It was December 17 last year when Rodrigo Duterte formalized his entry in the Presidential race. By the time the campaign period formally began in February 2016, Duterte was clearly going to emerge as the winner. His rivals didn’t stand a chance as he connected with voters from all walks of life. His campaign team maximized its use of social media a their main platform and was able to generate a very wide reach. What was supposed to be a battle of TV and radio ads became a battle of memes which the Duterte campaign pioneered in.
Memes are defined as “a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.” What couldn’t be simplified in a TV or radio ad was expressed clearly in a meme. Voters who weren’t always aware of the complexities of the issue began to ask questions. Duterte supporters with a better grasp of the issues gladly explained in order to educate and inform potential supporters of the candidate.
A last ditch effort to derail Mr. Duterte’s campaign with allegations of ill-gotten wealth by Senator Trillanes and a TV ad paid for him showing children cursing and attributing their doing so to Duterte didn’t achieve the intended effect and instead backfired. By midnight of May 10, Rodrigo R. Duterte became the 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines.
Six months later after his inauguration, President Duterte has shaken the foundations of the Philippine political landscape and society. It was clearly a triumph of the majority even if marred by fraud but the Liberals who lost continue to claim that Duterte’s win was only a plurality and the true majority isn’t in favor of his victory. The Yellowtards have resorted to preposterous claims in order to justify their moves to once again, oust a legitimately elected President because they believe they deserve to be in power. This is self-entitlement brought to new rarefied heights. It also depicts the class struggle between the rich and the poor as the oligarchy continues to try and thwart the will of the majority.
Civil society, the Liberal Party and their allies in the oligarchy have been spearheading the drive for the President to lose public support, on the local and international front from Filipino OFWs. Corruption can’t be used as an issue against the President so the focus has been on the killings caused by the drug war and the sudden burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The collective opposition termed as Yellowtards have been depicting Mr. Duterte as the second coming of Marcos. They accuse him of genocide by way of state-sponsored killings of drug pushers and drug lords.
Duterte himself has gone on the offensive by implicating Senator Leila De Lima as a drug protector and coddler while she was Secretary of Justice under the Aquino administration. Several high profile inmates, a drug lord and no less than a driver/bodyguard cum lover of De Lima have testified to her having received monies in millions of pesos which she used to finance her candidacy for Senator. Her driver cum lover also enjoyed a portion of the largesse in the form of residential properties in his hometown. De Lima can be disbarred for such actions but the Integrated Bar of the Philippines hasn’t acted on a case filed before them. She is also the subject of an investigation by the Department of Justice but the Anti-Money Laundering Council has been slow to act on the request of Justice Secretary Vitlaian Aquirre to the consternation of the President. Duterte has threatened to fire the members of the AMLC for their delaying tactics. It remains to be seen if they will move faster because this is the second time the President has called their attention.
Duterte continues to enjoy high approval ratings in the 70s. The negative media campaign hasn’t taken hold with the general public while the international media campaign is being supported by the usual human rights bodies such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
The Communist Party of the Philippines has joined the Yellowtards in opposing the burial of Marcos. Of late, it has also condemned the drug related killings which has the public wondering what is their real purpose in conducting peace talks with the Duterte administration. The President has bent over backwards in accommodating the Communists with three Cabinet posts and the release of their key officials who have been under detention for them to be able to participate in the peace negotiations in Oslo.
And this Grand alliance against Duterte would not be complete without the Philippine Catholic Church. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, through its President Archbishop Socrates Villegas, had exhorted the public not to vote for Duterte during the campaign. Luckily, their plea fell on deaf ears as there were a large number of disillusioned faithful wary of the Church bias in favor of the Yellowtards and their oligarchy allies.
Clearly President Duterte is up against a challenge early in his Presidency as no quarter has been given for him to show what he can actually do. The 72 year old has been akin to a spinning dynamo in the past six months doing the rounds of ASEAN member countries with visits to both Japan and China. He has managed to establish rapprochement with the Chinese and repair the extremely damaged relationship between the Philippines and China as a result of the Aquino administration being an American proxy and lapdog. He has been welcomed by his peers in ASEAN who are glad that the Philippines is finally pursuing an independent foreign policy and no longer functions to represent American interests in the region. Duterte has also managed to open the doors with Russia when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Chile. Putin has extended an invitation to Duterte to visit Russia in 2017. The Russian Ambassador to the Philippines has indicated interest in pursuing two way trade in agricultural commodities and Russian arms and rail technology. There is also on the drawing board, the supply of oil and natural gas, both of which, Russia is one of the world’s leading producers.
Duterte is still being criticized for his verbal tirades against Western media, the US government and UN agencies which have all indicated opposition to his war on drugs. The casualty rate is now up to 6,000 dead but with it comes a substantial decline in homicides and murders for the same period. It’s interesting to note that per World Bank statistics, the rate of intentional homicides in the Philippines from 1998 through 2014 has been on the rise from 9 to 14 per 100,000 population. This statistic has been largely ignored which again shows how much bias there is against the Duterte administration.
Duterte has openly accused the Yellowtards of plotting to oust him. One of the staunchest supporters of the Liberal Party abroad, Fil-Am millionaire Loida Nicolas Lewis has called upon him to resign claiming Vice-President Leni Robredo can solve the drug problem without the killings. Robredo herself was fired by Duterte last November as Housing Czarina after she failed to address the problem of Yolanda survivors still living in temporary bunkhouses when the President and her went to Tacloban to mark the third anniversary of the tragedy last November 9. Robredo made it appear that she was raised out of the Cabinet as part of the larger plot to steal the Vice-Presidency from her and install her rival Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Every issue is being twisted against Duterte.
What are the chances of a plot against Duterte succeeding? The issue of the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea which Duterte has said he will set aside as part of the detentè with China can be used as a ground for Impeachment but this will only succeed if the Yellowtards have the numbers in both houses of Congress. At this point, this option is not feasible. Any other ground for impeachment would suffer the same fate.
The Yellowtards can exploit a certain degree of unease in the military caused by the negotiations with the CPP but the the latent weakness of this strategy is how to get the majority to go along with them. They would have a certain degree of credibility if former President Fidel Ramos joins their cause. Ramos has lashed out against Duterte in the past six months even if the latter has acknowledged that he was instrumental in convincing him to join the Presidential race. Ramos actively participated in the ouster of Marcos and former President Joseph Estrada in the past. It remains to be ascertained of Ramos still has a strong following in the police and military. The President has picked a soldier’s soldier to be his Secretary of National Defense. Delfin Lorenzana is widely respected as a soldier and diplomat. Any rumblings in the military and police will not escape his ear since he is also a respected alumnus of the Philippine Military Academy.
So far, the Yellowtards have utilized every strategy in their book. Mr. Duterte is now being labeled as a budding Marcos who will amend the Constitution in favor of a federal parliamentary form of government and declare martial law shortly thereafter. The public still refuse to be cowed. And the majority continue to trust the President and believe he is what the country needs in order to finally get out of the rut it’s been in these past thirty years.
Given the relative weakening of US foreign policy under the Obama administration, China is poised to assert its role as theregional superpower. President-elect Trump has made clear he will not support Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership and with both houses of the US Congress under Republican control, there is no likelihood the measure will be passed and ratified.
President Duterte has made it clear that he will abide by the rule of law being a member of the bar and an officer of the court. It remains to be seen what actions he will take to free the country from the clutches of the oligarchy and how he will reform the bureaucracy in order to drastically minimize corruption. It’s very clear that he’s a hands on President given the number of Cabinet meetings he’s held since assuming office.
The electorate was skeptical of how he promised to reform government in six years when previous administration’s have failed. Yet Mr. Duterte has shown how capable he is of addressing problems by letting his subalterns handle the details while he concentrates on the bigger picture. He has been more than a breathe of fresh air and has actually gained more converts to his cause. There is hope in most Filipinos now that he can succeed in the vision he has set of achieving for a better and brighter future for all Filipinos.