The Philippines has a new President. Rodrigo Duterte was today sworn in as the 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines.
And for once, it’s not just more of the same. Duterte is certainly a departure from the string of Presidents preceding him who have succeeded only in maintaining the status quo and making the rich richer while the poor continue to be left behind.
Whether Duterte will make a lasting change in Philippines remains to be seen. He has six years to change a culture of corruption, overcome huge power imbalances in the country, eradicate all the under-the-table deals and misuse of Government funds, and teach Filipinos that they can and should stand live by their principles and not sell their souls to the highest bidder.
If his track record is anything to go by, the odds look to be in his favour. By all accounts, his tactics have worked wonders in Davao City, Mindanao, decimating the drug trade there and turning it into one of the most livable cities in Philippines. Known as “The Punisher”, his methods are highly questionable, with numerous allegations of extra-judicial killings and other human rights abuses — but the end result does appear to be far more commendable than anything achieved by any other person in the past century in Philippines.
Having always been one who believes that ‘the end doesn’t justify the means’, I’m torn. I still believe firmly that Duterte should be focussing not just on direct gung-ho action against criminals, but also on completely cleansing the Justice department of corruption so that it can be relied on to deal justly with criminals. But something has to change in Philippines for the sake of it’s citizens, and for future generations. And nobody else looks remotely capable (or even willing) to bring about that change. If Duterte wasn’t voted in, then probably there’d continue to be even more injustice and suffering.
In a culture where people speak politely, don’t directly confront each other, and look to certain professions almost as though worshipping a deity (irrespective of merit), Duterte is a welcome breath of fresh air. Yes, he’s uncouth and frankly disturbing at times. But he doesn’t (appear to) pander to the rich, he speaks his mind directly and confrontationally. He appears to love breaking social conventions, and he is intelligent, street smart, prepared, well-informed, and is ready to address numerous issues — rapidly.
He’s also not religious. For years, the Philippines has kowtowed to the edicts and control of the Roman Catholic church. Although I’ve observed that Philippines society appears to be eschewing Catholic values and adopting more liberal social and moral beliefs, the legal framework continues to be draconian, severely disadvantaging the poor, women, and ‘illegitimate’ children on the basis of Catholic doctrine. Finally, the Philippines has a President who may have the strength, resolve, and power to modernise these laws and make fairer and more realistic provisions for the real-world sufferings of everyone — male or female, rich or poor.
Rodrigo Duterte may be seventy years old, but you wouldn’t know it to see him. He’s strong, quick, switched on, and he’s had enough of the nonsense this country has had to put up with for so many years. He’s also savvy, using social media to connect with the public. (He’s been called the ‘social media elected President’, and on the day of his inauguration, the Presidential Communications office already sent out Tweets to Filipinos inviting them to #PartnerForChange.)
Before he was even in office, he already had his new Cabinet ministers working overtime, new officials selected for the Philippine National Police (PNP), and numerous warnings and instructions issued to every level of Government throughout the country, right from the Senate down to the local barangay captains. His instructions range from corrupt officials and drug protectors handing themselves in and/or resigning, otherwise expect you may be killed, bounties on the capture of drug lords, right through to curfew for minors after 10pm and a clamp down on ‘noise pollution’ in the form of late night karaoke and other neighbourhood nuisances. Apparently nearly 100 drug suspects handed themselves in today, just hours before Duterte’s inauguration!
Maybe it’s just the case that the time is right, and people have had enough, maybe it’s because of his track record, but whatever the reason it appears that Duterte already has the respect and admiration of a large percentage of the population. Nobody who could have exercised real influence in the Philippines over recent decades has ever been as willing to directly butt heads with ‘the establishment’ and to stop tip-toeing around the other powers. And no one else has been able to convince the public that they are a reluctant Robin Hood whose only motivation is to better the country rather than build their own power, influence and wealth.
Will Duterte succeed in transforming Philippines? Only time will tell. Let’s hope that history reveals this as a wonderful new chapter for the amazing country of Pilipinas.
What are your thoughts? Please share your comments below, I’d love to hear everyone else’s opinions!