A year of failures: Have we overestimated Duterte?

Marawi has exposed glaring chinks in Duterte’s armour. His first year has failed to bring change to the country. How much longer can his support continue?

by Oliver Ward

A year on from Duterte coming to power, the Philippines sits in the grip of crisis. The gross underestimation of pro-IS groups in Marawi City has led to bloodshed and violence on the streets.

Wasted resources were poured into a war on drugs which left the Philippines vulnerable to other threats. The working classes are still waiting for meaningful change. Wages remain low while prices continue to rise. A year on, there has been little to celebrate.

The clashes in Marawi exposed Duterte as completely unaware

The situation in Marawi exposed Duterte’s government as being completely unprepared and unaware of the extent of the situation. Maute extremists received the backing of local politicians and stockpiled weapons. The rebels were extremely well prepared, yet military intelligence were unaware of the situation forming. They had an almost “inexhaustible” supply of ammunition, according to Solicitor General Jose Calida, along with millions of pesos.

Why was Duterte unaware of their activities?

Duterte was complacent. He continually downplayed the threat of terrorism in the region and instead, poured resources into his war on drugs. The war on drugs left him without a comprehensive counter-terrorism plan.

Head of the Philippine Institute For Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, Rommel Banlaoi said “The battle in Marawi City could have been prevented had government forces seriously exercised due diligence in gathering reliable and accurate intelligence information”.

Duterte had already underplayed the Maute brother’s capabilities. He dismissed them as drug-addled former cops who “got enamoured with the money of shabu”. His rhetoric demonstrates the complete underestimation of the group, their capabilities and what they stand for.

The men were not small-time crooks and drug dealers. Both were highly radicalised. Omarkhayam Maute had studied in Egypt and taught in Indonesia. They were responsible for killing 15 people last year after setting off a bomb in Davao. As much as 75% of Marawi was infiltrated by the Maute group.

His response has been inadequate

His recent talk of carpet bombing Marawi shows a President totally out of ideas and totally unable to manage the situation. Political Analyst, Antonio La Viña warned that “if you actually do that, that’s your guarantee it [terrorism] spreads”. Resorting to the carpet bombing would kill terrorists and non-terrorists alike. It would further radicalise the region and ensure the problem continues.

His record on economic improvement is not much better

A year on from taking office many of his promises have remained unfulfilled. He promised to ban contractualisation, where employee’s contracts are terminated before six months to prevent them accessing full worker rights. His Department Order 174 continues to permit the practice.

Wages remain low and vary vastly depending on the region. Duterte came to power on a ticket promising the introduction of a new minimum wage, but there has been no working paper submitted on the subject during his first year in office.

The cost of utilities and goods is rising but wages are stagnating. 11.5 million Filipino families said they would now call themselves poor. In December of 2016, this number was just 10 million.

Change has not come for much of the Filipino population. A year on and the public are still waiting for Duterte’s election promised to be fulfilled. His supporters overestimate his abilities. The senate will protect Duterte while he is popular. When his bubble of support is pricked, Duterte will find himself in a very lonely situation.