How Duterte’s time in power shook the Philippines

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The Punisher. Dirty Harry. Donald Trump of the East. They were nicknames given to President Rodrigo Duterte, a fiery populist who waged a deadly war on drugs in the Philippines. Elected in 2016, he rocked the country’s international loyalties, rattled big business and angered women’s groups and the Catholic Church. And that was before missteps in handling the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in one of Southeast Asia’s highest case rates and tens of thousands of deaths, which has also brings down the economy. Still, Duterte remains popular with a broad base – which helped the alliance that included his daughter win the biggest victory in four decades in the race to succeed him.

1. Why is Duterte leaving?

Duterte, who is 77, was constitutionally limited to one term, which ended June 30, 2022. After considering various scenarios, he ultimately decided to retire from politics. He backed his daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, who ran for vice president (which is separately elected) allied with former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the late dictator’s son. Election data shows that Marcos owes the Dutertes the big margin of victory. Although Marcos beat runner-up Leni Robredo for the presidency by nearly 31 percentage points in the May 9 election, Sara Duterte won her race by an even greater amount.

2. What is its economic balance sheet?

Rodrigo Duterte inherited a strong economy from his predecessor, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, and maintained growth above 6% in his first four years as president, with unemployment and poverty rates remaining low . The Philippines also achieved its highest credit rating when tax overhauls were implemented, following Aquino’s efforts to prosecute tax evaders. Infrastructure spending has also increased. The pandemic, however, reversed these gains. Two major contributors – remittances and domestic consumption – were emptied as businesses closed and foreign workers returned home or were idle. Gross domestic product plunged 9.6% in 2020, the biggest drop since 1946, and unemployment soared, especially in Metro Manila, home to a third of the country’s economic activity. GDP growth returned in 2021 as virus restrictions eased, with a forecast for 2022 of 7% to 8% – among the fastest in Asia. But the new officials face a mountain of challenges, including soaring inflation and the public debt that has soared due to the pandemic.

3. How did Duterte handle the pandemic?

Duterte has used large-scale lockdowns to stem the outbreak, calling on the police and military to impose restrictions on movement. Infections plummeted in early 2021 but soared again with the spread of the more infectious delta variant, filling hospitals amid testing and tracing difficulties in a fragmented healthcare system. The Philippines, which relied primarily on Chinese vaccines to launch its vaccination campaign, lags far behind most of its Southeast Asian neighbors in the percentage of the population inoculated. The number of cases was relatively low in mid-2022, after a surge caused by omicron earlier in the year.

It reflected the pivot to China — and away from the United States — that Duterte began shortly after taking office. Chinese loans and grants to the Philippines were $621 million in 2020, up from $1.6 million in 2016, as investment poured in in telecommunications and other areas. Trade ties have also been strengthened and Chinese visitors boosted Philippine tourism before the pandemic. Online casinos primarily employing and targeting mainland Chinese have also exploded. In 2018, Xi Jinping became the first Chinese president to visit in over a decade. The following year, Duterte said he would ignore an international court ruling upholding his country’s territorial claims in the South China Sea to advance a joint oil exploration deal with China. However, by the end of his tenure, promises of costly projects and billions of dollars in investment from China were largely unfulfilled. Tensions over the South China Sea have erupted again and plans for oil exploration have stalled.

5. How are things going with the United States?

Better and better after a bad pass. The two countries have been treaty allies since 1951, five years after the United States granted independence to the Philippines. Duterte, however, chafed at the relationship, questioning American commitment and lashing out at what he perceived as American hypocrisy and interference, often in its war on drugs. Early on, he ended joint maritime patrols and threatened to expel American soldiers. He even cursed then-President Barack Obama. Duterte scaled back his verbal attacks after President Donald Trump took office in 2017 and as naval tensions with China escalated. In July, Duterte retracted his termination of a visiting forces agreement with the United States, allowing the two countries to continue military exercises – a major victory for Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden. (Duterte later said it was “just give and take” in exchange for donated US coronavirus vaccines.) The US will also resume projects at Philippine military bases as part of another defense pact. .

6. Is there still a war on drugs?

Duterte’s fight against drugs, which he promised to complete in six months, continued despite the pandemic. It escalated “dramatically” during the 2020 lockdown, according to a Human Rights Watch report. The campaign targeted impoverished Filipinos primarily in urban areas, with police and unidentified gunmen associated with the force committing thousands of extrajudicial executions, according to the report. The war on drugs has killed more than 6,000 people, according to government data, but human rights groups believe the death toll is much higher. Judges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague in September 2021 authorized an investigation into possible crimes against humanity committed during the war on drugs, despite Duterte’s earlier withdrawal from the court in protest. Duterte, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, criticized outside interference and said anyone who “acts beyond the limits” during the war on drugs will be held “accountable” by the Philippine justice system. The ICC suspended its investigation to assess the Philippines’ request to defer to its own investigation. In June, the ICC prosecutor requested permission to resume his investigation, calling the adjournment unjustified.

7. How will he be remembered?

His approval rating hit an all-time high in 2020, and his government’s response to the health crisis has also been positively received. But his popularity began to wane in 2021 as the pandemic dragged on. His harshest critic, Senator Leila de Lima, has been jailed since 2017 on drug charges she says are politically motivated. He also attacked the media, including prominent journalist Maria Ressa, who is facing several court cases and was co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her “courageous fight for freedom of expression”. Its news website Rappler Inc. was facing the possibility of a shutdown in the final days of Duterte’s administration, after the Securities and Exchange Commission upheld its decision to revoke the site’s operating license.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com

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