On May 9, the Philippines held its national and local elections, electing a new President and Vice President, as well as senators, mayors and other local officials. Though the official results will be released later in June, presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte is the presumptive winner of the presidential race with a 6 million vote lead over his main contender, Manuel Roxas II. It is notable that the popular vote has chosen Duterte as the new president, despite of allegations of murder, of his infamous “Davao Death Squad” (DDS), and outspoken willingness to kill criminals and anyone who dares to defy his rule. Why has this been so?
To understand Duterte’s popularity, one must understand the mood of the majority of Filipinos towards their government and place in society. For one, his rise comes at a time of increasing anger against the rampant corruption in the Philippine government. This corruption is represented by the candidates themselves, in terms of dynastic families continuing to hold power, as well as in the corruption of tax funds, bribery of officials, and others. Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II, the second ranked candidate, is the grandson of former President Manuel Roxas. Grace Poe, another close contender, is the daughter of Fernando Poe Jr, a famous figure in Philippine politics and popular culture. Jejomar Binay, another candidate, has various family members in different levels of government as well as many charges of corruption against him.
Duterte appears to be the antithesis to these candidates. Formerly the mayor of Davao City, he will be the first President who hails from the Southern Philippines in a position dominated by candidates from the North. He is from a lower socioeconomic class than his opponents and has declared to have a simple lifestyle, though recent reports have shown that he too has unaccounted for wealth. He is not part of a dynasty in national politics, which has been a main source of frustration of Filipinos against government officials. He stands firm against corruption, and has vowed to file an executive order to implement Freedom of Information (FOI) regarding the government’s executive branch, which was started by President Ninoy ‘NoyNoy’ Aquino Jr but had failed to pass in Congress. Most of all, the dominating feature of his platform is his promise to solve crime in the Philippines in 3-6 months, allowing for the possibility of assassinations, death squads, as well as the dumping of bodies in Manila Bay. His apparent ability to keep order in Davao City with similar methods seems to give credibility for this promise.
He is what the majority of Filipinos have seen as the saviour the Philippines so desperately needs. Indeed, while Aquino has managed to spearhead the largest economic growth since the era of martial law and earn the Philippines the title of a ‘Rising Asian Tiger’, this has largely not been felt at the lower layers of society. About a quarter of the Philippines’ population remains in poverty. With the governmental corruption, recent disastrous storms that have devastated the country, and lack of visible change, the frustration has grown. It is evident that a hero is needed to save the nation.
But can Duterte save the Philippines? A president’s term lasts only 6 years, and as reflected in other parts of the world such as the US, change can be slow, frustratingly so, and it can bring criticism on the leader’s apparent inability to make it happen faster. But this is also what makes Duterte so popular – he is promising quick, immediate change for problems the nation, especially its lower socioeconomic classes, have experienced for so long.
The people have spoken for the Punisher, the so-called Donald Trump of the East to become the new President of the Philippines. Experts fear that this new regime can bring an end to democracy in the Philippines and cause ripple effects across Southeast Asia. Others worry for the Philippines’ foreign relations during his rule, especially with consideration to the conflict in the South China Sea. Only time will prove to tell whether Duterte was the right choice.
The Philippine election results can be found at this link, provided by the news outlet Rappler. The overseas votes are the remaining ones to be counted.