Volatile po­lit­i­cal cul­ture chal­lenges Duterte

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Ge Hongliang The author is di­rec­tor of the Col­lege of ASEAN Stud­ies at Guangxi Univer­sity for Na­tion­al­i­ties and a re­search fel­low with The Charhar In­sti­tute. opin­ion@glob­al­times.com.cn

As­sas­si­na­tions and coups have been fre­quent in Philip­pine pol­i­tics in the past few decades. Now the coun­try is go­ing through an un­sta­ble sit­u­a­tion with lo­cal of­fi­cials as­sas­si­nated and a coup at­tempt crushed by Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte. The Philip­pine pres­i­dent re­cently made re­marks on tele­vi­sion about his anti­nar­cotics op­er­a­tions and anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paigns as well as ru­mors about the coup.

Duterte is one of a few po­lit­i­cal strong­men to run the coun­try since its in­de­pen­dence. In fact, a pos­si­ble coup is no news since he took of­fice over two years ago. So it makes sense to say that he faces long-stand­ing threats and chal­lenges in­stead of tem­po­rary re­sis­tance.

Cur­rently this strong­man is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the most dan­ger­ous pe­riod since he took of­fice. And the dan­gers do not come from ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions or mil­i­tants in the south­ern Philip­pines, but from the coun­try’s unique po­lit­i­cal cul­ture.

Duterte has been res­o­lute in words and deeds since he took of­fice and the op­po­si­tion has never stopped crit­i­ciz­ing the gov­ern­ment’s poli­cies in­clud­ing the anti-nar­cotics and anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paigns. Op­po­si­tion crit­i­cism of Duterte re­cently peaked and some re­marks have even tar­geted his au­thor­ity as pres­i­dent.

Among all crit­ics, the loud­est has been Sen­a­tor Antonio Tril­lanes, men­tioned sev­eral times by Duterte. Some even spec­u­late that Tril­lanes is among those con­spir­ing to over­throw Duterte. The 47-year-old ca­reerist, a for­mer naval of­fi­cer, was be­hind failed coups in 2003 and 2007. Tril­lanes was then par­doned in 2010 and be­came Duterte’s big­gest op­po­nent af­ter the lat­ter be­came pres­i­dent. To the sen­a­tor, Duterte is a mav­er­ick “dic­ta­tor” who “sells out” the na­tional in­ter­ests of the Philip­pines.

The spe­cial re­la­tion­ship rooted in com­pli­cated and in­ter­twined links be­tween the mil­i­tary and fam­ily-based po­lit­i­cal par­ties has all along been key to un­der­stand­ing Philip­pine pol­i­tics. When the mil­i­tary’s in­ter­est is threat­ened, spe­cial con­nec­tions of this kind are prob­a­bly a de­ci­sive fac­tor in the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. In fact some of Duterte’s poli­cies, such as get­ting the Philip­pines es­tranged from its tra­di­tional ally the US while reach­ing out to other part­ners to re­al­ize all-round in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion in safe­guard­ing mil­i­tary se­cu­rity, are op­posed by pro-Amer­i­can forces in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles. Such groups have in­flu­enced the mil­i­tary to push for co­op­er­a­tion with the US and a stronger US-Philip­pines al­liance. There­fore the big­gest crisis Duterte has faced since tak­ing of­fice is posed by the op­po­si­tion and mil­i­tary forces.

The Philip­pines faces eco­nomic and so­cial chal­lenges as Duterte’s ad­min­is­tra­tion en­ters its mid-term. The cur­rent gov­ern­ment is now con­fronted with di­verse and pro­found crises, which are also an out­come of an­other round of com­pe­ti­tion be­tween fam­ily-based old and new po­lit­i­cal par­ties and other forces.

Duterte, through decades of stren­u­ous ef­forts, has in­deed earned pres­tige for his fam­ily in Davao, the third-largest city in the Philip­pines. How­ever, his fam­ily is with­out doubt still quite young in po­lit­i­cal tra­di­tion when com­pared to the tra­di­tional fam­i­lies of Manila such as the Aquinos. Af­ter be­com­ing pres­i­dent, Duterte has repli­cated his au­thor­i­tar­ian style of rul­ing from Davao to Manila, strength­en­ing the power of his fam­ily and the po­lit­i­cal party be­hind it at the cost of other tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal fam­i­lies. Duterte has kept cam­paign prom­ises like fight­ing nar­cotics and cor­rup­tion while main­tain­ing in­de­pen- dent for­eign re­la­tions. This won him high approval rat­ings with the pub­lic, but such mea­sures have not been wel­comed by these tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal fam­i­lies.

Duterte amended the con­sti­tu­tion and led a more widely in­flu­en­tial fed­eral re­form in 2018 af­ter his suc­cess­ful anti-ter­ror­ist crack­down in South Marawi. This has be­come a point of con­tention be­tween him and the op­po­si­tion. Al­though the coup was de­feated, the fu­ture crises fac­ing Duterte can hardly be com­pletely re­solved.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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