Before he was elected into office in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte projected himself as a poor provincial politician who dared to challenge political giants in Manila.

His campaign platform on anti-corruption, anti-crime and anti-drugs resonated well with ordinary Filipinos who saw in him a leader very different from the elite political clans that have dominated the country for decades.

His impromptu, down-to-earth, colorful, but tough speeches were a breath of fresh air compared with the lofty, eloquent but motherhood orations of his Manila-based opponents.

Duterte’s ascent to power is a David-versus-Goliath story in Philippine politics. He was a giant slayer and he wanted to further prove it by launching a campaign against the oligarchy.

He went after wealthy businessmen with powerful political connections.

Roberto “Bobby” Ongpin, who survived a dictator in the1980s, was forced to divest from his holdings. Beer-and-tobacco tycoon Lucio Tan settled his tax deficiencies and the Prieto family that controlled a hard-hitting daily newspaper immediately returned a property it had leased from the government.

Much later, two of the country’s largest conglomerates, which operate water concessions, agreed to write off billions of pesos they had won in arbitration cases in Singapore.

Duterte’s crowning glory was the closure of the country’s largest broadcast media network, ABS-CBN, owned by the Lopez family.

He boasted of these achievements in a speech before soldiers on a troubled southern island in Mindanao — saying he had dismantled the oligarchy without imposing martial law.

In 1972, the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos had to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and declare martial law to wipe out his political opponents, including wealthy business leaders with political links, like the Lopezes.

From the post-war period until the imposition of martial law, the Lopezes were very powerful in business and politics.

Eugenio “Don Eñing” Lopez Sr. founded ABS-CBN, merging the family’s Chronicle Broadcasting Network (CBN) with the original Alto Broadcasting System (ABS) in1957 when he acquired the country’s first TV station from the brother of the late President Elpidio Quirino.

His younger and only brother, Fernando, was a politician who became Marcos’ running mate and vice president in both the 1965 and 1969 elections.

During the pre-martial law period, the Lopezes had vast business interests, from media, property and banking to power distribution.

Marcos, who was insecure of the Lopez brothers’ power and influence, used their example to illustrate an oligarchy that had long dominated the country.

He had planned to perpetuate himself in power by disguising his ambition and launching a social revolution to change Filipino society – a revolution from the center to build a “new society.”

Marcos succeeded in dismantling the Lopez business empire and at the same time wielded absolute power by abolishing all democratic institutions, including the 1935 Constitution.

But he had his own cronies. He allowed his wife’s brother, Benjamin, to run the Lopez-owned newspaper Manila Chronicle by putting up Times Journal, and asked businessman Roberto Benedicto to use ABS-CBN to set up his own broadcast city via RPN-9 and IBC-13.

Duterte, who strongly admires strongmen like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Ferdinand Marcos, has been trying the same template that the late Filipino dictator used to destroy his opponents, but with some refinements. For one, he does not need to impose military rule.

He was able to sow fear by launching a brutal and bloody war on drugs as soon as he assumed office and recently used his allies in Congress to pass a draconian anti-terrorism law to suppress dissent and silence his critics, including journalists.

Like Marcos, he too has a crusade against powerful business interests with strong political connections, the same anti-oligarchy pretext the dictator had used to amass absolute power and wealth.

But the Lopez family was no longer an oligarch. The family had dropped off from the list of the country’s wealthiest based on the latest edition of Forbes magazine. It had also sold interests in banking, telecommunications and power distribution.

If the president is really looking for oligarchs, he could easily find plenty of wealthy and politically-connected families listed in Forbes magazine as among the Philippines’ billionaires. And they are untouched, including a handful of upstart businessmen who are associated with him.

It’s still too early to tell if Duterte could really replicate Marcos’ political success in 1972.

Prevented from seeking a third term under the 1935 Constitution, the 55-year-old and healthy Marcos imposed martial law to change a society saddled with corruption, a Maoist-led insurgency and the oligarchy.

It is interesting to watch what a 75-year-old and not-so-healthy Duterte’s next move will be as the country faces similar problems of corruption, a Maiost-led insurgency and oligarchy.

Too bad, he also has to grapple with a deadly pandemic that has ruined the country’s economy. When Marcos was toppled in a nearly bloodless, popular uprising in 1986, he left behind a bad economy drowning in foreign debt and poverty incidence of more than 50 percent.

Duterte has remained immensely popular but he has also promised to step down in 2022, eager to go back to Davao. He has dissuaded his daughter Sara from seeking the presidency to succeed him.

Remember, he played that gambit in 2015, as a reluctant candidate substituting for Martin Diño at the last minute. He has completely forgotten his federalism campaign but there are still people pushing for charter change before 2022.

Let’s wait for the next political drama. The plot is getting thicker as the election year approaches. Stay vigilant.