New Philippine President
May 10, 2016
The Philippines will soon have a new leader, and it will be Rodrigo Duterte, the mayor of Davao in Mindanao.
The votes continue to be counted. So far, 78 percent have been tallied and the frontrunner is Duterte.
He is a candidate who was projecting himself as a strong leader who fights against the establishment.
Following him is Manuel Roxas, who was endorsed by the outgoing president and is seen as the candidate for continuity.
The results need to be approved by lawmakers to become official, but with the large difference between them, it is widely seen that the victory of Duterte is certain.
The country is starting to embrace this political change. Local newspapers are putting Duterte's face on their front pages, quoting his calls for the unity of the nation.
Many people are hoping that Duterte will bring change to the country, especially on reducing crime. But some are expressing worries about his inflammatory remarks and iron fist style.
"I don't like Duterte because he is a dangerous man," says one local woman.
"I think he can do better in the Philippines because he did very good in Davao city," says another. "He made very good there to improve economy."
Duterte became mayor of his home town in 1988. He served 7 terms, more than 20 years. He was known as an unconventional leader.
The city of Davao used to suffer from one of the highest crime rates in the Philippines. Duterte would patrol the city streets himself on a motorcycle. He also took part in a crackdown on illegal parking.
"You know what you are doing? Look how you parked your cars. Other drivers will do the same," Duterte told one man in the city. "Show me your license."
"Mayor intervenes and things move faster. People pronto obey only one own. Other government personnel is always giving warning, no action," Duterte told a camera crew during one of his patrols. "So I get irritated and I'm very impatient. So I go direct to the streets."
In his campaign, he appealed to voters by emphasizing his achievement in improving security in Davao, by bolstering police and other means.
He also made a series of radical remarks during the campaign, saying he'd kill all criminals.
Duterte's straightforward words have repeatedly spurred controversy. But he also gained popularity among voters who hoped he'd exert leadership in improving the country's security -- something past presidents have failed to achieve.
The election has been closely watched by the international community, particularly because the Philippines has territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is at the center of a multilateral dispute. Several parties, including the Philippines, claim sovereignty over the islands and reefs in its waters.
China is rapidly increasing its military presence there. The country has reclaimed shoals in the Spratly Islands and has built 7 artificial islands.
Fiery Cross Reef is one of them. China constructed a 3,000-meter-long runway there. Military aircraft have landed on the runway -- raising concerns the reclaimed land is being used for military purposes.
For years, the Philippines has taken steps to keep China's advances in check, such as having an old warship go aground on an atoll.
But Manila's defense budget is only one-fortieth of Beijing's. The largest ship in the Philippine Navy is a former US Coast Guard vessel that had been in service for more than 40 years. There is a wide gap in the military capabilities of the 2 nations.
"China is a military giant. We should speed up modernization of our forces," outgoing Philippine President Benigno Aquino has said.
After an impasse in negotiations, the Philippines told the US to withdraw all its forces by 1992 as the Cold War came to an end. The 2 former bases there were among the largest US military posts in Asia.
China then began to build structures on the Spratly Islands, and increased its military activities in the area.
The Philippines is again strengthening its ties with the US in response to China's moves. The 2 governments agreed in March that the US forces will use 5 military bases in the country. The agreement will virtually bring US forces back to the Philippines.
In March, vessels from the 2 countries jointly patrolled the South China Sea. They say they will continue regular patrols in the waters.
The Philippines is also shoring up its relations with Japan. Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels and a submarine have made a series of port calls in the country since January.
The MSDF recently sent a P3C patrol aircraft as an observer to a US-Philippine joint military drill in the South China Sea. China has criticized such moves by the US and the Philippines.
"The US and the Philippines contributed to deterioration of regional relations and provoked tension and confrontation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang has said.
Rodrigo Duterte has taken a different stance from Benigno Aquino on China-related policies. He indicated his intention to cooperate with the country.
"I believe we should work jointly with China to explore for gas and oil in the South China Sea," Duterte said.
There is another focus of international attention regarding the dispute. The Philippines has filed an appeal with an arbitration court in The Hague over China's claims in the South China Sea.
The focus of the case is whether China can claim sovereignty over all parts of the South China Sea, under international law.
The court could reach a decision as early as late May.
Chito Sta. Romana, a prominent scholar of China in the Philippines who spent 20 years in Beijing as a journalist, joined anchor Sho Beppu in Manila.
Beppu: When we talk about this election, aside from the problems -- the domestic problems such as economy disparity or crime, people are interested in the issue of diplomacy. How important do you think this election can be in terms of its impacts of the dynamics of the security situation in Asia?
Sta. Romana: I think this would be the most significant since the 1986 People Power, both in terms of Philippine domestic policy, as well as its foreign policy, and therefore in terms of its regional and international significance.
Beppu: How do the people or government in the Philippines perceive China?
Sta. Romana: The top security advisor to the President has come out saying that China is now the top security threat to the Philippines. In terms of public opinion, it’s even worse. China is now considered the least trusted foreign country by the Filipino public.
The government was hoping that arbitration would be a way of a peaceful settlement. Now we're finding out that it leads to more problems and the Chinese won't recognize or accept whatever decision is made.
Beppu: How do you think election results could impact Philippines' relations, with the way of dealing with China?
Sta. Romana: If Duterte were to win, it would be quite a radical departure, in the sense that Duterte is like a wild card here. So far, it seems to me his preferred approach is to deal bilaterally with the Chinese, and to possibly set aside the sovereignty issue and proceed with the issue of economic cooperation up to and including joint exploration, something which I think the Chinese would welcome.
Beppu: Depending on the election results, how do you think there could be or there could not be a change of the relations between the Philippines and the US?
Sta. Romana: I think what he would do is probably less to cut off the US, but more not to rely too much or one-sidedly with the US and to try and open channels of communications with China. So the Philippines would still have the US as an ally, but then would try to adopt a less adversarial approach towards China.
Beppu: How do you think the election result could impact the Philippines' relations with Japan?
Sta. Romana: I think Duterte, so far, would basically follow a similar approach. I cannot guarantee though how he will stand in terms of the visiting forces agreement, which is necessary for a stronger security alliance.
If he feels that China is bullying the Philippines, or is taking advantage of its overwhelming strength, then I think he will feel the need to rely on US, Japan and Australia, like the current administration. But there is an element of unpredictability here.