Where is Duterte leading the Philippines?

By Li Kaisheng / Originally posted at Global Times / Published: 2016/9/12 18:28:39

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been propelled into the global spotlight in recent days due to his reckless comments. He called US President Barack Obama, the Philippines’ most important ally, a “son of a whore” and later displayed a picture of Filipinos killed by US soldiers a century ago during the recent East Asia Summit in Vientiane, capital of Laos. He called UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a “fool” on a visit to the Indonesian capital on Friday.

This is exactly what Duterte is. The former mayor of Davao City also made uncouth comments during his presidential campaign. He called Pope Francis a “son of a whore” too and said “the mayor should have been first” when referring to the rape of a female missionary in 1989. Yet what stands behind these brutal comments deserves more attention. Duterte was angry with Obama because the US president criticized his anti-drug policy. Since Duterte took office, nearly 3,000 suspected drug dealers have been killed fighting against police or in extrajudicial executions by killers that are believed to be hired or at least backed by the government. This is unacceptable to those that believe in human rights.

But this is just what Duterte used to do in Davao. He was elected president primarily because of the improved safety he created when he was Davao mayor and his firm crackdown on drug offenses as he believes that the poor public safety in the Philippines has a lot to do with drug abuse. The crime rate did drop after he assumed office, excluding the extrajudicial killings.

Duterte has more things to improve than public safety. He plans to make peace with communist guerrillas and wants a constitutional revision to shift to a federal system that hands more resources and power to local governments. He plans to adopt a looser fiscal policy to ramp up spending on infrastructure. He even agreed to bury the embalmed body of his predecessor Ferdinand Marcos in the Heroes’ Cemetery in Manila, regardless of the latter being labeled as a dictator. Duterte has done all these out of his leftist nationalist sentiment. In the former US colony, leftists have never been the mainstream in politics. Yet is Duterte likely to herald the Philippines into a different path?

It is no accident that Duterte came to the fore. His theory and policies have responded to what the Philippines’ public demands. During the presidency of Benigno Aquino III, the remarkable economic growth didn’t fundamentally change the nation’s poverty and the Philippine people suffered tremendously from poor public safety. Ordinary Filipinos hope that a decisive and audacious leader can address these problems.

But no one knows how far Duterte can go. Even if his efforts to combat drugs and improve public safety are fully acknowledged by the Philippine public, he still needs more political achievements to cement public support. What will eventually prompt all Filipinos to support Duterte will be economic growth, more jobs and less poverty, but in these aspects his policies have just started to work.

The Liberal Party who is always critical of Duterte has kept a close eye on him. If he makes a huge mistake in administration, an impeachment attempt can be expected. They have prepared Vice President Leni Robredo, a liberal, to replace Duterte.

What concerns the liberals most is that Duterte may become a dictator. After the bombing in Davao on September 2, Duterte declared the nation in “a state of lawlessness” and later a “state of emergency on account of lawless violence.” If terrorism intensifies in the country and Duterte is unable to make any other presentable political achievement or is threatened with impeachment, will he then announce military control and become another Marcos?

Yet it’s hard to predict how likely this is to happen. What can be sure is that the Philippines faces a more uncertain future after Duterte took the presidency. What deserves international attention should not be his rude comments and balancing skills between China and the US, but where he will take the Philippines.

The author is a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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