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Jakarta Post

Q&A: Philippines under Duterte - what to expect?

  • Devina Heriyanto
    Devina Heriyanto

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, June 16, 2016   /  03:47 pm
Q&A: Philippines under Duterte - what to expect? President-elect Rodrigo Duterte clenches his fist during a campaign sortie in Silang, Cavite province, south of Manila, Philippines, April 22. (AP/Bullit Marquez)

The Philippines will have Rodrigo Duterte as their new president by the end of June. Known for his blunt speech, he is often compared to Donald Trump, both of who have often made the headlines as of late for controversial plans for their respective countries.

Perhaps it was his brashness and politically incorrect behavior that appealed to voters fed up with years of forked-tongued politicians.

What can we expect from Rodrigo “Rody” Roa Duterte, also dubbed as “The Punisher” and “Dirty Harry” or “Duterte Harry”? What issues will be inherited by the new president? Why exactly are so many people worried about his presidency?


Who is Duterte?

Duterte, 71, also known as Digong, was born in Maasin, Leyte, as a son of former governor of the undivided Davao, Vicente Rodrigo, during the 1950s. Duterte has three children from his ex-wife.

Duterte was a longtime mayor of Davao city, the largest city in southern Philippines. A former lawyer and prosecutor, he has held the mayoral office for seven terms, totaling more than two decades and will be succeeded by his daughter, Sara Duterte.

His most notorious legacy for the city would be the Davao death squad. With a zero tolerance policy against crime, Duterte encouraged a city-wide criminal purge, which is boasted to significantly reduced the city’s crime rate. Duterte has also endorsed extrajudicial killings for drug-related crimes.


What are his plans for the Philippines?

Duterte built his popularity with radical pledges to eliminate poverty, and end corruption and crime. He will face challenges particularly on defense, security and international relations:

  • Moro

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a secessionist group aiming for the liberation of the Moro people from southern Philippines, promptly rejoiced Duterte’s victory. The MILF praised Duterte as a “true son of Mindanao” and was optimistic that he ‘would carry with it our hopes and aspirations for peace and justice in Mindanao”. Duterte hopes to be successful in peace talks with the MILF.

  • Abu Sayyaf

A more menacing threat is the Abu Sayyaf group. President Benigno Aquino III has stated Malacanang will use language of force to encounter the group, following the beheading of Canadian national John Ridsdel in May. Another Canadian, Robert Hall, was beheaded in June to embarrass Duterte

The incoming national security adviser, Hermogenes Esperon, said Duterte would “take stronger action against lawlessness in the south.”

  • Sabah

Philippine has an overlapping claim with Malaysia regarding oil-rich Sabah, Malaysia's easternmost state on the island of Borneo. Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman reaffirmed Sabah does not acknowledge Philippine’s claim and will continue to be a part of Malaysia. Duterte has stated that he would pursue the Sabah claim “but only through peaceful means”.

  • South China Sea/West Philippine Sea

The ruling on the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea dispute by a UN arbitration court is expected to be issued within the next several weeks. The case was submitted by the Philippines in 2013 centered on the applicability of China’s vaguely drawn “nine-dash line” boundary under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China has refused to participate nor acknowledge the court’s ruling.

Duterte had shown indication of being more flexible on the issue than current President Benigno Aquino III.

Duterte has said he'd negotiate directly with China on the dispute, but he would plant the Philippine flag on one of China's artificial islands if negotiations fail.

  • Communist rebels

The Philippines has faced communist insurgencies since 1969. Duterte has opened up initiatives for resuming dialog with rebels and both sides had agreed to continue peace talks.

Duterte’s would-be social welfare minister, Judy Taguiwalo, was chosen from a list submitted by the communists. She will be responsible for the government’s anti-poverty programs.


Will the Philippines keep its alliance with the US?

Duterte has described himself as a "socialist" with a "cold" relationship with America and will make Philippines more independent of the US, which raises questions regarding the future of defense relations between the two countries.

US defense minister Ash Carter has reaffirmed that the alliance remains “ironclad”. The US-Philippine Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed in 2014, allows American forces access to five Philippine military sites. Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat), a maritime joint exercise, was held from June 6-10. The joint exercise reaffirmed both the US’s presence in the Asia-Pacific, particularly in the South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea), and the continuity of the US-Philippine alliance.

An expert from a US-based think tank says the US is watching Duterte very carefully, particularly his reaction to the upcoming ruling from the UN tribunal court on its border dispute with China.


What is the problem with Duterte?

  • Gender insensitive

The Philippine Commission on Human Rights stated on May that Duterte violated a law protecting women's rights by making a rape joke during his election campaign. Duterte joked that he wanted to be the first to rape an Australian missionary, who was killed after being gang-raped in a 1989 Davao prison riot. Aside from women’s groups, Duterte was also criticized by Australian and US ambassadors to the Philippines.

Despite the case, Duterte’s spokesman had insisted that his cabinet would be well represented and gender-sensitive.

And on several occasions, Duterte had referred to both outgoing President Aquino and Pope Francis as a "son of whore", a popular Philippine insult.

  • Problem with journalists

Duterte once again sparked controversies by his comment regarding the murder of journalists, by stating that "just because you're a journalist [doesn't mean] you're exempt from assassinations if you're a son of a bitch."

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines quickly criticized Duterte, stating that playing the corruption card should not be used to justify murder. International media groups also condemned Duterte. Reporters Without Borders called for a media ban on Duterte until a formal apology is issued, and the Committee to Protect Journalists stated the remarks could further threaten journalists in the country.

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said that the Philippines is the second most dangerous country for journalists – placing it just after Iraq. For the past 25 years, the IFJ noted that 146 journalists have been killed in the Philippines.

  • Vigilantism

One of the biggest concerns for human rights activists is Duterte’s open endorsement for vigilantism, which dates back to his tenure as mayor in Davao City. As President-elect, Duterte encouraged vigilantism on a national level, where he had raised the bounty for killing drug lords from 3 million pesos (US$161,822 ) to 5 million pesos. Duterte said he would offer 2 million pesos as a reward for every slain illegal drug “distributor” and 50,000 pesos for small-time drug peddlers.

In the span of three days in early June, five men were killed, all suspected to be involved in the illegal drug tradeUN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that offering bounties could lead to widespread violence and chaos.

According a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report in 2009, the targeted killings in Davao City started concurrently with Duterte’s second term as a mayor. The city’s official website boasted that Davao successfully reduced its 3-digit crime rate to 0.8 cases per 10,000 people in 2005. However according to police statistics, annual crime incidents during this period rose from 975 to 3,391, or by 248 percent from 1999 to 2008. The HRW concluded the targeted killings had worsened crime rates in the city.

  • Democracy

Some have attributed Duterte as a "threat to democracy". In his final campaign, incumbent Aquino warned voters that Duterte could be a dictator in the making and urged them not to support him.

Duterte warned the congress not to investigate his anti-crime campaign. Ifugao district representative Teodoro Baguilat Jr. told the Philippine Star that Duterte’s warning "threatens the country’s democratic system".

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