Following the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the People Power Revolution of 1986, along with the election of Corazon Aquino, ushered in a sense of optimism in democracy and political stability for the Philippines. However, corruption and cronyism have persisted until the present day. High poverty rates, crime, and little economic growth continue to plague the country’s people. According to a recent report from CNN, the vast majority of Filipino politicians come from political dynasties, and 76% of new economic growth in the past few years has gone to the 40 most affluent families. Additionally, the Philippines has dealt with a number of external conflicts over the past decade. China continues to increase its geopolitical power in Southeast Asia and threatens valuable Philippine maritime territory in the South China Sea. These factors have created the conditions for a power vacuum, legitimizing another questionable “strongman” leader touting the mantra of political stability and domestic order.
Earlier this year, the Philippines elected Rodrigo Duterte to serve as president. Duterte, a member of the Philippine Democratic Party-Power of the People (PDP-Laban), served as mayor of Davao City for 22 years. While in office as mayor, he implemented a “tough on crime” approach against alleged criminals and drug dealers in Davao City. Duterte is rumored to have played an instrumental role in the Davao Death Squad (DDS). This vigilante group was responsible for extrajudicial killings of more than 700 people from 1998 to 2008. (Duterte denies any affiliation with the DDS.) Davao City, a city of one million people in the southern province of Mindanao, still has one of the highest crime rates in the Philippines despite Duterte’s crime policies as mayor.
Despite the allegations of involvement in the death squad, Duterte still won by a large margin in the Philippine presidential election in May. The election had a record voter turnout of 81%. Duterte received 16.6 million votes (38.6%), followed by about 10 million votes (23.4%) for Mar Roxas. Senator Grace Poe came in third place with 21.7% of the vote. Since then, the number of extrajudicial killings has skyrocketed in Duterte’s war on drugs. According to data released by the Philippine National Police last month, vigilantes have killed 1,391 people. Based on his actions in the past few months, it is evident that Duterte will not bring much-needed political stability to the Philippines, but will preside over a reign of terror, potentially throwing the country back into undemocratic chaos. He even stated in August: “I don’t care about human rights, believe me.” He has also threatened to declare martial law in the event that political opposition attempts to halt his crime policies.
Earlier this fall, President Obama raised concerns about the extrajudicial killings resulting from his policies, but Duterte fired back: “I am no American puppet. I am the President of a sovereign country and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people [...] son of a bitch I will swear at you.” The new president has a long record of making extreme statements. He once referred to the Pope as a “son of a whore” and the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines as a “gay son of a whore.” At a recent press conference, Duterte revealed plans to cut ties with the U.S. and align the Philippines with China and Russia. He has created a frighteningly erratic political environment in the Philippines, and another Marcos-style dictatorship may materialize in the coming years.