Rodrigo Duterte: Pagbabago or bust


Posted at Jun 30 2016 03:52 AM | Updated as of Jul 28 2016 07:28 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte, surrounded by his key people, speaks to a multitude of supporters during his miting de avance at the Quirino Grandstand before the May 9 elections. Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News

Post-1986, except for the political transition in January 2001 when Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took over from deposed President Joseph Estrada, no other transfer of presidential power has gotten so much attention as Rodrigo Roa Duterte's.

It's partly because the Philippines has not had a commander-in-chief like the tough-talking mayor of Davao City.

DU30: 30 facts about Duterte 

Duterte's fiery statements on fighting crime and his warnings to various institutions not to get in the way of his plans to change the country are seen as threats to the democratic gains of the country over the past 30 years.

These gains include human rights, press freedom, an independent judiciary and legislature, which were lost from 1972 to 1986 during the Marcos dictatorship.

No less than the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has reminded Duterte about the need to respect human rights and strengthen democracy.

US President Barack Obama also cited the two countries' commitment to democracy in his phone call congratulating Duterte last June 18.

The White House said Obama "highlighted the enduring values that underpin our thriving alliance with the Philippines... including our shared commitments to democracy, human rights, rule of law, and inclusive economic growth."

"The two leaders affirmed their interest in seeing the relationship continue to grow on the basis of these shared principles," the White House said.


Fortunately, no less than Duterte himself has promised to change. In one of his press conferences early in June before deciding to no longer give interviews to non-government media, Dutere said he was enjoying his last few days as a mayor who can be rude and uncouth.

I said there's gonna be a metamorphosis in the mind. Suddenly from a caterpillar, it blossoms into a butterfly. - Duterte

"It will be a metamorphosis. Ladies and gentlemen of the media who are here, you know, when I get to be president, I have to tone down on my cursing. That would be a past, it's going to be history. I have to concentrate more on what happens to this country and to develop it and to make it progress along the way. And there's a lot of things which I have to do to complete," he said.

"And when I come back, I would address you in a very polite manner. I'm telling you how I'm going to behave. I said there's gonna be a metamorphosis in the mind. Suddenly from a caterpillar, it blossoms into a butterfly," he added.

Many are waiting with bated breath whether Duterte will indeed change.

His spokesmen, however, have often pointed out that Duterte is a lawyer who is bound to follow the Constitution and all of the country's laws and edicts. His presidential oath, in fact, mandates that he "preserve and defend" the Constitution "execute its laws" and "do justice to every man." Otherwise, he can be subject to

The country's presidential system of government, where there is separation of powers and a system of checks and balances, also means that Duterte will have to get the support of Congress for some of the changes he wants.

These include restoration of the death penalty, emergency powers to address traffic, general amnesty for political prisoners, and a shift to a federal system of government.

Duterte also has to contend with opposition from the Catholic Church, the Commission on Human Rights, and NGOs to some of his controversial promises such as bringing back the death penalty.

His "supermajorities" in both houses of Congress, despite having only a handful of elected lawmakers before the May 9 polls, do not indicate a strong and independent Philippine legislature nearly 30 years since the restoration of Congress.


President Rodrigo Duterte brandishes a sub-machinegun as admirers take a selfie with him while attending an arms show during the camp[aign trail. Fernando G. Sepe, Jr. for

It's Duterte's war against crime that will be closely watched in the short-term, especially since he promised to make an impact in just 3 to 6 months. Duterte has already warned three police generals and 35 local executives with alleged links to narcotics syndicates that he will go after them.

He has urged police to shoot and kill criminals who pose a threat, and offered big bounties for drug lords.

"In Duterte’s mind, this is the battle on which everything must be put on the line. This is the engagement that will be the primal test of his presidency. This is where he will pass or fail," said political analyst Alex Magno.

A passing grade may be easy to get, given the supposed gains that have been made in the war against drugs even before Duterte has assumed office. The Philippine National Police (PNP) said last June 21 that 29 drug suspects were killed in just 35 days or from May 10 to 15, compared to 39 drug-related crime incidents from January 1 to May 9. 

Two-way iyan, 'di ba? Kung ang pulis mo, credible, mapagkatiwalaan, ang kooperasyon ng ating mga sibilyan, mga kababayan, it will come naturally. -- 'Bato' Dela Rosa

Aside from the President, the man to watch is Chief Superintendent Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, Duterte's choice to head of the 160,000-strong PNP.

Dela Rosa is hopeful the new administration can show results in 6 months. He believes this can be done by bolstering intelligence-gathering from the public and cleaning up PNP's own ranks.

"Two-way iyan, 'di ba? Kung ang pulis mo, credible, mapagkatiwalaan, ang kooperasyon ng ating mga sibilyan, mga kababayan, it will come naturally," he said on May 19.

"Pero kung wala namang kredibilidad ang pulis, sasabihin na walang kwenta ang mga pulis, mga suba iyan, hindi rin mag-cooperate ang ating taumbayan."

Dela Rosa said he already holds a list of policemen who are under tight watch due to their alleged involvement in nefarious activities.


President Duterte (3rd left) walks with members of the communist New People's Army during the release of five policemen held by the rebels for a week in Davao City. Keith Bacongco, Reuters

Peace talks with Communist rebels is another unresolved problem that will be closely watched under the new administration.

Although the security threat from the nearly half-a-century-old New People's Army (NPA) rebellion has been reduced, from a peak of more than 26,000 in the late 1980s to around 4,000 fighters (military estimates), it remains an embarrassing record to have the world's longest running Maoist insurgency, one that has claimed 30,000 lives.

With the warm ties between Duterte and CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison, his former teacher at Lyceum of the Philippines University, incoming Presidential Peace Process Adviser Jesus Dureza is confident that significant progress can be achieved this time around, following years of stalled peace talks.

CPP-NDF leaders Jose Maria Sison and Luis Jalandoni meet with Duterte peace negotiators led by Jesus Dureza in Norway, mid-June 2016. Thirdy Ado, ABS-CBN News

Dureza, who was part of the negotiating panel of the Ramos administration and was former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's peace adviser, is more optimistic now about the chances for a peace deal with the National Democratic Front (NDF), even though the negotiators are the same.

Puro naman kami kaibigan, same persons. It’s just because we have a principal like Rodrigo Duterte. -- Jess Dureza

"Hindi ito ganito [dati] eh, sa totoo lang. We can examine and analyze why, but it’s just that we have a Rodrigo Duterte now. 'Wag na muna natin busisiin bakit, because when I met with the CPP-NPA-NDF group in Oslo, masyadong open," he said on ANC's Headstart last June 22.

He attributed a lot of the optimism from both ends to a "very out-of-the-box-thinking president-elect like Rody Duterte."

"Puro naman kami kaibigan, same persons. It’s just because we have a principal like Rodrigo Duterte. Yun lang. We’ll see how it’s going to turn out," he said.

Peace talks will again resume in July, and an interim ceasefire is expected to be declared before Duterte's first State of the Nation Address on July 25.

Talks bogged down between the Aquino government and communist rebels in 2013 over the rebels’ demand for the unconditional release of political prisoners. Duterte is expected to release political prisoners involved in the peace talks as a gesture of goodwill.


A man fixes his tricycle at the Bankerohan public market in Davao City, bailiwick of President Duterte, where most of his support from the city’s simple folks came. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Duterte has admitted that his expertise is limited to criminal law and his experience as a long-time city prosecutor of Davao City. After choosing all his Cabinet members, he gave them a free hand to choose their own teams and vowed not to interfere in their work.


His economic team, led by childhood buddy, incoming Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, has come up with a 10-point socio-economic agenda:

1. Continue and maintain current macroeconomic policies, including fiscal, monetary, and trade policies;

2. Progressive tax reform and better tax collection, indexing taxes to inflation -- a tax reform package will be submitted to congress by around September of this year including expanded sin taxes to include junk food;

3. Increase competitiveness and the ease of doing business, including relaxing the economic provisions of the Constitution to attract foreign direct investments--except land ownership. Follow successful models used to boost business (e.g., Davao);

4. Accelerate annual infrastructure spending to account for 5% of GDP, with Public-Private Partnerships playing a key role;

5. Promote rural and value chain development, including increasing agricultural and rural enterprise productivity and tourism;

6. Ensure security of land tenure to encourage investments, address bottlenecks among land management and titling agencies;

7. Invest in human capital development including health and education systems, and match skills and training to meet the demand of businesses and the private sector;

8. Promote science, technology, and the creative arts to enhance innovation and creative capacity towards self-sustaining inclusive development;

9. Improve social protection programs, including the government's Conditional Cash Transfer program;

10. Step up implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law to enable especially poor couples to make informed choices on the number of children they can adequately provide for.

This is not coming out of Mars or left field or what. This is what the people want. They want poverty rates to go down. They want their standard of living to go up.-- Sonny Dominguez

Among the key Duterte promises that will be keenly watched are ending contractualization, his push for responsible mining, cutting red tape in various government agencies, and inclusive growth.

“They voted (for Duterte) because the good macroeconomic numbers did not translate to a better life for all,” Dominguez said during the Sulong Pilipinas conference in Davao over a week ago.

“This is not coming out of Mars or left field or what. This is what the people want. They want poverty rates to go down. They want their standard of living to go up."


Filipino students hold replicas of Chinese maritime surveillance ships to denounce Chinese intrusion in the West Philippine Sea during a rally near Malacanang Palace in Manila. Ted Aljibe, AFP

Change may also be forthcoming with respect to the Philippines' bilateral relations with China, the world's second-largest economy. Closer ties with China, in the event an understanding is reached over the South China Sea dispute, could unlock substantial amounts of funding from Beijing.

During the election campaign, Duterte said he was willing to ''shut up'' on the territorial dispute if he becomes president, as long as China will offer to build vital transportation facilities and other infrastructure in the Philippines.

If China will ''build me a train around Mindanao, build me train from Manila to Bicol... build me a train [going to] Batangas, for the six years that I'll be president, I'll shut up," he said.

Speaking at a press conference in April, Duterte said he was open to having joint exploration between the Philippines and China in the disputed waters, an approach the Aquino administration had long dismissed.

''If you want, joint exploration. Kung wala akong pera pang-equipment ko, just give me my part,'' Duterte said.

Incoming Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez has been quoted as saying the Duterte administration will fast-track the Philippines' membership in The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This will widen the Philippines' financing options for badly needed infrastructure.

Ambassador Zhao Jianhua and incoming president Rodrigo Duterte. Handout

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua last May 25 said he was confident that bilateral ties would improve under Duterte, noting the incoming chief executive's openness to dialogue. 

My impression is that the president-elect is a very strong man, he is a man also of principle, and he has the type of leadership we would like to work with to improve our bilateral relationship. -- Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua

"I'm confident that the relationship will get better," Zhao said. "We welcome that [dialogue]. It has always been China's policy to settle our disputes and differences through bilateral channels. We are looking forward to work with the incoming president and his team to explore the possibility of returning to bilateral talks."

Zhao said he is also happy that the Philippines has a new leader, hinting of a dissatisfaction with President Aquino, whose administration filed an arbitration case before a United
Nations Arbitral Tribunal in January 2013, angering China.

"My impression is that the president-elect is a very strong man, he is a man also of principle, and he has the type of leadership we would like to work with to improve our bilateral relationship," said Zhao.


Duterte, the country's first president from Mindanao, was the only presidential candidate to campaign for a shift from a unitary to a federal system of government. This would radically change the country's political system.

Duterte often pointed to the federalism blueprint of former Senator Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr., chair emeritus of PDP-Laban, as his model. His supporters uploaded this simple video on federalism during the campaign.

Presumptive Senate President 'Koko' Pimentel III said on June 28 that the Duterte administration is eyeing an election of delegates to a Constitutional Convention that will draft a new Charter by mid-2017. The delegates will have until end of 2018 to finish the draft Constitution.

With this kind of timetable, no need for term extension. Gusto na niya mag-retire noon as Davao mayor, ayaw na niya sana mag-presidente, tama na yung six years sa kanya. -- Koko Pimentel

Voters will be asked to approve the changes in 2019, presumably during the mid-term elections, and if the shift to federalism is approved, the second half of Duterte's term will serve as the transition period to a federal form of government.

One of the dangers of having a new Constitution is that it may lift the term limits of elected officials and give Duterte a chance to stay in power beyond 2022. But Pimentel believes Duterte will eventually hand over power when he steps down in 2022.

"Hindi na po kailangan. With this kind of timetable, no need for term extension. Gusto na niya mag-retire noon as Davao mayor, ayaw na niya sana mag-presidente, tama na yung six years sa kanya," Pimentel said.

The Duterte camp believes it will hit two birds with one stone if the shift to federalism is approved. Incoming House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (Davao del Norte) said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's (MILF) Bangsamoro region can easily be accommodated under a federal form of government.

Alvarez told ANC last May 19 that the Aquino administration took the MILF for a ride with the unrealistic promise of passing the BBL as part of the peace process without charter change.

"How can you implement the provisions of the BBL without amending the constitution? You cannot do it because there are provisions in the BBL that [run] contrary to the provisions of the constitution," he said, adding it would have been struck down by the Supreme Court for unconstitutionality.

To rectify this, Alvarez said they will amend the constitution in the 17th Congress "to provide what is inside the agreement of the BBL."

"The BBL will be absorbed by the federal form of government, kasi pareho 'yun eH. Yung concept ng BBL is the same dun sa federal form of government," he said.


Leaders of the MILF and a faction of the MNLF met with Duterte on June 17 in Davao City and the two groups expressed support for Duterte's shift to federalism. 

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim and his first vice-chairman Ghadzali Jaafar, as well as Moro National Liberation Front leader Datu Abul Khayr Alonto described the gathering as a "brother-to-brother meeting."

"A federal system could very well put in place a government of transparency and accountability, and effectively address the peace and order problems including drug trafficking and kidnap for ransom," Alonto told reporters.

"The president-elect has our commitment and our support, hindi sa salita, sa gawa. It's high-time wag na yung mga salita-salita. All of the things we talked about, we have to do it."

The MNLF chairman, for his part, said it is time to accept that a "centralized form of government is a dismal failure" as it is the reason "why there is war in Mindanao."

Despite agreeing to the shift to a federal form of government, Alonto said they are still hopeful that the "good aspects of the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be retained," and that the country will see the Bangsamoro as a federal state model.

When asked if the MILF and MNLF can finally patch things together and come up with a united front under Duterte, Alonto said, "God willing, In Sha'Allah."

Alonto heads an MNLF faction separate from the one headed by founding chairman Nur Misuari that was behind the bloody Zamboanga siege in September 2013.

The MILF, the country's largest rebel group, earlier said it has sought to close ranks with the MNLF to push for a peace deal under Duterte.

The MILF has sent emissaries to Misuari to discuss a "common approach" after an accord it agreed with outgoing President Benigno Aquino failed to get congressional approval, Jaafar said.

The fugitive Misuari was "very hopeful" about the prospects of ending the four-decade-long rebellion under Duterte. "It's unity in diversity," Jaafar said, adding there have been separate negotiations with MNLF central committee chairman Muslimin Sema since the start of the year.

Sema said the two groups could “merge” its respective peace deals with the government - the MNLF’s Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and a subsequent agreement in 1996, and the MILF’s Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014.

“We’re actually making it easy for government,” Sema told ABS-CBN News. “We are calling on other factions to come on board.”

Misuari has gone into hiding after being charged over the 2013 siege on the southern port city of Zamboanga.

The 2014 agreement between Aquino and the MILF would have granted wider autonomy to the country's Muslim minority, but the peace process ground to a halt after 44 police commandos died in a botched anti-terrorist raid in the remote farming town of Mamasapano last year.


People are disappointed with democracy until they lose it... Then they'll look for it again. -- Tony Gatmaitan

Expectations are high under Duterte, and satisfaction with the country's oldest president could fall quickly if he fails to deliver. He won with only a plurality of 39%, which means around 6 in 10 voters didn't choose him as their leader.

If Duterte's threats to democracy are actually carried out, it will definitely test the strength of the country's institutions, particularly the military and the police.

Whether the country returns to authoritarian rule is hard to guess, but many believe that it won't be a walk in the park.

A supporter wears the name of his chosen presidential candidate during the miting de avance of Rodrigo Duterte in Manila, days before the historic May 9 election that sealed his destiny to become the country's 16th president. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

"People are disappointed with democracy until they lose it," veteran political analyst Tony Gatmaitan told ABS-CBN News. "Then they'll look for it again."