Will President Duterte live up to his campaign promises?

Deutsche Welle
5 Min Read

President Rodrigo Duterte’s pledge to relentlessly fight crime and corruption helped him win the Philippine presidency. But was it just tough talk? The GIGA Institute of Asian Studies’ Jasmine Lorch speaks with DW.
Moments after being sworn in Thursday as president of the Philippines, populist Rodrigo Duterte, reiterated his pledge to relentlessly fight against crime, corruption and poverty, adding, however, that he understands “the limits of the power and authority of the president.”

But how far will Duterte go? In an interview with DW, Jasmine Lorch, an associate at the GIGA Institute of Asian Studies, warns that Duterte’s brash tactics have raised concerns, while his economic policy has so far lacked substance.

DW: Rodrigo Duterte promised a “bloody war” against criminals during his election campaign. Now that he has been elected, what concerns might human rights groups have with his promise to bring about justice?

Jasmin Lorch: National and international human rights groups have criticized Duterte’s approach to security and human rights since his time as mayor of Davao City. During Duterte’s tenure there as mayor, the city became home to notorious “dead squads” that indiscriminately targeted criminals, street children and critical activists.

During his presidential campaign, Duterte even boasted that he had personally killed criminals. Activist groups have rightly stressed that if human rights and due judicial process are ignored in the fight against crime, the justice system – and ultimately the Philippine’s democratic system – could be undermined.

Duterte accused the Catholic church of hypocrisy and corruption during his election, saying bishops had condemned him and asked for favors from the government. How might his hardline stance on the Catholic Church affect the country?

It could be very dangerous politically for Duterte to permanently anger the Catholic Church, particularly if he alienates the traditional political elite and the elite civil society at the same time.

In that case, Duterte might face the same kind of People Power scenario as populist President Josef Estrada, who was in office from 1998 until 2001, when a four-day protest peacefully overthrew the government.

How might Duterte build on the economic growth of outgoing President Benigno Aquino, who brought the country to an average annual growth rate of 6.3 percent in his six-year term?

In the past weeks, Duterte has recruited economic experts and advisers who have announced an eight point economic agenda that includes measures to promote macroeconomic stability. At the same time, Duterte himself is seen to have very little experience in economic matters and his populist presidential campaign and aggressive rhetoric have scared foreign investors.

One of the main reasons Duterte was elected president was because he promised to fight poverty and corruption. The divide between the rich and the poor in the Philippines remains extremely large, and the country continues to be dominated by so-called traditional politicians with access to land, economic wealth and political power.

How has Duterte faired so far in his fight against poverty and corruption?

So far, however, Duterte has not put forward a concrete agenda of how he wants to reduce poverty and limit the gap between the rich and the poor. One of the few concrete measures he has mentioned is agrarian reform, and some agrarian reform groups have expressed support for him.

It is possible though that Duterte may try to promote agrarian reform to strengthen his own power base, not so much for social or idealistic reasons. Duterte is a populist and his main political rivals come from the traditional political elite – large, landowning families with access to political power and economic wealth. Duterte might try to use agrarian reform as a weapon against the traditional political elite.

Duterte’s pledge to curb corruption appears questionable, given that he has refused to publicly declare the sources of his own wealth.

Jasmin Lorch is an associate for the Hamburg-based GIGA Institute of Asian Studies.

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