World politics can be a startlingly bizarre arena at times. Recent events are a case in point, last week we saw as Donald Trump the billionaire business man became the presumptive Republican candidate in the lead up to the US Presidential elections.
This week we turn to the Philippines where Rodrigo Duterte, the former mayor of Davao, the country’s 3rd largest city, is named President-elect after cleaning up at the polling stations causing his opposition to call it a day. Duterte, the 71-year-old lawyer has had an election campaign to rival that of Donald Trump, with some nicknaming him ‘Trump of the East’. He has made similarly distasteful comments about women and has boasted about his successes with the ladies, but he himself has claimed that these comparisons are unwarranted, responding that Trump ‘is a bigot and I am not’.
Over the course of his campaign, Duterte has made flippant comments on many areas which other presidential hopefuls would give a wide berth. Perhaps the most shockingly repellent of his comments involved those he made surrounding the gang rape & murder of an Australian missionary, Jacqueline Hamill, in Davao in 1989 while he was mayor. He said that he ‘was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first’. Both the Australian ambassador to the Philippines and the U.S ambassador condemned his comments. Amanda Gorely, the Australian ambassador said that ‘rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialized. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable anytime, anywhere’, while the US ambassador Philip Goldberg made his feelings clear as follows: ‘statements by anyone, anywhere that either degrade women or trivialize issues so serious as rape or murder are not ones that we condone’. A statement from Duterte’s office apologized for the comments and retracted everything he had said in relation to the crime. However, the man himself later refuted the statement, insisting that he stood by his comments.
Other statements which suggest that trouble may be on the horizon, should Duterte get into power, are his recent comments about burning the Singapore flag. This erupted out of a Facebook row, however, he has burned the flag before, in 1995, and recently suggested that he would do it again. In another international faux-pas, he also bad-mouthed the Pope, saying ’Pope, son of a whore, go home. Do not visit us again’. He has since written to the Vatican to apologize.
What is it that makes a predominantly conservative, Catholic electorate vote such a man into power? Prior to earning his new moniker, Duterte was known as ‘The Punisher’ as a result of his ruthless approach to eliminating crime in Davao. Over more than twenty years he was successful in dropping the crime rates there, but at the cost of many human lives, for it was achieved by use of armed militia who essentially took aim at anyone who disturbed the peace. Now, he is eager to roll out his zero tolerance approach across the country if and when he takes office, as stated in this quote from last week: ‘Forget laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men, and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you… I’ll dump you all into Manila Bay and fatten all the fish there’.
Statements such as these have led his critics to believe that he will drive the country back into a dictatorship regime. This is not surprising given his worrying remarks on political immunity where he stated that both he and members of his security forces would be untouchable in the eyes of the law, ‘Pardon given to Rodrigo Duterte for the crime of multiple murder, signed Rodrigo Duterte’.
In addition to his achievements in driving down crime rates, he is backed on account of his strong anti-establishment views. He plans to decentralize power from the capital, Manila, and spread it out around the country in an overhaul of the current structure. A desire to reduce corruption and spread resources throughout the country has naturally resonated with a people of whom over one quarter live in dire poverty.
The elections brought an impressive 80% of the 54 million electorate to the polls where Duterte gleaned almost 40% of the votes. On hearing the news of his impending success Duterte announced that it is ‘with extreme humility, that I accept this, the mandate of the people’ and he has promised that he will ‘behave’ if he becomes president. We can only hope that he does.
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