The Philippines Has a New President, Is Change Finally Coming?

 

Duterte makes a fist after casting his vote. Photo: Veejay Villafranca (Getty Images)

He made a joke about gang rape. He said he will slaughter all criminals. He called the Pope, “the son of a whore”. He openly talks about his sex life and is a proud womanizer. It’s no wonder that people would wonder what the heck are Filipinos thinking in electing this person as their new president? Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte, the 71-year-old Mayor of Davao city has been elected in the country’s highest position, winning by a landslide. He is also the first president to come from the Mindanao region. His controversial comments and promises yet daring promise for change got him both supports and haters.

Duterte has been compared to Donald Trump numerous times—sometimes, even referring to him as the Trump of the East. International news medias’ take on Duterte has been majorly negative focusing on his remarks and crude campaign. I’m not saying that all the things he said were right. As a presidential candidate then, or even as a normal person, why would you say that you should have been first to rape an Australian missionary who died while she was in your city? Why would you call, the Pope, coming from a dominant Roman Catholic country, the son of a whore? Why would you boast death squads in your city and have claimed to extrajudicial killings of more than a hundred people?

All of these are terribly wrong. They’re horrendous. Just because he is elected president, it doesn’t make it “okay” to say these (and a lot of people compared Hilter’s win to his). These remarks shouldn’t be rationalized. His utilitarian views shouldn’t be praised either. Of course, he won’t get penalized for it. But at least, it will leave a scar in people’s heart. Not all of us can 100% love Duterte because of it. I am not a Duterte supporter. He is not my president. But as he is here now—maybe we should look at another side of the story and see him in another light. As a Filipino, I want to give a perspective as to why I think my fellow countrymen would elect someone like him.

Filipinos are tired. We are tired of the same old promises that politicians make. We are tired of having the same politicians from the same family governing the country (political dynasties create a monopoly and continue to dominate). We are tired of corruption. We are tired of these officials pocketing the money that should be for our country. We are tired of living in poverty. We are tired of useless infrastructures built from our money. According to the World Bank, in 2013, the Philippines has the highest homicide rate in Asia, fire arms are easy to get, drug dens are everywhere, prostitution (including minors) are still happening.

In short, we are just tired of the same old unbreakable cycle. We are suffering from autocratic nostalgia. We want change. And to Duterte supporters—he is that change. He is an outsider, not of mainstream origin. He is a fresh perspective, a symbol of a fresh start. His most memorable campaign slogan (well, besides his remarks) is that “Change is Coming” and to many Filipinos, this is what we have always wanted. It seems like, when it comes to politics in the Philippines, it’s always been about choosing the lesser of two evils. Secretary Mar Roxas’, the so-called successor to President Aquino, incompetency irritates many. Vice-president Jejomar Binay has been under the fire for his corruption issues. Senator Grace Poe is still raw. And Miriam Defensor-Santiago, perhaps the most qualified is now, past her prime.

Duterte is the change that’s been long overdue—the only we’ve been waiting for. His unconventional ways of governing might just be the way for things to finally work. Having the same old officials for the last few years aren’t working. While it’s true that we are no longer “the sick of Asia” and have become a “raising tiger of Asia”, poverty, corruption and income inequality still continue to plague the country. With terrible traffic in Manila that can last for 7 hours, a 100 million population and growing each day, most of which are living in poverty, not enough healthcare and financial help, corrupt officials and safety issues that are still haunt us—you can’t blame us for craving for change. There are so many officials who need to be punished, so many crimes committed where justice wasn’t and still isn’t served (SAF44, Magindanao Massacre, Lumad Killings) that choosing “The Punisher” seems the best way to go. Perhaps governing the country with an iron fist is the change that we need.

Duterte on the Philippine edition of TIME Magazine. Photo credit: TIME

Duterte has been the mayor of Davao city for 22 years. Under his leadership, he has transformed it into the most urbanized city in the Southern region, a region that is mostly buried in poverty. Duterte is also a supporter of LGBTQ rights. He is against discrimination and has considered legalizing same-sex  marriage,  a very bold and daring move for a dominantly Roman Catholic country (where religion still plays a big role in legal affairs; for instance, divorce is still not legal). During his recent press conference as presumptive-president elect, he vows to bring back death penalty by hanging in public rather than firing squads. But he will give security forces “shoot-to-kill” orders. This is seen as another daring move for a dominant Roman Catholic country where the death penalty was abolished in 2006 under President Arroyo. According to a poll conducted by Inquirer.net in twitter, out of 3,474 votes, 67% are in favor of death penalty while 33% are not.

This result is similar to another one conducted by Pape Jack, a broadcaster in his twitter account where 79% said yes to death penalty out of 4,957 votes. But many officials including former chairperson of the Comission of Human Rights asked Duterte to rethink this decision. She says that death penalty has not been an effective mechanism because most of those who are accused of crimes are from the lowest of lowest and cannot afford a lawyer to defend them effectively. Despite admitting the fact that he is a womanizer, Duterte aims to give women more opportunities. In fact, he has announced that he will be electing more women to work for his administration. In Davao, he has set up women-centered programs as well as hiring lawyers to defend women in domestic violence cases which he personally pays.

Known for his unconventional ways of dealing with crimes, Duterte has straight up said he is against corruption and is the first thing he will do as president is reduce crime rates in six months, a long-time problem for the country. His death squads in Davao are notorious but because of it, Davao is the fourth safest city in the world (according to the website, Numbeo). Tired of broken promises and just-words-no-action-approach of several other politicians, Duterte is an he-said-he-does person, often taking justice into his own hands.

In Davao city, there is a curfew for minors. This is to ensure that they are well-prepared and ready for school the next day. It is a form of protection, as minors getting raped is still also an issue. There is also a liquor ban in public places and a karaoke curfew to avoid commotion and to maintain peace. Karaoke, something that Filipinos love to do, can end bloodily, worst if combined with alcohol.  While Duterte is no economic expert, something that investors are eyeing especially if he can maintain what the Aquino administration has achieved economically, he is looking to appoint two seasoned and very experienced officials. Although some believe that that his presidency will hinder the country from being an economic star.

Despite his dirty mouth, Duterte actually leads a simple life. My aunt (who is from Davao) says that he goes out without the need of bodyguards, takes the taxi and lives in a simple house. In fact, he still wants to be called “mayor” instead of “president”. He says he prefers his presence not to be known, although it’s impossible now. He finds adultation corny and sees himself as the people’s equal even if he is the president. This non-lavish lifestyle appeals to the people compared to other politicians wavering their grand houses and luxury cars to each other.

Duterte urges officials to use less fancy cars when he has finally taken his seat as president. Also, Duterte is known for supporting indigenous groups and has voiced his support for the Moro Muslims—who are still to this day, rebelling against the Philippine government and also a problem that’s often overlooked. Countering the country’s problems of political dynasties, Duterte warns his relatives and friends not to ask for favors. Peter Lavina, Duterte’s campaign manager said that Duterte’s notorious remarks during his campaign is his way of getting attention. He states that the Filipino-way of elections is how memorable you will make yourself to be. Others sing, others dance, others give things out.

Photo credit: Noel Celis (AFP/Getty Images)

Because of his iron fist leadership, experts also believe that Duterte would defend the country in its international issues notably the territorial disputes with China. To which he said that he would personally go on a jet ski and plant a Philippine flag there if need be. This assertive, yes-man-do-man leadership is really that Filipinos long for, for the last five decades. Perhaps the Philippines might be ruled under a dictatorship (which brings a whole new other issue because of Ferdinand Marcos’ 20-year authoritative regime) but Filipinos are taking the risk. In Hong Kong (where I’m residing), overseas Filipino workers are also for Duterte. They want better jobs back home so they don’t have to go abroad to earn money. The country needs to be fixed. And it seems like Duterte is just the person who could do that.

Others feel sorry for us. I can understand why. Others fear the worst. Also understandable. But for the less privileged, who are still living in the lowest of the lowest while poverty, corruption, crime and many other problems still roam the country, it’s the least of their concerns. They want change—and Duterte promised for change. On the lighter side, Duterte is willing to talk with countries that he has offended once he takes his seat and promised to “behave” as president.

No matter how bad his mouth is, when the election results were rolling in, Duterte went to his mom’s grave and cried. At the end of the day, he is still a “Mama’s boy”. He wept and asked his mother to help him as the leader of the country. Here, we see a vulnerable Duterte. A tough man, feared but also loved by his Davaonians, because he is also soft in the inside. In fact, when he cast his vote, it was said that he voted for Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and has continuously shown his support for her despite every one just remembering her for her illness. So, instead of feeling sorry for us, let’s all hope for the best for our country. Love him, hate him, he’s here—and we can’t change that anymore. Let’s just hope that Filipinos will also do our part in making the change happen. He may or may not be the person who can fix it, we will only know in due time. Instead of being pessimistic—let’s all think positively that it might finally be a new positive era for the Philippines under Duterte. (And he, too, will finally behave as he promised.)

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