Duterte rides high af­ter ‘rough’ year

Crack­down on drugs claimed thou­sands of lives

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ro­drigo Duterte ends his first year as Philip­pine pres­i­dent on Fri­day as a hugely pop­u­lar leader, af­ter tak­ing Filipinos on a promised “rough ride” of drug war killings and for­eign pol­icy U-turns. Duterte has been heav­ily crit­i­cized for his un­prece­dented crack­down on drugs, which has claimed thou­sands of lives, and he marks 12 months in of­fice en­dur­ing the big­gest cri­sis of his rule as Is­lamist mil­i­tants oc­cupy parts of a south­ern city.

The 72-year-old has also up­ended decades of for­eign pol­icy sta­bil­ity, launch­ing ver­bal bombs against tra­di­tional ally the United States while steer­ing the Philip­pines closer to au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes in China and Rus­sia. Yet an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Filipinos sup­port him, ac­cord­ing to a series of sur­veys by poll­sters over the past 12 months, with the most re­cent one show­ing 75 per­cent were sat­is­fied with his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s per­for­mance.

“Peo­ple like the man,” Ri­cardo Abad, head of so­ci­ol­ogy and an­thro­pol­ogy at Ate­neo Univer­sity in Manila, told AFP, re­fer­ring to Duterte’s de­ci­sive lead­er­ship style. “Peo­ple may dis­agree with his poli­cies, or are maybe am­biva­lent to­wards them, but be­cause they like him, peo­ple will tend to give him the ben­e­fit of the doubt.” Many peo­ple overseas know Duterte for his ap­par­ent joy in pros­e­cut­ing his drug war-he said he was “happy to slaugh­ter” mil­lions of ad­dicts-as well as gut­ter lan­guage in which crit­ics are fre­quently called “sons of whores”.

But many Filipinos look past the crass talk and see a down-to-earth, anti-es­tab­lish­ment fig­ure who em­pathises with their strug­gles and is will­ing to take ex­treme ac­tions to make dra­matic change across all sec­tors of so­ci­ety. “He brought an entirely new style of lead­er­ship, which peo­ple prob­a­bly thought we needed,” Edmund Tayao, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Santo To­mas, told AFP.

Rough ride

In his in­au­gu­ra­tion speech, Duterte typ­i­cally sought not to sug­ar­coat his plans for the Philip­pines. “The ride will be rough. But come join me just the same,” Duterte said. The rough­est part of the ride had for most of the past year been his crack­down on drugs. Po­lice killed 3,171 drug sus­pects, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures. Un­known as­sailants killed an­other 2,098 peo­ple in drug-re­lated crimes, while there were 8,200 more mur­ders with no known mo­tive, ac­cord­ing to the po­lice.

Rights groups and other crit­ics warned Duterte may be or­ches­trat­ing a crime against hu­man­ity, al­leg­ing he had un­leashed cor­rupt po­lice and vig­i­lante death squads on a cam­paign of mass mur­der. Duterte had made the drug war the top fo­cus of his pres­i­dency un­til May 23, when gun­men ram­paged through the south­ern city of Marawi fly­ing black flags of the Is­lamic State group.

He im­me­di­ately im­posed mar­tial law across the south­ern third of the Philip­pines, home to roughly 20 mil­lion peo­ple, to quell what he said was an IS bid to es­tab­lish a lo­cal caliphate. But de­spite a re­lent­less bomb­ing cam­paign backed by the United States, Duterte’s mil­i­tary has been un­able to dis­lodge the mil­i­tants. The fight­ing has claimed more than 400 lives, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment, and it shows no signs of end­ing.

Su­per ma­jor­ity

An­other ex­am­ple of Duterte’s pop­u­lar­ity is his “su­per ma­jor­ity” in the lower house of congress, where there are just seven op­po­si­tion mem­bers in the 296-mem­ber cham­ber. Even one of the op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers, Ed­cel Lag­man, of­fered grudg­ing praise this week. “De­spite his un­pres­i­den­tial de­meanor, pro­fane lan­guage, abu­sive rhetoric and flawed pol­icy state­ments, Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, in his own in­scrutable way, has held the na­tion to­gether,” he said.

But Lag­man said, with Duterte’s prom­ises of “change” yet to be­come re­al­ity, his pop­u­lar­ity had started to slide. If that is hap­pen­ing, Duterte’s “su­per ma­jor­ity” could fall apart. In the Philip­pines, law­mak­ers from par­ties across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum typ­i­cally flock to a pop­u­lar pres­i­dent in the early stages of his or her term. But the politi­cians, driven by self-in­ter­est rather than ide­ol­ogy, have also in the past quickly jumped off the band­wagon when ap­proval rat­ings dropped. —AFP


Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte checks the scope of a Chi­nese-made CS/LR4A sniper ri­fle dur­ing the cer­e­mo­nial pre­sen­ta­tion of ri­fles and am­mu­ni­tion by China to the Philip­pines at Clark Air­base in north­ern Philip­pines.

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