By Claire Heffron
Promising a new era in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte was sworn in as the nation’s 16th president with a landslide win on an assertive anti-crime promise.
Duterte spoke in his inauguration speech of being tough on crime, a message that has commended him to tens of millions of poor people in the Philippines.
Professor of Political Science at the University of the Philippines, Dr Clarita R. Carlos believes he has what it takes, “Duterte represents a cut away from the traditional oligarch from a rich family. He comes from a lower middle class family in Davao, worked his way to a law degree, was City prosecutor and then Mayor for 22 years. He has a plethora of experience behind him unlike those who are suddenly catapulted to the national arena without any political experience at all”.
Duterte’s priorities are mainly domestic, with implementing the law, cracking down on corruption and drugs and alleviating poverty are all top of his agenda.
Duterte is not a member of the elite
Many say he won the election by understanding the disappointment with the political elites and their inability to tackle poverty and inequality.
Known as “the Punisher” for his wish to kill suspected drug dealers, his campaign was dominated by his pledge to end corruption, promising to do so by unleashing security forces with shoot-to-kill orders.
Duterte has already urged communist rebels to start killing drug traffickers in which he has warned thousands will die. Hundreds of drug addicts have recently surrendered to authorities, concerned they would be killed in an imminent crackdown, officials told the media.
Dr Carlos added “His campaign against criminality, drugs and corruption is relentless and he hopes to sustain it with cooperation from the PNP and the AFP. He has appointed his trusted lieutenants to head those agencies. Will be succeed? More likely…Will he violate human rights doing so? He is a lawyer and he knows limits of what he can and cannot do.
‘Erosion of faith and trust in government – that is the real problem that confronts us’
During his inauguration, Dutere said “Erosion of faith and trust in government – that is the real problem that confronts us. Resulting therefrom, I see the erosion of the people’s trust in our country’s leaders; the erosion of faith in our judicial system; the erosion of confidence in the capacity of our public servants to make the people’s lives better, safer and healthier,”.
In a bid to reduce the country’s struggling growth rates, the president said he will encourage artificial birth control even if it means dealing with Catholic church, a dominant force in the country that opposes the use of contraceptives.
Duterte said that having too many children had enforced poor families deeper into poverty and suggested people have three children maximum. The Philippines has one of the world’s fastest-growing populations.
Seen as a brave move, most politicians have tried to avoid clashes with the influential Catholic Church by taking an empty position on the issue of the use of contraceptives.
Duterte claimed, “I will reinstall the program of family planning. Three is enough. I’ve also been colliding with the church because it’s no longer realistic.”
Not afraid of China
Regarding his foreign policy – all eyes will be on his relationship with China. Duterte said he would not “taunt or flaunt” a favourable ruling in a highly sensitive legal challenge against Beijing over a South China Sea dispute. He took over from Benigno Aquino, who put the Philippines’ long-running disagreement with China at the top of his foreign policy agenda.
Aquino launched legal action with the UN-backed tribunal in The Hague, arguing that China’s claims to most of the tactically vital and resource-rich sea were in violation of international law.
Dr Carlos believes change is needed in the Philippines, “Dutere won because he was perceived as sincere and we needed change of the kind he was promising. Social media helped but the swarm of support he got especially form the OFWs (Overseas Filipino) is truly remarkable”.