'Shoot them dead': rhetorical constructions of the COVID-19 pandemic in Philippine presidential addresses

J Commun Healthc. 2023 Mar;16(1):93-102. doi: 10.1080/17538068.2022.2054177. Epub 2022 Mar 29.


Background: This paper argues that public addresses of heads of state are critical for public health policy during pandemics. Drawing insights from studies that investigate metaphors and frames in political and public health discourses, it explores how the Philippine government, especially President Rodrigo Duterte, framed COVID-19. In doing so, it hopes to broaden the understanding of how political rhetoric may be constitutive of public health policy.

Methods: The analysis of the public addresses entailed three interrelated levels: (1) a description of broad historical, social, political, and cultural contexts of public addresses under investigation, (2) an explanation of the communicative situation including the production and consumption of these addresses-processes that mediate between the text and context, and (3) a textual analysis, which substantiates how the discursive patterns are realized through the president's rhetorical choices.

Results: Our analysis reveals that the president consistently deployed the rhetorical strategies of (1) enemization, (2) legitimization of the incumbent administration, and (3) dismissal of critics. The configuration of these strategies sustains a binaristic discourse structure that lays blame on a political other while the government asserts its legitimacy during a public health crisis.

Conclusions: These rhetorical strategies organize support for public health policy by a populist administration to manage COVID-19. Implications of political rhetoric to public health and risk communication are discussed.

Keywords: COVID-19; Philippine presidential rhetoric; health communication; health policy; public health.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Pandemics
  • Philippines
  • Public Policy