state responsibility to prevent loss of life. Various human rights groups, experts, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (ohchr) issued a call that state emergency powers to curb the virus must remain guided by human rights principles and must not be used to stifle dissent.11

This article seeks to provide an alternative feminist analysis that makes clear how death and suffering do not constitute ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’ collateral damage to the global crisis posed by covid-19. Rather, it underscores that violence arising out of any crisis reflects the gendered ways in which power and resources are (re)distributed in a given society, and globally. It asks, when and why do state responses to crises such as the covid-19 pandemic embody hypermasculinity? How does state hypermasculinity contribute to mortality during a pandemic? Building on feminist perspectives, I examine the intersections of pandemic response and mass atrocity prevention through the logics of state hypermasculinity. Feminist scholars have been at the forefront of critically interrogating the gendered dynamics to the pandemic, and what these dynamics mean for mitigating various immediate and long-term harms. Gendered differences in pandemic leadership and crisis response were stark. Since 2016 when President Rodrigo Duterte rose to power, he joined ranks of other ‘strongman’ rulers in Southeast Asia such as Hun Sen, Prayut Chan-o-cha, and the eventual return to politics of Mahathir Mohamad. Globally, he was part of a long list of men defined by a shared anti-feminist and anti-democratic ideology: Jair Bolsonaro, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, Viktor Orbán, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump. These leaders, even prior to the pandemic, displayed what Cohn has cautioned us of the ‘perils’ of masculinity.12 She points out how the practice of national security is pervasively shaped by ideas associating toughness and risk-taking with masculinity, and femininity with fear, caution, and vulnerability. Consequently, the need of male leaders like Trump to convince the world of how manly they are can imperil us all, especially when the stakes are very high such as with the covid-19 global crisis.

Studies have examined how populist and Far Right leaders employ gendered discourses in their crisis management and response to the covid-19 pandemic.13 This rapidly growing research area is demonstrating how ‘hypermasculine’ political leadership styles expected in times of crises were typically projected by contemporary male world leaders.14 Hypermasculine leadership by the likes of Trump, Putin, and Johnson is linked with failure to take the pandemic seriously which, in turn, contributed to the lack of timely and decisive responses that could have helped save lives. Here hypermasculinity is defined as the exaggerated embodiment of traits or qualities symbolising masculine aggression, control, and dominance which may be context specific. It constitutes a ‘“scenario of power” – evidenced in symbolism, rituals, texts, and doctrines – on the implementation and effectiveness of new and existing rules to combat covid-19’.15 By paying attention to gender in state responses to covid-19, feminist scholarship is demonstrating how contextualised discourses and symbols of masculinities are pivotal in shaping national and global security because they translate to policy choices and outcomes. However, what has been relatively unexamined in these discussions, and what the case of the Philippine state under Duterte clearly shows, is that these discourses and symbolic representations of power are also connected with the structure or materiality of hypermasculinity.

Direct and indirect impacts of covid-19 were far deadlier in an environment where there were pre-existing atrocity risk factors. This is exemplified by the administration of Duterte whereby the self-ascribed ‘strongman’ leader of the Philippines authored a national pandemic response that has resulted in one of the most lethal and long-suffering of covid-19 responses within the Asia-Pacific region, and globally. A murderous plague ensued such that covid-19 related deaths and suffering were exacerbated by an ill-prepared government on the one hand and, on the other, by ongoing heinous killings arising from Duterte’s relentless ‘war on drugs’ which predated the pandemic. The case of the Philippines illustrates how covid-19 deaths are intersecting with state-sanctioned violence against the most vulnerable populations, notably the urban poor, human rights defenders, and indigenous peoples. It shows how the pandemic, as a form of crisis, served as an opportunity to intensify state repression.

In theorising hypermasculinity as logic, I seek to bridge feminist analysis of individual leadership styles with structural and symbolic risk factors that contribute to a state’s predisposition for violence and atrocity crimes. Significant loss of life and livelihoods during the pandemic are logical outcomes of state hypermasculinity which combines militarised security, paternalist authority, and the domination of feminised ‘others’. My analysis therefore emphasises how state hypermasculinity is neither embodied simply by the gendered projections of power by state leaders, nor is it reducible to a leader’s speeches, however violent and misogynistic they are. What makes hypermasculinity particularly lethal is how all these combine with the unchecked mobilisation of state institutions for coercion and violence. Crucially, we must increasingly pay equal attention to how hypermasculinity results not only in gender-differentiated pandemic outcomes but also in totality, for the role it plays in determining the terms of life and death globally.16 There is a structural pattern to hypermasculinity which affects the distribution of state protection and punishment before, during, and after crises.

I develop my argument in three main parts. First, I provide a brief conceptual overview on state hypermasculinity as an organising logic to atrocity risk factors by synthesising different critical feminist perspectives on peace and security. I situate state hypermasculinity in the Philippines within the broader political crisis posed by the resurgence of authoritarianism and rise of the Global Right. Second, I then examine state hypermasculinity in the Philippines as embodied by President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs to demonstrate how a society was gradually but systematically primed for violence and its people rendered immune to mass loss of life. Third, I show how compounded deaths and violence in the ongoing health crisis in the Philippines are structurally and symbolically connected to the failures of a hypermasculinised pandemic response. The warning signs for which had already been in plain sight prior to the pandemic.

2 State Hypermasculinity as a Core Atrocity Risk Factor

Central to feminist international relations theorising is that all states are gendered – from the ideologies they harness and reproduce, to the material realities they enable.17 States are gendered in that they sustain, and are sustained by, discursive and structural processes.18 As Kantola argues, understanding the state as a discursive and structural effect underscores how power operates and not just who has power.19 Hypermasculinity epitomises why gender is fundamental to how crises are constructed materially and ideologically by the state. As a ‘reactionary stance’, it ‘arises when agents of hegemonic masculinity feel threatened or undermined, thereby needing to inflate, exaggerate, or otherwise distort their traditional masculinity’.20 Hypermasculinity is distinct from hegemonic masculinity in terms of the exaggerated performance or excesses in asserting male identity or masculine attributes. Connell defines hegemonic masculinity as ‘a dominant form of masculinity that embodies, organizes, and legitimates men’s domination in the world gender order as a whole’.21 Hegemonic masculinity therefore constitutes endemic relations of domination and subordination that operate between and among men and women. While masculinities and femininities are fluid, constructed, and contested, specific variants gain purchase at particular contexts and historical junctures.22 For instance, feminist scholars have examined hyper- and hegemonic masculinity in relation to wars and militarised security,23 and in the context of economic transformations.24 It is argued that hypermasculinity functions to consolidate political authority, especially in strengthening state control in the face of crisis.25 As a reactionary stance, this is embodied by the state and its key agents in order to ensure the adaptability and durability of patriarchal structures amid internal or external threats.

With the growing interest to understand the role hypermasculinity plays in the context of the covid-19 pandemic response and crisis management more broadly, it is vital that we do not miss out the material or structural conditions through which the state and its gendered construction of crises are made real in peoples’ everyday lives. Here I define state hypermasculinity as an organising logic to sets of gendered symbols, narratives, and assumptions that underpin or legitimate particular material relations of power. State hypermasculinity encompasses not just leadership styles but also structural and symbolic functions of the state. In the words of Agathangelou and Ling, ‘[w]e must scrutinize structures of privilege that protect certain definitions of “leadership,” “patriotism,” and “devotion” … “Who benefits from, and who pays for, the sacrifices required by all this militarizing and globalizing?”’26 The concept of state hypermasculinity I employ builds on this expansive definition to reveal the interlinked ways through which global politics is ‘overwhelming populated by men and dominated by masculine aspirations’.27 Moreover, that the state is not simply a unified entity but rather a ‘differentiated set of institutions, agencies and discourses’ operating through particular gendered logics of power.28 Hypermasculinity includes how the state allocates resources and responsibilities in society during ‘peace time’, how ‘crises’ are interpreted and framed, and consequently, the range of expertise and courses of action deemed relevant.

There are three main indicators of state hypermasculinity.

  1. a.Hypermasculinity as militarised security: This constitutes a rhetorical and material posturing towards violence, retribution and aggression against the enemy or ‘other’.29 This type of aggression is militarised or with recourse to harnessing the excessive use of force through state armed forces including the police. We see this for example in the legitimation of the excessive use of military and security forces or the allocating of resources thereat in response to crisis. In crisis settings, hypermasculinity as the hyper-focus on militarising crisis response precludes human-centric and holistic approaches to security. Consequently, such leadership actions are coded as the template for ‘good’ or ‘strong’ crisis leadership.
  2. b.Hypermasculinity as paternalism: The projection of benevolent paternalism is evident particularly when male political leaders regard their authority as the ‘father of the nation’ who knows and pursues what is best for the country. This is also reflected by narratives and imageries of the paternal protector in justifying humanitarian interventions.30 Emboldened by pre-existing gendered cultural norms around filial piety, paternalism equates to an authoritarian form of governance whereby institutional spaces for deliberation around public interests and goals are constrained. The state as father can legitimately punish those who disobey him and enforce discipline to maintain order. In turn, society is expected to embody the maternal attributes of ‘diligence, discipline and deference’.31 This means to effectively bear the burden of development or crisis recovery without participating in decision-making.
  3. c.Hypermasculinity and the domination of feminised others: Projecting a macho image is integral for legitimating domestic political authority, especially in the face of external security threats.32 The state is the embodiment of male aggression, invincibility, and sexual virility writ large such that prowess in the private sphere of intimate relations is interpreted to extend to the public sphere of the state. Hypermasculinity occurs in tandem with the denigration of women, sexual minorities, and all those perceived to threaten or oppose the state. It therefore naturalises sexual and gender-based violence and demonstrates ways of weaponising cultures of sexism and misogyny. In state hypermasculinity, gendered violence and harms are not ‘unintended consequences’ but rather logical outcomes of crisis response.

These indicators interrelate and provide starting points for examining the gendered linkages between atrocity risk factors, state identity and institutions, and leadership in crisis responses.

In this article, I situate the significance of theorising state hypermasculinity for its contribution to broadening our existing knowledge on atrocity prevention and why gender matters to global security agendas such as the global responsibility to protect (R2P). For example, feminist perspectives have identified the importance of taking seriously widespread sexual and gender-based violence as early warning signs for other forms of atrocities; as well as the gendered nature of atrocity risk factors more broadly.33 Thus far, the specific import of state hypermasculinity to the study of crises and mass atrocities remains underexamined. Yet through it, as feminist research suggests, we are able to interpret how atrocities emerge or intensify based on the gendered logics of state responses to crises. Framing state hypermasculinity as an atrocity risk factor helps disrupt the notion that hypermasculinity as a phenomenon is exclusive or limited to crisis settings to show that it increasingly extends to the ‘everyday’ and can therefore be prevented.34 This is more relevant given the context of increasingly routine and multiple crises at national and global levels.

Scholarship on contemporary populism, the Far Right, and authoritarianism suggest that their resurgence is not coincidental. Causal explanations situate their shared origins in systemic political crises resulting from uneven development, the sharpening of inequalities, and wider societal contradictions as peoples are displaced and depleted by neo-liberal global economic policies.35 Hadiz and Chryssogelos argue that contemporary populism is ‘a distinctive reaction to the social dislocations of globalisation, which can be expressed in a dizzying variety of ways depending on the local, regional and historical context’ and that ‘we see commonalities between populist reactions that have emerged in the more advanced as well as less economically developed parts of the world’.36 Drawing on feminist perspectives, what brings together variants of strongman leaders across different political regimes in the major regions of the world is that they all embody how the state and the authority that derives from it are shaped by gender relations.37 Hypermasculine backlash is a global phenomenon precisely because varied crises are threatening not only elite or dominant men but also the international order and its role in organising and reproducing life. We are actually experiencing an intensification of the consequences of pre-existing patriarchal structures and violent masculinities.

Projections of ‘hard’ or ‘strong’ rule as well as intolerance of dissent and opposition are intensifying and increasingly de rigueur at a time when global processes are shaped by ever deepening insecurities posed by the rise of violent extremism and religious fundamentalism, climate change, economic recession, protracted conflicts, and now the pandemic. That is, in times of crises, ‘[ma]sculinised imageries allow national leaders to present security as a result of their rule, making that rule legitimate’.38 Hypermasculinity, however, invariably leads to perpetual cycles of competition and conflict.39 Hypermasculinity by one state triggers similar reactionary responses from other states and from within societies. The structural effects of which include the resourcing of war efforts and militaries at the expense of sustainable development and long-term peace. In crisis settings, state hypermasculinity can be more intensely fraught with contradiction and contestations because it is inevitably impotent to address complex and multiple dimensions of insecurities. For instance, security viewed through the lens of militarism produces particular beliefs and institutions that attribute ‘expertise’ with the military. What are considered inferior or secondary are civic spaces and the international community where alternative crisis solutions may emerge from and are validated. Paradoxically, failures in crisis management are being harnessed by populist and Far Right leaders as justification for doubling down on militarisation and limiting dissent.40 According to Chacko and Jayasuriya,

It is the tendency towards the sharpening of crisis and the inability to manage these crises – the crisis of crisis management – that exemplify the failure of neo-liberal political projects. These failures have led to authoritarian tendencies in governance that are often legitimised through appeals to populism and nationalism.41

Duterte represents a particularly deadly variant of hypermasculinity compared to other leaders like Trump who are situated in contexts where democratic institutions and particularly civil society can prevent or to some degree lessen abuses of state power. State hypermasculinity in the Philippines emerges out of the relationship between individual ‘strongman’ leadership styles and the ‘normalised’ repertoires of state violence and repression at their disposal. For example, McCoy’s analysis of Duterte situates him as a member of a ‘contemporary generation of global populists’ with the likes of Trump and Putin, and as part of a ‘long lineage of “strongmen”’ within the Philippines.42 For a country long besieged by protracted conflicts, severe disasters, poverty, and chronic corruption, ‘strongman’ leaders appeal to a popular and historical desire for order. According to McCoy, ‘successful Filipino strongmen … offered a promise of order, projecting an aura of personal power that appealed to their country’s impoverished masses’.43 Importantly, the defining feature of Filipino populist or strongmen leaders is the combining of the ‘high politics of great-power diplomacy and the low politics of performative violence, with corpses written upon and read as texts’.44 Duterte, like his predecessors, has been able to monopolise, wield, and sanction the use of political violence especially at local and provincial levels.45 Like his Asian counterparts, Duterte distinctly resorts to ‘culture’, particularly expressed in masculinised national values and identity to legitimise authoritarian modes of governance internationally. Yet this is done while preserving global political and economic hierarchies. For instance, as I will discuss further below, Duterte has employed rhetoric on national sovereignty in resisting international human rights scrutiny over his ‘war on drugs’ yet, at the same time, expressing powerlessness over China on security issues such as the ongoing South China Sea disputes and on imposing travel bans at the start of the pandemic for fear of upsetting economic relations.

Much has been written examining Duterte as a populist leader and the violent implications of his rule for human rights and well-being in the country.46 Systematic feminist analysis of Duterte’s presidency, however, remains limited.47 Where his hypermasculinity has been examined, this is primarily in terms of discursive performance and projection of power48 and separate from the material basis of his power. Using the pandemic response in the Philippines under Duterte, I underscore the urgent need to understand hypermasculinity in an integrated manner – in ways that draw out the connections between the gendered reproduction of the state, and the structural and symbolic risk factors for mass atrocities. In doing so, I advance a feminist approach to ongoing discussions at the cross-roads of atrocity prevention and meaningful inclusion of gender in pandemic response.

3 Pre-pandemic Atrocity Crimes and Risk Factors in the Philippines

Prior to the covid-19 pandemic, several risk factors for mass atrocities were reported in the Philippines. Based on an Asia-Pacific regional assessment for atrocity crimes against civilians, the Philippines was deemed to be at ‘very high risk’ (together with Myanmar and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).49 First, several protracted conflicts are affecting rural or remote areas of the Philippines, but particularly in Mindanao. Mindanao has been transitioning to peace after the signing of the peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (milf) in 2014. The enactment of the 2018 Bangsamoro Basic Law, which broadly formalised the terms of the peace agreement, further affirmed this commitment to peace. However, violence and instability have renewed with the emergence of extremist groups threatening to undermine the peace gains. These Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (isis)-affiliated groups were able to put one locality, Marawi, under a five-month siege in 2017. Their presence in Mindanao is justifying ongoing military-led counter-terrorism operations. Consequently, Mindanao was under martial law until January 2020 (around the time that covid-19 was about to become a global disease outbreak) and at the time of writing remains in a state of emergency. On another conflict front, the communist insurgency in the Philippines, which is among the longest running insurgencies in the Asia-Pacific region, continues to result in sporadic violence and localised internal displacement. The government peace process on this front has stalled despite initial optimism in 2016 when Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire, resumed formal talks, and temporarily released detained representatives for negotiations. By 2017, Duterte reversed these decisions and issued a proclamation reinstating the status of the Communist Party and all affiliated members as terrorists.50

Second, pre-existing weak state structures have perpetuated a deeply rooted culture of impunity and have long enabled routine crime and human rights violations to go unreported in the country. If violent crimes do get reported, victims face multiple barriers – from lack of legal and financial resources to dealing with further threats of death or retaliation from the perpetrators. Prior to serving as President, Duterte was a mayor in Mindanao where atrocities committed by his ‘death squad’, once described as a ‘murderous plague’, were heavily documented.51 Yet, to date, no one from the squad has been prosecuted and made accountable for their crimes. Duterte himself has been rewarded with political office based on his legacy of violence. The problem of impunity is reportedly most acute when violence is one-sided and perpetrated by state armed groups such as the military or police. Extrajudicial killings and related crimes such as sexual and gender-based violence have been found to distinctly impact marginalised populations, particularly women, girls, and sexual minorities belonging to poor, ethnic or indigenous communities.52 Similarly, in cases of gender-based violence, victims already face barriers at the barangay53 or community-level response. While under the law, all barangays must be equipped to assist and refer services, there are cases where barangay officials themselves do not know how to issue domestic violence protection orders.54 Rape victims in remote locations are also faced with lack of access to health services that are vital to treat the often brutal consequences of such violence. These examples reflect the long history of lack of access to justice and the compounding impacts of weak local or community-level public social welfare especially in geographically remote areas.

Third, the Philippines is at high risk for climate vulnerability. According to the Global Climate Risk Index report, the Philippines is in the top five countries in the world in terms of populations most affected by extreme weather events from 2000 to 2019. It also had the highest prevalence of extreme events at 317 in a span of 19 years, or roughly 17 mega-disasters per year.55 Extreme disasters can trigger or exacerbate atrocity risks in pre-existing conflict and disaster-induced displacements. In March 2020, as covid-19 started to spread nationwide, there were reportedly 359,941 internally displaced persons in Mindanao due to protracted conflicts and disaster. Approximately 127,865 of those had been displaced by the 2017 siege of Marawi.56 Climate vulnerability is further compounded by atrocity risk factors in relation to forced evictions and aggression on issues of ancestral lands and environmental protection, with killings of indigenous peoples, peasants, and activists who resist businesses and local elites in order to protect the environment, traditional lands, and livelihood. The country therefore is also one of the deadliest places to be an environmental defender.57 These forms of violence implicate the Philippine state and its role in enabling human rights violations by extractive industries such as mining and logging companies and large-scale agribusiness.58

While it is clear that atrocity risk factors have been in place prior to the Duterte presidency, there is also mounting and compelling evidence that these have all intensified since he took office in June 2016. Embodying the logic of state hypermasculinity, Duterte has intensified the militarisation of security; paternalism, along with a concomitant restriction of public deliberation and dissent; and the repression of feminised others. First, militarism has been the default security approach under Duterte’s rule and his pronouncements form part of, and feed, societal violence. He rose to power by promising to restore order and discipline in the country by violent means. Duterte postured that he was responding to a crisis driven by criminality and corruption affecting the country.59 Consequently through his own admission, he made ‘uniformed personnel of government’ as the ‘backbone of [his] administration’.60 This includes fulfilling a campaign promise of improving the salary and benefits received by the military and police.61 As soon as he was elected, the drug war deployed death squads writ large. Demonstrating the profound extent of state punishment, the death toll from Duterte’s drug war since July 2016 ranges from a conservative estimate of 8,663 people according to the UN Human Rights Council,62 to possibly three times as high based on statements from the Philippine Commission on Human Rights63 and information collected by the International Criminal Court.64 The official record from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency,65 the agency implementing Duterte’s drug war, is 6,011 deaths from July 2016 to December 2020. Duterte’s war on drugs has been reasonably believed to account for crimes of murder, torture, and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm perpetrated throughout the country based on findings from the International Criminal Court.66 It has also been argued that those crimes satisfy the stages of genocide.67

Second, Duterte, referred to by his followers as Tatay Digong (father), benefited from and actively reproduced representations of himself as father of the nation. Consequently, underpinning his paternalistic exercise of power is the expectation that society will fulfil feminine attributes of duty and obedience. Protection is extended to society so long as they do not challenge his authority. Core to state hypermasculinity under Duterte is the drive to actively dismantle media presence. Doing so functions to prevent sources validating the (in)accuracy of state information, to stifle dissenting views, and to help obscure the systematic and widespread nature of the violence perpetrated by state agents. A notable example is the rejection of the franchise renewal and therefore effective closure of a major media and broadcasting company, abs-cbn, known to air criticisms of Duterte’s governance. Moreover, Philippine democracy has been constantly threatened and undermined with the rapid and increased production and dissemination of misinformation and disinformation on social media. Researchers have shown how politically motivated falsely curated contents are circulated by so-called ‘architects of networked disinformation’.68 These disinformation networks have weaponised the internet to bolster popular support for Duterte’s administration. Meanwhile, social media platforms are turned into toxic environments for any individual or institution expressing criticism or grievances against him and his administration because of the harassment and vitriolic campaign they face from paid trolls, ‘bot armies’, and through a range of fake news websites run by Duterte supporters.

Third and relatedly, in enforcing his paternalist rule, state hypermasculinity under Duterte is evidenced by the violent repression and domination of feminised ‘others’. While ostensibly targeted at eliminating illicit drugs in the country, the drug war is shown to have been used as a pretext to eliminate political opposition and create a general climate of fear and reprisal. Back when he was still a mayor, Duterte’s drug war was already known to extend to his political rivals.69 This tactic is observed to be part of his presidency too, with local mayors and political rivals facing intimidation, threats to life, or eventually getting killed. Anyone in political office or aspiring to be elected are feminised (that is, rendered weak or forced into submission) vis-à-vis Duterte’s rule, for they ‘confront fearsome examples of what happens to those who fall out of favour with the presidential palace’.70 Most visibly, Duterte has focused on wielding his authority to subjugate women in political office who have criticised his rule and who he perceives as threats. These prominent women include former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (who was impeached from office), Senators Leila de Lima and Risa Hontiveros and Vice President Leni Robredo.71 Clearly with a gendered pattern of intimidation and repression, Duterte has also targeted women in the media, notably Maria Ressa, a journalist and Chief Executive Officer of a news website – Rappler. Ressa has faced arrests and multiple criminal charges. She, along with other critics, was the focus of state-sponsored online ‘patriotic trolling’, misogynistic comments, and hate speech.72 The rise and resilience of Duterte’s strongman rule is connected with his leveraging of underlying sexism and misogyny in Philippine society. While addressing state forces, Duterte gave an order against female communist rebels: ‘We won’t kill you. We will just shoot your vagina’.73 In the past, Duterte has also publicly promoted impunity for sexual violence under martial law. He has said every soldier can rape at most three women and still be protected from prosecution under his administration.

Lastly, Duterte’s efforts to dominate those who oppose him is evident in his clear disregard for international and national human rights institutions and civil society. Juxtaposed against his hypermasculine rule, these forces represent an important mitigating factor for atrocity crimes. Duterte, however, has consistently expressed anti-United Nations statements, including openly threatening to inflict physical violence against a female UN Special Rapporteur.74 Under his leadership, the State has resisted cooperating on any external inquiry into his drug war and related extrajudicial killings, claiming national sovereignty. Notably, the International Criminal Court launched a probe into possible crimes against humanity in February 2018. The Philippines consequently gave notification of its withdrawal from the Rome Statute on 17 March 2018, which became effective the following year. Nationally, he has criticised and sought to undermine the work of the national Commission on Human Rights. He has threatened to abolish the Commission and accused civil society groups of ‘weaponising human rights’ to merely discredit his authority.75 Human rights activists and lawyers have been included in the long list of groups that are the targets of extrajudicial killings. Data being collected by independent groups show that there have been ‘at least 61 lawyers killed under the 5 years of Duterte. In contrast, only 49 lawyers were killed in a span of 44 years from Marcos to former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, Duterte’s predecessor’.76 Many lawyers face or have been threatened by criminal charges themselves as reprisal for pursuing human rights cases.77 From January 2015 to December 2019, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights verified cases relating to the death of 208 human rights defenders, journalists, and trade unionists – 30 of whom were women.78

Prior to the pandemic, checks and balances against atrocity crimes were severely curtailed. State hypermasculinity, particularly the range of violent discursive and structural mechanisms at Duterte’s disposal since 2016, should have served as a clear and early warning signal for the murderous plague that would ensue beginning in 2020 when covid-19 reached the Philippines. I now turn to examining the specific intersections of pandemic harms with pre- existing atrocity risk factors.

4 Intersecting Atrocities: The Nexus between the covid-19 Pandemic and State Hypermasculinity

Sudden changes as a result of disasters or epidemics are among the recognised ‘triggering factors’ for atrocity crimes under the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes.79 Crises can aggravate existing risk factors or may be used as an ‘opportunity’ to perpetuate atrocity crimes with impunity. This is indeed the case in the Philippines where, alarmingly, the national pandemic response is even being harnessed in the service of the drug war and state repression. Intersecting with deaths due to covid-19, extrajudicial killings registered a 50 per cent increase between April and July 2020.80 According to International idea’s Global Monitor of covid-19’s Impact on Democracy and Human Rights which surveys 162 countries, the Philippines is among several countries where concerning developments are occurring.81 International idea has signalled the alarm on countries such as the Philippines for ‘covid-19 related measures or developments that violate human rights or democratic benchmarks’ and ‘because [these are] considered either disproportionate, unnecessary, illegal or indefinite’.82 Under the leadership of Duterte, the Philippine pandemic response has been marked by multiple violations especially in terms of personal integrity and security. It is also classified as ‘high risk’ for pandemic- induced democratic backsliding notably due to restrictions on civil liberties, media integrity, and freedom of expression.83

4.1 Militarised Pandemic Response

The Philippine covid-19 response, circumscribed by state hypermasculine logic, has been punitive, criminalised, and deadly. It strongly illustrates violence and suffering were logical outcomes of discursive and structural processes reproduced by the State; and not simply ‘natural’ and therefore inevitable consequences of an unprecedented global health crisis. As pointed out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

The response to covid-19 has seen the same heavy-handed security approach that appears to have been mainstreamed through the ramped-up campaign against illegal drugs and by counter-insurgency imperatives. While important measures were taken to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic on vulnerable communities, threats of martial law, the use of force by security forces in enforcing quarantines and the use of laws to stifle criticism have also marked the Government’s response.84

Duterte has authorised the locking up of quarantine offenders and has told law enforcers to ‘shoot troublemakers dead’.85 There were also reports that curfew violators were being abused, and in one province, detained in dog cages.86 In the context of vaccine roll-out, Duterte similarly ordered people who refuse vaccination to be arrested.87

Since assuming office, Duterte has made every national decision-making process military and police-driven and therefore exclusionary. Duterte has viewed governance through the truncated lens of war and wields the military and police at every crisis. To lead the country’s pandemic response, his administration created the Inter-Agency Task Force on covid-19, comprised predominantly of retired generals and ex-military personnel, including a man dubbed as the ‘vaccine czar’.88 He has maintained that the military is best placed to lead the pandemic response because they excel in logistics.89 The dominance of the defence and security sectors within Duterte’s cabinet leaves little room for the technical health expertise needed to respond to a pandemic. Moreover, the long legacy of militarism in the country is a contributing factor to why, structurally, preparedness for a pandemic was low in the country. For example, research by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative suggests that there are limited connections and collaboration among actors with expertise on pandemics in the country.90 Human development and life expectancies among Filipinos are uneven such that ‘[F]aced with catastrophic events, the rich draw down their wealth; the poor draw down their health’.91 That is, prior to the pandemic, poorer households already had less resources to spend on health because these were redirected to everyday or ‘survival’ expenses such as food. With the pandemic, health gaps intensified as punitive measures further victimised the poor. It was commonly reported that the reason why people broke covid-19 restrictions was out of desperation. Strict lockdowns meant income loss and hunger.92 Approximately 41 per cent of the total number of confirmed cases and 39 per cent of deaths in the country are from the National Capital Region, where the urban poor of Manila are located.93

The initial phase of the covid-19 health crisis was marked by clear shortages in equipment and facilities thereby endangering the safety of health workers. There were nationwide problems in the availability of personal protective equipment (ppe), ventilators, beds, and diagnostic equipment and supplies. These health shortages are structurally linked to militarism and to the massive redirection of resources towards Duterte’s war on drugs. The already weak health systems in the country were further eroded by the lack of resourcing for health workers during the pandemic. This is in contrast to the wealth directed towards the police and military.94 Worse, in August 2021, a routine audit of state expenditures revealed that billions worth of covid-19 funds have either been unused or misused.95 The conditions have rapidly worsened for health workers such that on multiple occasions, a coalition of medical and health care groups have protested and threatened to resign from their posts due to government inefficiencies and corruption which have left them underpaid and overworked, as well as on the ‘frontlines’ of the country’s ‘losing battle’ against covid-19.96

4.2 Virulent Paternalism

Because Duterte reproduces and invests in militarising crises, he cannot but interpret differing views as an existential threat to his power. As part of the logic of state hypermasculinity, institutional spaces for diverse voices and perspectives to pandemic response were limited, especially from health experts. This is evident in that Duterte, like his strongman counterparts globally, shunned advice from health experts in a bid to project masculine invincibility. He initially implied that ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug, could be used as treatment for covid-19.97 He also advised people to clean their face masks with petrol.98 The country’s own department of health had advised against these measures. Duterte clearly benefited from, and therefore did nothing to mitigate, the covid-19 ‘infodemic’ which readily emerged and flourished in the country. As was seen in the context of the war on drugs, disinformation functions to detach and desensitise people from the systematic killings occurring in the country. It serves as a convenient tool for perpetuating Duterte’s virulent paternalism because, in a digital environment muddled by falsehoods and inaccuracies, people are afforded narratives that only validate their own pre-existing beliefs and affirm experiences that reflect their immediate or narrow environment.99 His authority cannot be easily refuted or challenged because, in part, people’s access to reliable information has been fragmented.

The implementation of covid-19 regulations was similarly mediated by a pervasive climate of disinformation and mistrust. Widespread and coordinated disinformation provided a fertile ground for framing health experts and professionals as blameworthy despite their being on the front lines of the crisis. Based on existing data, almost 20 per cent of those infected in the country are health workers.100 Networks of Filipino health workers and professionals have voiced their discontent over the national response and protested against pandemic militarism because these have led to solutions that are not informed by human rights and security. Duterte and his spokespersons responded by framing Filipinos, especially front-line health workers who express their discontent, as ‘enemies’ who do nothing but complain.101 Most notably, in one of his nightly pandemic ‘talks’ via YouTube, aired on 2 August 2020, he stated that these ‘complaints’ amount to a form of ‘demeaning the government’ and as an incitement to ‘revolution’ – to which he dared them to ‘do it’.102 As in the case of health workers in other parts of the world, Filipino health workers are targeted and vilified by their own government.103

Finally, for all his hypermasculine posturing against the UN and the international human rights community, Duterte was initially recalcitrant to impose travel restrictions for China against health expert advice. He and his spokespersons maintained that to do so would be ‘unfair’ to China, a move tantamount to upsetting good economic relations. This stance is a continuation of his foreign policy approach on geopolitical security issues involving China such as on the South China Sea territorial dispute. It demonstrates how hypermasculinity is relational and multifaceted. The contradiction in projecting himself as a macho ruler domestically, while selectively subordinating his masculinity globally, is reconciled through the discursive and structural effect of benevolent paternalism. In his own words, ‘But who’s going to war?… ‘My troops? My police officers? They will all just die… Why will I go to war for a battle I cannot win? That would make me look stupid.’104

4.3 Feminising and Silencing Opposition

Despite the UN’s global call for a ceasefire to end the covid-19 pandemic,105 the Philippine state under Duterte intensified its counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. While lockdowns were in effect, the Philippine government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act in June 2020. Red-tagging refers to the labelling of or insinuation that individuals and groups who are left-leaning are all communists and therefore terrorists. The targets of red-tagging, following the same trajectory of the drug war, has broadened beyond the usual suspects of communists and members of the New People’s Army. They now include individuals who hold critical views against the Duterte administration, journalists, and universities, the last for allegedly indoctrinating students with leftist ideology and communist recruitment.106 For example, only a few months after the Anti-Terrorism Act was passed, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines reported that as a result of being red-tagged or labelled as a communist organisation in a presentation made by the Department of National Defense to the Philippine Congress in 2019, they were harassed by the military.107 The National Council provides emergency assistance to communities especially in rural and displacement settings. Consequently, incidences of military harassment hindered timely humanitarian response.

The intensification of red-tagging while the covid-19 pandemic is ongoing represents fundamental problems in the security approach embodied by the Philippine state. Prior to the Anti-Terrorism Act, Executive Order 70 was adopted to pursue a whole-of-nation approach via the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in 2018. Yet, overwhelmingly this has resulted, like the drug war, in human rights violations and deaths at a time when thousands of Filipino lives were being lost due to the pandemic. In March 2021, the coordinated killings and arrests of human rights activists, known as the ‘Bloody Sunday’ operation, occurred in several provinces south of Manila. A local police chief confirmed that the operation was legitimate and in line with Executive Order 70. Two days before the Bloody Sunday operation, Duterte delivered a public statement where he openly ‘ordered the police and military “to shoot and kill right away” if they see communists holding a gun and “ignore human rights”’.108 There are reports that the new anti-terrorism law has been weaponised to silence discontent from the public regarding the shortcomings and violent approach to the pandemic.

A material cost of silencing opposition is in limiting access to humanitarian assistance and movement of aid workers. In particular, it has undermined the work of churches, service-oriented groups, and humanitarian organisations serving communities most at risk such as those in internal displacement facilities.109 The negative consequences are gendered too. Women’s civil society groups have been crucial in mitigating pandemic response gaps.110 Within months of the covid-19 lockdowns being enforced in the country, women’s groups sounded the alarm on the highly likely pandemic ‘baby boom’ estimated at 1.8 million unplanned pregnancies and 751,000 unintended pregnancies. For a country with already high maternal mortality rates, the baby boom will also likely be tied to maternal deaths and health complications emanating from pandemic-clogged health systems and fractured social welfare mechanisms. Indeed, according to the United Nations Population Fund (unfpa) Philippines,

[w]hen health service providers are overburdened and preoccupied with handling covid-19 cases, however, lifesaving care and support to gbv [gender-based violence] survivors (i.e. clinical management of rape, mental health and psycho-social support, etc) may be cut off. Other vulnerabilities that women are facing connected to the lockdown have also been reported.111

Consequently, women’s groups have had to improvise ways of continuing the gender-specific services they provide at great personal risk due to covid-19 exposure and red-tagging from the military and police. Local government leaders, especially mayors, are also leading innovative and responsive solutions to care for their constituents in spite of Duterte’s rebuke that they are ‘upstaging’ national government efforts.112 Public calls for accountability have not been fully stifled despite growing cases of pandemic-induced human rights violations and threats of atrocity crimes.

5 Conclusion: Resisting State Hypermasculinity as Atrocity Prevention

State hypermasculinity in response to the covid-19 health crisis is potentially accelerating reversals in atrocity prevention, human rights, and peacebuilding. In this article, I have examined the case of the Philippines under Duterte wherein the current state response to the pandemic embodies a continuation of hypermasculinity via militarised security, paternalism, and the subjugation of feminised ‘others’ as ‘enemies’ of the state. The ongoing covid-19 situation underscores the importance of not situating the scale of death and disease outbreak in the country in terms of governance failures that occurred because of an ‘unprecedented’ crisis. Rather, it must be viewed against the range of heightened risk factors and mass atrocities perpetrated under Duterte’s hypermasculine rule. The warning signs were already present: the war on drugs; systematic targeting of the opposition and ramping up a military-driven rule that excludes the importance of other expertise; the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation; red-tagging; and the harnessing of misogyny and normalisation of sexual and gender-based violence. Paying attention to the logic of state hypermasculinity is crucial for atrocity prevention. Resisting state hypermasculinity is necessary to avoid preventable deaths and human rights violations before, during, and after any crisis. Rendering governance fit for purpose in the context of multiple crises requires understanding how various atrocity crimes follow crisis-specific or ‘crisis-induced’ logics. This includes examining the implications of state hypermasculinity for impeding regional and global cooperation on health governance founded on holistic and human security approaches.113

While crises can provide windows of opportunity to strengthen and link up existing atrocity protection and prevention measures, viewing covid-19 pandemic responses in relation to the structural and symbolic risk factors of state hypermasculinity reveals that atrocity prevention can no longer be intelligible in relation to ‘states of exception’. It must be increasingly reoriented as a permanent part of global long-term structural reforms, sustainable development, and just post-pandemic recovery. As this article has shown, the global pandemic is highlighting the need to take seriously how strengthening health systems and local responses are vital for atrocity prevention and yet are depleted by contests of masculinity among world leaders. While we are yet to see it happening on a global scale, crisis-prone countries such as the Philippines are illustrative of the urgent need to ensure global security agendas such as the Responsibility to Protect, incorporate a more expansive definition of gendered risk factors and early warning signs, and how atrocities occur in the context of intersecting hazards from conflicts, disasters, climate change vulnerability, and pandemics. Ensuring gender-responsive atrocity prevention is at the heart of pandemic response must involve tackling how state hypermasculinity is clearly emerging as a vector for pathological crises that result in preventable deaths.

The problem, however, is that while covid-19 is enabling an important shift to understanding gender in the context of disease outbreaks, it remains siloed under ‘solutions’ rather than for constituting a global threat to health more generally.114 As Harman argues, ‘[w]hen gender is recognised at all, it is as a solution to health outbreaks, where gender norms and expectations as to who does care (women), who leads (men) and who counts (men and women, but not non-binary people) are maintained’.115 That is, gender is seen as relevant in so far as it reproduces the gendered division of labour, the feminisation of responsibility for crisis response, and a blindness to how gender is causal to the systemic crises we are experiencing today. There is yet to be a systematic engagement on how gender through hypermasculinity serves as a risk factor for atrocity crimes and thus constitutes a threat to global security.

In examining the case of the Philippines under Duterte, I aim to facilitate new lines of inquiry to scrutinise how crises and insecurities – whether real or constructed – enable leaders who have pre-existing ‘strongman’ or hypermasculine attributes to rise to power. How and to what extent is hypermasculinity deliberately being performed or embodied in order to consolidate political authority and legitimise the excessive use of state power in response to covid-19? Further research can examine how crises such as the global pandemic enable existing leaders to more intensely revert to or rely upon hypermasculine rhetoric and response and at what costs. Indeed, prior to the pandemic, the resurgence of state hypermasculinity was already constituting a significant global threat to the well-being of many people. It should not be a surprise therefore that countries that are failing to manage covid-19 or are contributing to pandemic inequalities globally are also those where state hypermasculinity is evident. Crucially, Duterte is illustrative of the extreme and deadly variant under which state hypermasculinity can operate if given the political-economic structures for ‘strongmen’ to brazenly wield political violence. The challenge ahead in the Philippines and more globally is for academics, policymakers and practitioners alike to proactively begin to address the challenges and barriers posed by recognising state hypermasculinity as an early warning sign for atrocity crimes. As this global crisis further unfolds, it is important to monitor how the target of state hypermasculinity is broadening to include not only pre-existing vulnerable groups but also increasingly an ever-growing category of individuals, and all of us collectively.


Albert Camus, The Plague (London: Penguin, 1947), Part 1, Chapter 5.


This research received support from the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, University of Queensland. I thank Noel Morada and Mely Caballero-Anthony for feedback on an earlier draft. I am also grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive engagement with the article. Writing during the pandemic and specifically on painful realities happening ‘back home’ was difficult and yet made possible through the friendship of Ruji Auethavornpipat and Earvin Cabalquinto.


World Health Organization (who), ‘Coronavirus Disease (covid-19) Situation Report 1, Philippines’, 9 March 2020,, 19 March 2022.


who, ‘who Coronavirus (covid-19) Dashboard: Philippines’,, accessed 16 February 2022.


who, ‘who Coronavirus (covid-19) Dashboard: Overview’,, accessed 28 April 2021.


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Out of 53 countries, the Philippines was ranked ‘the worst place to be’ in during the covid-19 pandemic by Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking. Scores are based on vaccination rate, lockdown severity, and degree of safe reopening to international travel. For further details, see, accessed 19 March 2022.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (unhcr), ‘Figures at a Glance’,, accessed 19 March 2022.


who, ‘who Director-General’s Opening Remarks at the Media Briefing on covid-19 – 11 March 2020’ (emphasis added),, accessed 19 March 2022.


See Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2020/21: The State of the World’s Human Rights, 6 April 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022; and Human Rights Watch, ‘covid-19 Triggers Wave of Free Speech Abuse’,, accessed 19 March 2022.


ohchr, ‘Emergency Measures and covid-19: Guidance’,, accessed 19 March 2022; ohchr, ‘covid-19: States Should Not Abuse Emergency Measures to Suppress Human Rights – UN Experts’, 16 March 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Carol Cohn, ‘The Perils of Mixing Masculinity and Missiles’, The New York Times, 5 January 2018,, accessed 19 March 2022. See also Carol Cohn, ‘Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals’, Signs, 12(4) 687–718 (1987).


Anna Kuteleva and Sarah J. Clifford, ‘Gendered Securitisation: Trump’s and Putin’s Discursive Politics of the covid-19 Pandemic’, European Journal of International Security (online), (2021), doi:10.1017/eis.2021.5; Christine Agius, Annika Bergman Rosamond, and Catarina Kinnvall, ‘Populism, Ontological Insecurity and Gendered Nationalism: Masculinity, Climate Denial and Covid-19’, Politics, Religion & Ideology, 21(4) 432–450 (2020).


Carol Johnson and Blair Williams, ‘Gender and Political Leadership in a Time of covid’, Politics & Gender 16, 943–950 (2020); Georgina Waylen, ‘Gendering Political Leadership: Hypermasculine Leadership and Covid-19’, Journal of European Public Policy, 28(8) 1153–1173 (2021).


Waylen, ‘Gendering Political Leadership’, p. 1161.


Agius et al., ‘Populism, Ontological Insecurity and Gendered Nationalism’.


See for example, Swati Parashar, J. Ann Tickner, and Jacqui True (eds.), Revisiting Gendered States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018); Jane L. Parpart and Marysia Zalewski (eds.), Rethinking the Man Question: Sex, Gender and Violence in International Relations (London; New York: Zed Books, 2008); Charlotte Hooper, Manly States: Masculinities, International Relations, and Gender Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001); V. Spike Peterson, Gendered States (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1992).


Johanna Kantola, ‘The Gendered Reproduction of the State in International Relations’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 9, 270–283 (2007).




Anna Agathangelou and L. H. M. Ling, ‘Power, Borders, Security, Wealth: Lessons of Violence and Desire from September 11’, International Studies Quarterly, 48(3) 517–538 (2004), p. 519.


Raewyn W. Connell, The Men and the Boys (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000), p. 46; Juanita Elias and Christine Beasley, ‘Hegemonic Masculinity and Globalization: “Transnational Business Masculinities” and Beyond’, Globalizations, 6(2) 281–296 (2009).


Shweta Singh and Élise Féron, ‘Towards an Intersectional Approach to Populism: Comparative Perspectives from Finland and India’, Contemporary Politics (online), (2021), p. 2,


Agathangelou and Ling, ‘Power, Borders, Security, Wealth’; Jennifer Heeg Maruska, ‘When Are States Hypermasculine?’ in Laura Sjoberg (ed.), Gender and International Security: Feminist Perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2010), pp. 235–255; Parpart and Zalewski, Rethinking the Man Question.


Jongwoo Han and L. H. M. Ling, ‘Authoritarianism in the Hypermasculinized State: Hybridity, Patriarchy, and Capitalism in Korea’, International Studies Quarterly, 42(1) 53–78 (1998); Charlotte Hooper, Manly States: Masculinities, International Relations, and Gender Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001); Elias and Beasley, ‘Hegemonic Masculinity and Globalization’.


See also Nira Yuval-Davis, Gender and Nation (London: Sage, 1997); Cynthia Enloe, Seriously! Investigating Crashes and Crises as if Women Mattered (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).


Agathangelou and Ling, ‘Power, Borders, Security, Wealth’, p. 134.


Parpart and Zalewski, Rethinking the Man Question.


Kantola, ‘The Gendered Reproduction of the State in International Relations’, p. 278.


Agathangelou and Ling, ‘Power, Borders, Security, Wealth’; Maruska, ‘When Are States Hypermasculine?’.


Fiona Robinson, ‘Humanitarian Intervention and Global Security Governance’ in The Ethics of Care: A Feminist Approach to Human Security (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011), pp. 85–102; Anne Orford, ‘Muscular Humanitarianism: Reading the Narratives of the New Interventionism’, European Journal of International Law, 10(4) 679–711 (1999).


Han and Ling, ‘Authoritarianism in the Hypermasculinized State’.


Yuval-Davis, Gender and Nation; Karen Kampwirth, Gender and Populism in Latin America: Passionate Politics (Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 2010); Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, ‘Vox Populi or Vox Masculini? Populism and Gender in Northern Europe and South America’, Patterns of Prejudice, 49(1–2) 16–36 (2015).


Sara Davies, Zim Nwokora, Eli Stamnes, and Sara Teitt (eds.), Responsibility to Protect and Women, Peace and Security: Aligning the Protection Agendas (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2013); Sara E. Davies and Eli Stamnes, ‘GR2P Special Issue: The Responsibility to Protect and Sexual and Gender Based Violence (sgbv)’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 4(2) 127–132 (2012); Robinson, ‘Humanitarian Intervention and Global Security Governance’.


On the point of how hypermasculinity was ‘unremarkable’ in the case of Vladimir Putin see for example, Elizabeth A. Wood, ‘Hypermasculinity as a Scenario of Power’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 18(3) 329–350 (2016); and Maruska’s analysis of US foreign policy and popular culture in ‘When Are States Hypermasculine?’.


Vedi Hadiz and Angelos Chryssogelos, ‘Populism in World Politics: A Comparative Cross-regional Perspective’, International Political Science Review, 38(4) 399–411 (2017); Priya Chacko and Kanishka Jayasuriya, ‘Asia’s Conservative Moment: Understanding the Rise of the Right’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 48(4) 529–540 (2018); Mereoni Chung, ‘Panel Discussion: The Rise of Illiberal Democracy and Implications for Social Mobilization’, dawn, 14 March 2017,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Hadiz and Chryssogelos, ‘Populism in World Politics’, p. 400.


Agnieszka Graff, Ratna Kapur, and Suzanna Danuta Walters, ‘Introduction: Gender and the Rise of the Global Right’, Signs, 44(3) 541–560 (2019); Caroline Sweetman, ‘Introduction: Gender, Development and Fundamentalisms’, Gender and Development, 25(1) 1–14 (2017); Katrine Fangen and Inger Skjelsbæk, ‘Editorial: Special Issue on Gender and the Far Right’, Politics, Religion & Ideology, 21(4) 411–415 (2020).


Kuteleva and Clifford, ‘Gendered Securitisation’, p. 3.


L. H. M. Ling, ‘Borderlands: A Postcolonial-Feminist Alternative to Neoliberal Self/Other Relations’, Graduate Program in International Affairs Working Paper No. 2008–03, 2008,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Chacko and Jayasuriya, ‘Asia’s Conservative Moment’.




Alfred McCoy, ‘Global Populism: A Lineage of Filipino Strongmen from Quezon to Marcos and Duterte’, Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies, 32(1–2) 7–54 (2017).


ibid., p. 12.


ibid., p. 11.


ibid.; Weena Gera and Paul Hutchcroft, ‘Duterte’s Tight Grip over Local Politicians: Can It Endure?’ New Mandala, 19 February 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022.


See for example, Mark Thompson, ‘Duterte’s Violent Populism: Mass Murder, Political Legitimacy and the “Death of Development” in the Philippines’, Journal of Contemporary Asia (online), (2021); Paul D. Kenny and Ronald Holmes, ‘A New Penal Populism? Rodrigo Duterte, Public Opinion, and the War on Drugs in the Philippines’, Journal of East Asian Studies, 20(2) 187–205 (2020); Nicole Curato (ed.), A Duterte Reader: Critical Essays on Rodrigo Duterte’s Early Presidency (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018).


Typically, feminist analysis of Duterte has been included or folded within broad or survey review of gender and populist leaders globally. Some exceptions are McCoy, ‘Global Populism’, and Cleve V. Arguelles and Veronica L. Gregorio (eds.), ‘Special Issue on Gender and Populism in the Philippines’, Review of Women’s Studies, xxix(2), (2020), published by the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.


Arguelles and Gregorio, ‘Special Issue on Gender and Populism in the Philippines’, Review of Women’s Studies; Filomin Gutierrez, ‘Focus: Duterte and Penal Populism – The Hypermasculinity of Crime Control in the Philippines’, Discover Society, 2 August 2017,, accessed 19 March 2022; J. De Chavez and V. Pacheco, ‘Masculinity in the Age of (Philippine) Populism: Violence and Vulgarity in Duterte’s Hypermasculine Discourse’, Masculinities and Social Change, 6(3) 261–283 (2020).


Asia Pacific Centre for Responsibility to Protect, Asia Pacific Regional Outlook No. 13, 2019,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (opapp), Philippines, ‘Peace Process with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front (cpp/npa/ndf)’,, accessed 19 March 2022; see also Jose Reganit, ‘Duterte Orders “Mass Arrest” of ndf Consultants Out on Bail’, Philippine News Agency, 6 December 2017,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Kenneth Roth, Philippine Death Squads: A Murderous Plague (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2009); Human Rights Watch, ‘“You Can Die Any Time”: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao’, 2009,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Ronli Sifris and Maria Tanyag, ‘Intersectionality, Transitional Justice and the Case of Internally Displaced Moro Women in the Philippines’, Human Rights Quarterly, 41(2) 399–420 (2019); Sara Davies, Jacqui True, and Maria Tanyag, ‘How Women’s Silence Secures the Peace: Analysing Sexual and Gender-based Violence in a Low-Intensity Conflict’, Gender and Development, 24(3) 459–473 (2016).


Barangay (village or community) refers to the basic unit of public administration in the Philippines.


Davies et al., ‘How Women’s Silence Secures the Peace’.


German Watch, ‘Global Climate Risk Index: Table: The 10 Countries Most Affected from 2000 to 2019’,, accessed 19 March 2022.


UN Human Rights Council, Situation of Human Rights in the Philippines: Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a/hrc/44/22, 29 June 2020 [henceforth unhrc, Situation of Human Rights in the Philippines].


Global Witness, Defenders of the Earth: Global Killings of Land and Environmental Defenders in 2016 (London: Global Witness, 2017).


unhrc, Situation of Human Rights in the Philippines.


See Nicole Curato, ‘Politics of Anxiety, Politics of Hope: Penal Populism and Duterte’s Rise to Power’, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35(3) 91–109 (2016); McCoy, ‘Global Populism’; Salvador S. F. Regilme Jr., ‘Visions of Peace amidst a Human Rights Crisis: War on Drugs in Colombia and the Philippines’, Journal of Global Security Studies, 6(2) (2021), doi:10.1093/jogss/ogaa022.


See Nikko Dizon, ‘Duterte and His Generals: A Shock and Awe Response to the Pandemic’, Rappler, 31 July 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


In 2016, increase in combat and incentive pay for the military and police was authorised under Executive Order 3, among the first orders Duterte issued at the start of his presidency. In 2018, Duterte signed Joint Resolution no. 1 passed by Congress which sought to increase the base salary of all military and police personnel. See Cynthia Balana and Gil Cabacungan, ‘Duterte Gives Soldiers, Cops Huge Pay Hike’, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 4 October 2016,, accessed 19 March 2022; Pia Ranada, ‘Duterte Signs Resolution on Pay Hike for Soldiers, Cops’, Rappler, 9 January 2018,, accessed 19 March 2022.


unhrc, Situation of Human Rights in the Philippines.


ibid.; Human Rights Watch, ‘“Our Happy Family Is Gone”: Impact of the “War on Drugs” on Children in the Philippines’, 27 May 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


International Criminal Court, ‘Pre-trial Chamber 1 (Situation in the Republic of the Philippines)’, 15 September 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, ‘Home: #RealnumbersPH’,, accessed 19 March 2022.


International Criminal Court, ‘Report on Preliminary Examination of Activities 2020’, 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Dahlia Simangan, ‘Is the Philippine “War on Drugs” an Act of Genocide?’, Journal of Genocide Research, 20(1) 68–89 (2018).


Jonathan Ong, ‘Chief Disinformation Architects in the ph: Not Exactly Who You Think’, Rappler, 11 February 2018,, accessed 19 March 2022; Jonathan Ong and Jason V. A. Cabañes, ‘Architects of Networked Disinformation: Behind the Scenes of Troll Accounts and Fake News Production in the Philippines’, Communication Department Faculty Publication Series No. 74, 2018,; Jonathan Ong, Ross Tapsell, and Nicole Curato, ‘Tracking Digital Disinformation in the 2019 Philippine Midterm Election’, August 2019,, accessed 19 March 2022.


McCoy, ‘Global Populism’, p. 38.


Gera and Hutchcroft, ‘Duterte’s Tight Grip over Local Politicians’, p. 13.


See unhrc, Situation of Human Rights in the Philippines.


Earvin Charles Cabalquinto and Maria Tanyag, ‘A Murderous Plague in the Philippines’, New Mandala, 24 March 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Hannah Ellis-Petersen, ‘Philippines: Rodrigo Duterte Orders Soldiers to Shoot Female Rebels “in the Vagina”’, The Guardian, 13 February 2018,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Jodesz Gavilan, ‘Duterte’s Tirades, Threats vs United Nations: “Useless” to “Sunugin Ko Pa Iyan”’, 22 September 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


UN News, ‘At UN General Assembly, Philippines’ Duterte Denounces Groups “Weaponizing” Human Rights’, 22 September 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Lian Buan, ‘Lawyers Killed: 61 under Duterte, 49 from Marcos to Aquino’, Rappler, 15 March 2021,’, accessed 19 March 2022; see also Carlos Conde, ‘Record High Killing of Philippine Lawyers’, Human Rights Watch, 15 March 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022; similar examples of databases on the drug war are Dahas ( and Investigate ph (


unhrc, Situation of Human Rights in the Philippines.




United Nations, Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes: A Tool for Prevention (New York: UN, 2014).


Carlos H. Conde, ‘Killings in Philippines Up 50 Percent during Pandemic’, Human Rights Watch, 8 September 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International idea), ‘The Global State of Democracy Indices: Philippines’,, accessed 19 March 2022.




International idea, ‘The Global State of Democracy Indices: Philippines (covid-19)’,, accessed 19 March 2022.


unhrc, Situation of Human Rights in the Philippines, p. 16.


SunStar Philippines, ‘Duterte Orders: Shoot Troublemakers Dead’, 1 April 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Maria Ela L. Atienza, Aries A. Arugay, Jean Encinas-Franco, Jan Robert R. Go, and Rogelio Alicor L. Panao, ‘Constitutional Performance Assessment in the Time of a Pandemic: The 1987 Constitution and the Philippines’ covid-19 Response’, International idea Discussion Paper 3/2020, 2020, p. 17; see also Margaret Wurth and Carlos H. Conde, ‘Philippine Children Face Abuse for Violating covid-19 Curfew’, Human Rights Watch, 3 April 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Karen Lema, ‘Philippines’ Duterte Threatens Unvaccinated People with Arrest’, Reuters, 7 January 2022,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Among key figures are Retired Generals Roy Cimatu, Carlito Galvez Jr., and Delfin Lorenzana. See Dizon, ‘Duterte and His Generals’.


Azer Parrocha, ‘Ex-Generals Best People to Lead Covid Response, Palace Insists’, Philippine News Agency, 23 March 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022.


See Phuong Pham, Vincenzo Bollettino, Patrick Vinck, Ariana Marnicio, Lea Ivy Manzanero, Mark Toldo, Rachel Dickinson, Alexis Smart, and Evan Bloom, ‘Network Analysis of Actors Working to Support Disaster Preparedness and Resilience in the Philippines’, 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Human Development Network, Philippine Human Development Report 2020/21, p. 52,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Yoonyoung Cho, Jorge Eduardo Avalos, Yasuhiro Kawasoe, Douglas Johnson, and Ruth Reyes Rodriguez, ‘Mitigating the Impact of covid-19 on the Welfare of Low Income Households in the Philippines: The Role of Social Protection’, covid-19 Low Income hope Survey Note No. 1, 2021, World Bank Group,, accessed 19 March 2022.


who Philippines, ‘covid-19 in the Philippines Situation Report 71’, 27 February 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022.


See also Gera and Hutchcroft, ‘Duterte’s Tight Grip’.


Rappler, ‘coa: doh’s Low Utilisation of Crisis Funds Affected Health Services’, 19 August 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022.


See Adrian Portugal, ‘Philippines Health Workers Protest Neglect as covid-19 Strains Hospitals’, 1 September 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022; and Neil Jerome Morales, ‘“Losing Battle”: Philippine Doctors, Nurses Urge New covid-19 Lockdowns as Infections Surge’, Reuters, 1 August 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Xave Gregorio, ‘Duterte Refuses to Discourage Ivermectin to Treat covid-19’, Philippine Star, 11 September 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022.


bbc, ‘Rodrigo Duterte: “I’m Not Joking” – Clean Masks with Petrol’, 31 July 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Ong et al., ‘Tracking Digital Disinformation’; Cabalquinto and Tanyag, ‘A Murderous Plague in the Philippines’.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN ocha), ‘Philippines covid-19 Humanitarian Response Plan (May 11, 2020 Revision)’, 11 May 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


A prominent example was Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesperson, who berated a doctor representing the Philippine College of Physicians at an inter-agency meeting at a time of resurging covid cases. See Philippine Star, ‘“Uncalled for”: Roque under Fire over Outburst on Doctors in iatf Meeting’, 10 September 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022.


A full video recording was published in RTVMalacanang (official YouTube channel of the Executive Office),


See broader study by Sangeeta Mehta, Flavia Machado, Arthur Kwizera, Laurent Papazian, Marc Moss, Élie Azoulay, and Margaret Herridge, ‘covid-19: A Heavy Toll on Health-care Workers’, The Lancet, 9(3) 226–228 (2021).


Nestor Corrales, ‘Duterte: ph Will Only Lose War with China, so Why Risk It?’, Inquirer.Net, 16 May 2018,, accessed 19 March 2022.


UN, ‘UN Secretary-General Calls for Global Ceasefire to Focus on Ending the covid-19 Pandemic’,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Elmor Santosa, ‘Despite Abrogation of updnd Pact, This 1981 Agreement Still Bars Police and Military from Campuses, Former Student Leaders Say’, cnn Philippines, 19 January 2021, QxR3OoWHZw, accessed 19 March 2022.


act Alliance, ‘Critical Voices of Civil Society Organisations Suppressed in the Philippines’, 10 December 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Jacqueline de Guia, ‘Statement of chr Spokesperson, Atty. Jacqueline de Guia, on the Reported Deaths and Arrests in Southern Tagalog’, Commission of Human Rights, 8 March 2021,, accessed 19 March 2022.


act Alliance, ‘Critical Voices of Civil Society Organisations Suppressed’.


See for example Nicola Nixon, ‘Civil Society in Southeast Asia during covid-19: Responding and Evolving under Pressure’, GovAsia No. 1, September 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


United Nations Population Fund (unfpa) Philippines, ‘Policy Brief: Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (covid-19 Response)’, 17 April 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Athena Charanne R. Presto, ‘Mayors Are Keeping the Philippines Afloat as Duterte’s covid-19 Response Flails’, New Mandala, 8 July 2020,, accessed 19 March 2022.


Mely Caballero-Anthony, ‘Health and human security challenges in Asia: new agendas for strengthening regional health governance’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 72(6) 602–616 (2018).


Sophie Harman, ‘Threat Not Solution: Gender, Global Health Security and covid-19’, International Affairs, 97(3) 601–623 (2021).


ibid., p. 623.

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