Duterte says he will “be a dictator” after winning Philippine presidency

Controversial former Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte is set to become the next president of the Philippines

Daniel Besant
May 10, 2016
Duterte says he will “be a dictator” after winning Philippine presidency
Rodrigo Duterte

Outspoken anti-crime candidate Rodrigo Duterte has clinched the Philippine presidential elections, after his opponents announced their withdrawal.

Despite no official announcement being made, his main rival, Mar Roxas, dropped out after exit polls showed Duterte had a commanding lead. Another leading candidate, Grace Poe conceded defeat on Monday.

“I will be strict. I will be a dictator, no doubt about it. But only against forces of evil – criminality, drugs and corruption in government,” CNN reported Duterte as saying on Tuesday morning in his hometown of Davao City, in the southern Philippines.

In his campaign speeches, Duterte, 71, vowed to get tough on law and order, citing his record as mayor of Davao, considered one of the safest cities in the Philippines. While human rights groups have pointed to a rash of extra-judicial killings in the city during his watch, this did nothing to deter voters.

“The fact that a candidate like Duterte won is not that unusual in the Philippines,” said Steven Rood, the Asia Foundation’s country representative for the Philippines. “In 1998 Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada was elected based on movie-star populism, overcoming a number of candidates – including one endorsed by the outgoing president. Tough guy images are popular with a citizenry that worries about crime.”

Duterte’s image, along with a population dissatisfied with the slow rollout of a democratisation process, helped him ascend to the presidency, said professor Ramon Beleno III, chair of the political science and history department at Ateneo de Davao University.

“They want a leader who is more about action rather than promises,” Beleno said.

The presumptive president comes to power as the Philippine economy is performing well, with 6% average growth recorded during current President Benigno Aquino’s time in office. But he will have to work hard to keep ordinary people happy.

“Right now the Philippines is in a good position economically, but a lot of Filipinos believe they are not feeling the benefits of this development,” said Beleno. “The economic growth is more exclusive than inclusive.”

With a reputation for running his mouth off – jokes about gang rape and a vow to ride a jet ski to a contested area of the South China Sea among the latest controversies – there are concerns over how he might act on the foreign stage. However, Rood believes he is capable of acting measured and thoughtful when he wishes to do so, “but that capability was not much in evidence during the domestic political campaign.”

It is difficult to nail down the details of Duterte’s policies, as his campaign was so heavily focused on law and order issues, but he has also vowed to change the constitution to moving away from centralised government to a federal system.

“There will be a major rewriting of the constitution,” Peter Lavina, Duterte’s spokesman said today. “We have seen the failure of the presidential form [of government].”

Constitutional change has been a discussion in the Philippines for almost two decades, explained Rood. One amendment Duterte has said he favours, and with which many investors agree, is loosening restrictive provisions that hinder foreign investment.

“But he is most famous for advocating a federal state to replace the current unitary system of government, and that is considerably more controversial,” Rood added. “Political elites in the capital are wary of handing more power to local elites, and some democracy watchers fear that locally based strongmen will dominate more.”

Despite his autocratic style, we are not likely to see a return to a full-blown dictatorship, according to Beleno. “He’ll be a combination of autocrat and democrat, but not so strong that he will upset the liberal democracy that has been developed,” he said. “I don’t think he’ll be declaring martial law anytime soon.”

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