The Philippines loves President Duterte, but for how long?

Photo: Facebook/Rody Duterte

By Holly Reeves

“Our biggest congratulations to you, Mayor, our President! You are so loved by this country. Fix this country, wipe away all evil and demons in the government,” wrote a Duterte supporter on his Facebook wall last night. And she’s not alone.

Fifteen million people have begun a political love affair with the controversial “poor man’s son” that has risen from the crime-ridden corners of Davao to run a country. By the end of June, Rodrigo Duterte will be sworn in as the Philippines’ next president.

In an election with a record-breaking 81% turnout, ordinary Filipinos have overwhelmingly given their heart, and their vote, to the maverick mayor. He polled an estimated 38.60% of the return, with administration candidate Mar Roxas on 23.42% and Senator Grace Poe in third with 21.65%.

“It is with humility, extreme humility, that I accept this, the mandate of the people,” the new president-elect said early Tuesday morning. Adding, “Look what I did to Davao. I will not let down the people.”

A tainted valentine

But it is not clear if that is a promise he can keep. He began this affair with politically- disillusioned Filipinos full of fiery language, and an insistence that he will remove corruption in six months. But sadly the realities of government will probably force him to rip up these love letter vows.

Earl Parreño, Board Member at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform explained , “He has the potential not just for transforming our political system, but even our economic directions, but it would actually boil down to how Duterte would play his cards.“

Asked what he thought Duterte might do next he said, “He would be more sympathetic and have a redistribution of wealth to the poorest sectors within this capitalist system. He would advocate for fairer wages. Wage increases that have for the longest time not been attended by this administration, and more money for small and medium enterprises.”

“During the campaign he promised radical change and governance but you just couldn’t do it like what he has said. I think he will be more presidential this time, that he’ll be taking over the reins of the executive branch.”

Moving forward

Duterte is currently forming four committees to manage the transition of government. The first will work with the existing administration for a smooth transfer of power. The others will look at building a cabinet, the organisation of his inauguration and his policies in the first 100 days of rule.

Law and order are his key priorities and, alongside an incredibly ambitious plan to transform the Philippines into a federal state, Duterte is planning a nationwide curfew for unsupervised minors and a ban on late-night drinking.

The president-elect’s spokesperson, Peter Laviña, said, “I think these measures can be adopted nationwide, of course after consultation with all concerned parties. He can do it by Executive Order, but the best is through democratic process.”

That presents a softer tone from the team of a man who said he would do away with checks and balances if that was what was needed to fix the country. In fact, analysts now expect Duterte to moderate more of his inflammatory pre-election comments, such as his promised massive killing spree of suspected criminals.

Just hours after his predicted win he has already promised to “behave.

A tougher fight

The other big vote of the night – the vice-presidential race, which is held separately – has proved much tighter. Lawyer and social activist Leni Robredo is holding the lead, but sits just 0.4 percentage points ahead of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., known as Bongbong, the son of the late dictator of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales ll came out to say that this race could drag on, with lawyers for both sides examining certificates of canvass (COCs) to close scrutiny for defects or signs of irregularities. These documents contain the figure for total votes obtained by each candidate in individual cities or municipalities.

“We will have no problem with the presidential candidates because of the huge lead of Mayor Duterte. But in the vice-presidential race, we are sure they will scrutinize the COCs,” he said.

Official results would not be released for at least another two weeks.

No happily-ever-after

There is no way this story can end well. Swept into power on a tidal wave of populist support, a President Duterte will soon be washed up in the executive office with the expectations of 15 million people hanging close on his shoulders.

And it is difficult to say how successful his policies will be, because so far, the positions he takes even on important issues are few and far between. However, his declaration of an expiration date (of two years) for multilateral talks with China leaves little chance of Beijing rushing to a successful, or quick, resolution on the key issue of the South China Sea

China wants to negotiate bilaterally and, in diplomatic terms, two years is not a long time to wait to break the coalition of nations with opposing claims currently applying pressure on many sides. Negotiating alone, Manila will be much weaker.

Elsewhere, his newly-emerged commitment to federalism is a good one considering the country’s diverse communities. But steering to that solution will take mammoth amounts of energy and work for this inexperienced statesman. Can he deliver on this popular proposal?

But there is celebration all around the country. And hope for a better, fairer and safer way of life in the Philippines. Duterte is a skilled people person, and it is easy to fall in love with his promises, his enthusiasm and his prescription for change. But Duterte must now deliver, or those 15 million broken hearts could stop him in his tracks.