The septuagenarian chief executive shows no letup in his dogged pursuit of peace and order
AS he turns 73 today, President Rodrigo Duterte remains the firebrand who belatedly burst into national politics, inevitably drawing intense emotions on either side of the political discourse. From being relatively unknown on the campaign trail though, one gets a sense that the country is now more familiar with who he is—and what he wants to do.
The war against illegal drugs has easily been one of the President’s most polarizing programs. Over 10,000 have been arrested since the campaign was relaunched late last year. The war has nevertheless been the object of fierce criticism both here and abroad for its high death toll. Duterte remains unmoved, however, in his bid to rid the country of the drug menace. His dogged determination apparently resonates with many Filipinos, and his continuously high popularity ratings suggest that there is broad support for the campaign.
The President’s pursuit of an independent foreign policy has seen him eschew default settings. He has taken a friendlier stance with China, preferring to engage with the global giant, notwithstanding territorial disputes. Last week’s announcement that both countries would agree to a “prudent” cooperation on sea exploration is the latest development in the warming of relations between the two.
Recently, the ruling administration sent a notice of withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, or International Criminal Court, which has begun looking into Duterte’s drug war. As such, the Philippines would now join the US, China, Israel, Iraq, Qatar, Libya, and Yemen, as among the ICC nonmembers.
At the same time, Duterte has taken steps to push further for the modernization of the military, signaling that the Philippines should learn to look after itself—and not just rely on others. His decidedly independent yet folksy demeanor has won him the friendship of some world leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who early last year even visited Duterte in his Davao home.
Last year, with the Philippines’ hosting of summit and meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Duterte was afforded the chance to meet with a number of heads of state—and prop the archipelago as worthy of investment. It was a time well-spent for the chief executive and the country. Currently, the Philippines basks in the glow of a well-performing economy—cited as one of the world’s fastest-growing last year. It also radiates an inviting investment climate—recently named the “Best Country to Invest In”—which is enhanced by an aggressive infrastructure buildup now under way.
Which brings us to what could—and should—be the President’s legacy. The long-time mayor from Mindanao has vowed to bring development to many parts of the country outside Metro Manila. The roads, bridges, airports, and mass transport systems that his administration has vowed to “Build Build Build” are the connective tissues promising to bring the archipelago’s people and products together in a more inclusive economy. As each municipality is integrated into a larger whole, Duterte moves closer to fulfilling the promise of a slogan stickered across many a small town across the country:
Duterte. Ato ni. (He’s ours / He’s one of us.)
On Duterte’s second birthday in office, coming nearly 20 months into his stint as the country’s chief executive, The Manila Times is happy to greet him: