Philippines election: who is Rodrigo Duterte?
Despite his off-colour style and controversially hardline approach to crime, there’s a reason this brash, womanising mayor from Davao is set to become the next Philippine president.
A political hand-grenade has just been tossed into Asian politics.
Rodrigo Duterte’s upset victory in the Philippines presidential elections will have serious consequences for how the region responds to China’s aggressive claim to vast tracts of the South China Sea, one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints.
Rodrigo Duterte, Mayor of Davao and presidential candidate, who will soon be the Philippines’ newest president. Photo: Veejay Villafranca
The arrival in Malacanang palace in June of a 71-year-old crime-fighting provincial mayor with no experience in dealing with complex foreign policy issues will alarm the Philippines’ closest allies, including the US and Australia, and threatens gains made through years of painstaking diplomacy with outgoing president Benigno Aquino on regional security and other issues.
It also threatens to shatter what little hope there was that the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations could remain united to stand up to China on the South China Sea, where some $US5 trillion of trade passes each year.
In typical campaign bravado Mr Duterte vowed to ride a jet-ski to a disputed island occupied by China and personally stake the Philippines’ claims.
Rodrigo Duterte during a news conference after casting his vote in Davao, Mindanao. Photo: Bloomberg
Other countries, including China, will see through the stunt.
But Mr Duterte has puzzled diplomats with contradictory positions on how he would deal with China’s assertiveness and a blockade by its coastguard of waters and islands claimed by the Philippines.
He said at one point that he is prepared to break with a majority of ASEAN members to negotiate directly with China, and would even consider setting aside the Philippines’ claims to parts of the disputed waters in return for economic co-operation.
Rodrigo Duterte speaks to members of the media during a news conference after casting his vote. Photo: Bloomberg
On Monday he said he wants to settle the dispute in multilateral talks with allies including the US, Australia and Japan, as well as other claimant nations.
“I would say to China ‘do not claim anything here and I will not insist that it is ours’, but then I will just turn a blind eye,” he said.
Mr Duterte has made clear that his priority in office will be to go after criminals – and if they resist, to kill them – and to end corruption.
But nobody knows how he will deal with efforts to end one of the world’s longest-running Muslim insurgencies that has claimed 150,000 lives in the southern Philippines, or how he sees his country’s membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact.
Mr Duterte’s election is a setback to Australia’s diplomatic relations with the Philippines, which became closer in recent years as the Aquino administration sought international support in its stand against China.
He rudely told Australia’s newly arrived ambassador in Manila to “shut up” after she tweeted criticism of his outrageous joke about raping a murdered Australian missionary, and warned he would cut diplomatic ties with Canberra.
Mr Duterte’s office issued an apology amid outrage over the remarks but he later said he never bothered to read them.
Mr Aquino has compared Mr Duterte to Adolf Hitler and called him a “dictator-in-waiting”.
Maybe when Asia’s Donald Trump reaches the palace he will tone down his rhetoric and start to listen to advice on how to run the island nation of 100 million people that under the Aquino administration has had one of the highest growth rates in Asia in recent years.
But Mr Duterte’s boasts about his Viagra-fuelled prowess and vows to kill 100,000 criminals in his first six months in office are unprecedented even in a country where local warlords, convicted felons and celebrities have a strong track record of winning elections.
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