A look at major issues Duterte confronting in his 2nd year
MANILA, Philippines — A year ago Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte promised to cleanse his Southeast Asian nation of illegal drugs in three to six months. He said he would tame corruption and began a profanity-spiked tongue lashing of America — which he called “lousy” last week. Those “shock and awe” declarations of a year ago have collided with reality. Drugs and corruption have persisted and he grudgingly thanked the United States recently for helping to quell a disastrous siege in the south by pro-Islamic State group militant
Thousands of protesters marched with Duterte’s effigy Monday to demand that he deliver on promises he made in his first state of the nation speech last year, from pressing peace talks with Marxist guerrillas, which are currently on hold, to upholding human rights and the rule of law.
A look at the major issues confronting Duterte as he enters his second year in power.
Islamic State linked siege
Two months after more than 600 pro-Islamic State group militants blasted their way into southern city of Marawi, the military is still fighting the last gunmen — fewer than 100, about 10 of them foreign — in the last three occupied villages. Congress overwhelmingly voted on Saturday to grant Duterte’s request to extend martial law in the south to the year’s end to allow Duterte to deal with the Marawi crisis, the worst in his yearlong presidency, and stamp out other extremist groups across the south, something five presidents before him have failed to do.
About half a million people have been displaced by the fighting, some of whom have threatened to march back to the still-besieged city to escape the squalor in overcrowded evacuation camps in nearby towns. Rebuilding Marawi will require massive funds and national focus and will be fraught with pitfalls. Amid the despair and gargantuan rebuilding, it’s important “to ensure that extremist teachings do not find fertile ground,” said Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.
During the campaign, he promised to rid the country of illegal drugs in three to six months and repeatedly threatened traffickers with death. But he missed his deadline and later declared he would fight the menace until his last day in office. When then-President Barack Obama, along with European Union and U.N. rights officials, raised alarm over the mounting deaths from the crackdown, Duterte lashed at them, once telling Obama to “go to hell.” Duterte’s fiercest critic at home, Sen. Leila del Lima, was detained in February on drug charges she said were baseless.
More than 5,200 suspects have died so far, including more than 3,000 in reported gunbattles with police and more than 2,000 others in drug-related attacks by motorcycle-riding masked gunmen and other assaults, police said. Human rights groups have reported a higher death toll and called for an independent investigation of Duterte’s possible role in the violence.
Duterte “has unleashed a human rights calamity on the Philippines in his first year in office,” U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said. In April, a lawyer filed a complaint of crimes against humanity against Duterte and other officials in connection with the drug killings before the International Criminal Court. An impeachment complaint against the president was dismissed in the House of Representatives, which is dominated by Duterte’s allies.
South China Sea
More than a month into Duterte’s presidency, the Philippines won a landmark arbitration case before a tribunal in The Hague that invalidated China’s massive territorial claims in the South China Sea under a 1982 U.N. maritime treaty.
Aiming to turn around his country’s frosty relations with China, Duterte refused to demand immediate Chinese compliance with the ruling. He promised he would take it up with Beijing at some point. Confronting China, which has dismissed the ruling as a sham, risks sparking an armed conflict that the Philippines would surely lose, Duterte contended.
Nationalists and critics blasted Duterte for what they see as a sellout to China. After meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the Chinese-controlled Scarborough Shoal, where Chinese coast guard ships had driven Filipinos away since 2012.
The Philippines had been the most vocal critic of China’s aggressive behavior in the disputed waters until Duterte took power and reached out to Beijing, partly to secure funding for infrastructure projects.
His move has effectively de-escalated tensions in the busy sea, but critics have warned that Duterte’s friendly overtures to China may erode the country’s chances to demand that China comply with the ruling and relinquish its claims to waters regarded as the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone./rga
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