Rodrigo Duterte will be the next president of the Philippines. Duterte only managed to file his candidacy on the last possible day – he was supposed to lack the money and political machinery required for a presidential run – his rise has understandably surprised many. Undoubtedly the first president from the southern conflict-stricken island group of Mindanao – where a long-running Islamist insurgency rages as well an increasingly violent battle with the communist New People’s Army – he also believes himself to be “the first president from the left”. Dubbed “The Punisher” by Time as far back as 2002 there have been comparisons to Donald Trump and Dirty Harry. But unlike Trump, Duterte now wields considerable national and international clout, and has for some time in his own neighbourhood. Unlike Trump, he is an experienced political figure.
We know little of what Duterte policy will look like, on both a domestic and international level. A lack of detail and scrutiny is a reason for worry, and like Trump there are lots of questions and contradictions, but that is as far as comparison should go. Duterte may represent a similar victory for a bigoted, loud-mouthed, populist politician but his circumstances and his impact on the Philippines are particularly striking. Trump is the TV personality while Duterte has a rugged, less polished and more believable man-of-the people persona. So while they both swear a lot and have politically incorrect – sometimes downright misogynist – tendencies, the similarities only go so far.
Philippines election: Duterte declares victory and promises change
The 71-year-old has been allowed to run as an anti-establishment figurehead due to a lack of media scrutiny. This is in spite of the fact that he has been mayor of Davao (the largest city in Mindanao) for 22 years and has served as a congressman. Trump is the political outsider and while Duterte cultivates a similar image it simply isn’t true. He is a trained lawyer and he and his family are developing into a powerful political clan.
Despite being the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world, the Philippine economy – like its politics – is dominated by a few elite families. The striking inequality and widespread poverty is not a new problem. But patience with what Duterte managed to paint as educated liberal American-sycophants in Manila, has run out. And Duterte has been allowed a platform – providing great copy for global syndication, but often distracting from the issue of how he will “eradicate crime and corruption in six months”.
Commentators, interviewers and news anchors in the country seemed reluctant to challenge him. Instead they have focused on his claims that he “can love four women at the same time”. Protecting access to the foul-mouthed, self-confessed womanising “strongman” seems to have been their priority. Duterte will speak at length wherever a microphone is near; Trump, meanwhile, is now learning to be much more guarded, even around outlets from the political right, predominantly speaking at his own rallies.
The current president, Benigno Aquino, is leaving office after one frustrated term, as one of the few presidents to leave office still popular. It’s surprising then that the electorate has chosen such a drastically different figure. It would be easy to call this the end of democracy, though with voter turnout of more than 80% it is much more complicated. The concern domestically is that a Duterte presidency will carry over the same undertone of threat from the campaign. This was made explicit by a number of his supporters on social media who were quick to attack, especially when his most coveted attribute was ever questioned – his authenticity. The term “martial law” was trending across platforms.
The mayor who brought rough justice to a chaotic city (and has been accused of having used death squads) made himself the obvious candidate for strong leadership. But memories of Ferdinand Marcos are still fresh; his corruption-riddled reign (1965-86) included a decade of martial law and many are obviously concerned that Duterte will wield a similarly arbitrary iron fist when it comes to the rule of law, breaking it when he chooses. Especially if the former dictator’s son,Ferdinand Marcos, is elected as Duterte’s vice-president. Nobody really believes that Trump would be able to, or even seek to, implement martial law across America.
Many of these worries manifest at an international level, given Duterte’s comments on women and rape it is unlikely that Filipino women seeking compensation from Japan for crimes during the second world war will find an ally in the new president. Similarly, following the sentencing of US Marine Scott Pemberton for the murder of Jennifer Laude, which raised the stakes of transgender rights and US-Filipino relations, Duterte has been openly dismissive on both topics.
There will be concern in Washington, most pressingly in the development of new and mothballed US military bases required as part of President Obama’s pivot to Asia strategy that until now has relied on and received Filipino support – arguably at too great a cost. Duterte will be entitled to fight for a better deal for the country in relations with the US but he has openly suggested that a deal with China over the disputed islands in the South China Sea could be more beneficial than being used as “Americas Pacific buffer”. While their politics may be different, this unpredictable new leader, and the timing of his rise, should worry the world much more than Trump ever could.
Comparing Duterte to Trump is tempting as a source of clickbait headlines, but it is inaccurate, and risks becoming another act of cultural colonialism, especially given the history of the United States in the Philippines. Cultural imperialism by the US in the Philippines has often meant local Filipino concerns have been viewed, acted on and disastrously managed through an American lens – as the new president well knows. Duterte may be plenty dangerous enough without spurious comparisons to a Republican presidential candidate.
According to the initial estimate of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), more than 40 million Filipinos were able to cast their votes on May 9. The number represents about 81 percent of total number of voters, surpassing the voter turnout in the 2010 presidential election. Meanwhile, overseas absentee voting went up by a whopping 300 percent.
There were several surprises in the election results: First, the landslide victory of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who is now set to become the Philippines’ 16th president. Second, the close race between Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr and neophyte Congresswoman Leni Robredo for the vice presidency. And third, the possible entry into the senate of new and young leaders.
Duterte’s electoral success is phenomenal since he will be the first president from Mindanao in the south, the country’s second biggest island plagued by extreme poverty and numerous local conflicts. Duterte, who first became popular last year because of his image as a crime fighter, defeated four other prominent and resource-rich candidates. Duterte introduced himself as a man of the masses and an ordinary politician from the province who is prepared to rid the country of crime and corruption in less than six months. Frustrated by the repeated failures of Manila-based politicians, an overwhelming number of voters gave their support to the tough-talking leader from Davao.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
As stipulated in the constitution, if Duterte is proclaimed president, he will take his oath as leader of the country on June 30.
If Duterte’s victory is already accepted by many, the vice presidential contest is not yet over as of this writing. In the Philippines, the vice president vote takes place separately from that of the president.
Senator Marcos, the son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the country from 1965 to 1986, was ahead in most pre-election surveys but his numbers started to decline when his rivals campaigned strongly for the remembrance of the dark legacy of martial law and other crimes purportedly committed by the Marcos family. His main rival is administration candidate Robredo, a first-term congresswoman who is known for her pro-poor advocacies. Robredo is ahead by almost 300,000 votes in unofficial quick counts but the transmission of votes is not yet over. Whoever wins between Marcos and Robredo will become vice president by a very slim margin.
The senate race also yielded some unexpected results. So far, only 7 out of 12 new senators are expected to come from the administration party. Two incumbent senators are losing in the unofficial transmission of results. Most of the winners are members of prominent political families while some are young leaders who became national figures because of their Cabinet stint in the Aquino government. Meanwhile, world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao is expected to be proclaimed Senator Pacquiao in the coming days.
Another big surprise is the quick transmission of votes. Polling centers closed at 5:00 pm and the results are known in many regions in less than two hours. Most Filipinos already knew that Duterte was the landslide winner a few hours after the end of voting because of the automated relay of the results from the provinces. Shortly before midnight, presidential candidate Grace Poe held a press conference to congratulate Duterte. Administration candidate Mar Roxas conceded a day after the elections.
The fast uploading of vote results offset the numerous technical glitches that marred the voting process in numerous polling centers. Hundreds of vote counting machines malfunctioned, which delayed and disrupted the elections across the country. There were also fears that vote results will be manipulated because the Comelec website was hacked two weeks before election day.
The majority of winners in the local elections are members of the ruling Liberal Party. But analysts expect most of these newly-elected leaders to switch allegiance to the party of president-elect Duterte in the next few weeks.