20 April 2018
Will Rodrigo Duterte deliver on his promise to fight crime in the Philippines, or will he end up as corrupt as most of his predecessors? Photo: ABS-CBN
Will Rodrigo Duterte deliver on his promise to fight crime in the Philippines, or will he end up as corrupt as most of his predecessors? Photo: ABS-CBN

Is Rodrigo Duterte the real deal?

Ever since a billionaire real estate developer took the United States by storm in the country’s presidential primaries, “Donald Trump” has become a nickname for any politician who is not afraid to defy political correctness and challenge the status quo.

In the recent Philippine presidential election, Rodrigo Duterte, a lawyer and the incumbent mayor of Davao City, won by a landslide.

His take-no-prisoners attitude, his staggeringly tough stance on crime and his provocative rhetoric have earned him the nickname “Donald Trump of the Philippines”.

But does he really live up to that name?

While Trump may be succeeding in creating an image of a political strongman and has often wowed his supporters and shocked his opponents with his cutting and sometimes over-the-top remarks, he has absolutely zero experience in politics and public office.

In contrast, Duterte does have a proven track record as a tough and heavy-handed leader.

During his term as the mayor of Davao, he has gone to extreme lengths to maintain law and order and fight crime in his city.

He has imposed a curfew, banned the sale of alcohol and forced karaoke bars to close after midnight.

Duterte has also been famous for his zero tolerance for drugs.

During a television interview a few years ago, he vowed that if he found that his own children were using drugs, he would kill them with his own hands without a moment’s hesitation.

Even more outrageously, he has bypassed the judiciary and declared war on criminals in his city, setting up an elite “execution squad” in the local police department that was given the authority to arrest and execute criminals on the spot instead of bringing them before the courts.

The unprecedented measure has created a firestorm of controversy in the country.

While many in the US doubt whether Trump will really be able to act as tough as he talks if he is elected president, very few people in the Philippines have any doubt about whether Duterte can deliver on his election pledges and bring about change.

That is because, unlike Trump, Duterte has been in politics for over three decades, and his policies have stood the test of time.

In other words, he didn’t work his way up in politics by just talking tough; he did act tough, and the majority of Filipinos, who are completely fed up with their weak and corrupt governments over the past decade, are looking to an unconventional figure like Duterte for drastic change.

The problem is, can Duterte really break out of the recurring pattern in Philippine politics — a popular candidate who is voted into office with a mandate to fight corruption but ends up becoming a corrupt ruler?

Only time will tell whether Duterte is just another Ferdinand Marcos or Joseph Estrada.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 31.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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