Yearender 2016 | The unlikely Philippine president


Rodrigo Roa Duterte is, perhaps, the most unorthodox president the country ever had. He talks tough and he curses.He intersperses his prepared speeches with extemporaneous declarations in the Visayan language and of course, laced with curses. He is not the typical politician. He acts more like your neighborhood toughie.

By his own admission, he is close to the family of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos. He almost declared Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator, as his running mate, if not for an earlier commitment to Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano. He publicly professed his loyalty and admiration to the late dictator and facilitated the dictator Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery of Heroes).

President Duterte has also threatened several times to declare martial law or to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. He clearly has rightist leanings and yet he declares himself as a leftist, a socialist.

Even before he took over the reins of government, he already talked with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and offered them Cabinet posts. The NDFP met his overtures and nominated progressives to his Cabinet , which Duterte readily appointed. Never has the peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP been this cordial.

But the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan continues, victimizing mostly landless peasants and indigenous peoples. In urban centers, the filing of trumped up charges against people suspected of affiliations with the Left has likewise been ongoing despite being internationally condemned.

While the Marcos burial put President Duterte at odds with a broad array of sectors resulting in mass mobilizations that culminated on November 25 and 30, the administration’s vulnerability locally and internationally emanates from its deadly war on drugs. Due process and the right to life have been blatantly disregarded.

The dead bodies of alleged drug addicts and pushers keep piling up. As of the last count, the death toll, with the police and vigilantes as perpetrators, has already breached the 4,000 mark. This has stoked the impunity in human rights violations, which has been prevailing since the Marcos dictatorship onwards.

Photo from the Presidential Communications Operations Office official Facebook page. Photo by Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo.
Photo from the Presidential Communications Operations Office official Facebook page. Photo by Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo.

He is the first president of the country to point a dirty finger at the US and warned that he would ask US troops to leave the country. While his predecessor Benigno Aquino III echoed the bellicose lines of the US against China, Duterte courted China. Duterte also made sure that he would be able to meet with his “idol” Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the said meeting, Duterte complained about how the country is being treated by the US and Europe. His health secretary even went to Cuba in August 2016 to observe its health care system.

Expectedly, President Duterte’s foreign policy declarations, most especially his tirades against the US, have been meeting a lot of resistance locally even from within his Cabinet. One of his declared close allies former president Fidel V. Ramos – who reportedly was one of the influential persons who convinced him to run for the presidency – began criticizing him publicly after Duterte launched his tirades against the US and threatened to ask US troops to leave the country. That was expected for West Point-trained Ramos, a known US boy.

Because of his peace overtures and anti-US stance, there are rumors that there are some rumblings from with the military, especially the senior officers. President Duterte has also accused the “yellow forces” – referring to the Liberal Party and forces loyal to Aquino – of plotting his ouster to install Vice President Leni Robredo, a Liberal Party official, to the presidency.

President Duterte has begun to backtrack on some of his statements. He declared that he would honor the treaties and agreements the country entered into even with the US. He immediately congratulated Donald Trump when the latter won the US elections. But the wind changed again when the US withheld the grants for the Millennium Development Goals until the administration conforms to human rights standards in its war on drugs. He again threatened to abrogate the country’s military agreements with the US.

The US might be already planning a “regime change” scenario. The only thing stopping the US right now is the high popularity and satisfaction ratings that President Duterte has been getting. President Duterte still enjoys popular support, despite receiving a lot of flak when he facilitated the burial of the late dictator Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

How long will Duterte be able to keep the presidency with his tirades against the US? Only time will tell. That is, unless he begins towing the US line.

So much has happened during the first six months of the Duterte administration. The newly installed administration has been as colorful and controversial as the profanity-laden speeches of President Duterte.

Once could say that the Duterte administration is not as ‘stable’ and predictable as the previous post-dictatorship administrations – with the exception, of course, of the Cory Aquino administration, which was a transitory government that was rocked by coup d’etats and power grab attempts.

The Duterte administration has been, at least in terms of policy pronouncements, swinging from right to left and back. But who wants stability, except for the political and economic elite, if it meant perpetrating the status quo that has been worsening social inequities and injustices? The reason that the Liberal Party’s presidential candidate Mar Roxas was so widely rejected by the electorate, during the May 2016 elections, was that he represented a mere continuation of the Aquino administration.

Judging from the results of the May presidential elections and the continuing popularity of the Duterte administration, it appears that the Filipino people are really expecting change.

However, the wild swings from right to left and back of the Duterte administration reveal that there is a tug of war among the different political forces within and without the government. Thus, if the people want change, then it must make sure that its voice is being heard and listened to. And the only way to do this is through political action. (

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