The Economist

Sceptred bile: The Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte

The new president may undo the economic gains of recent years

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UNDER Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines since late June, things have a habit of spiralling out of control. First came his campaign against the drug trade, which has led to the killing of almost 3,000 suspected dealers by police and unknown assailants, without even a nod at due process. In less than three months, he has presided over three-quarters as many extrajudicial killings as there were lynchings of black people in America between 1877 and 1950.

When Barack Obama expressed concern about the killings, Mr Duterte called him a “son of a whore”. America’s president tried to shrug off the insult. But Mr Duterte took the row to a new level this week, calling for American special forces to leave the southern island of Mindanao, where they have been training Filipino troops fighting several long insurgencies. “For as long as we stay with America,” he said, brandishing a picture of an atrocity committed by American soldiers more than a century ago, “we will never have peace”.

On September 13th he told his defence secretary to buy weapons from Russia and China rather than America, hitherto the Philippines’ closest ally, and the source of hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid each year. He also said the navy would no longer patrol the South China Sea alongside American vessels. This reversal is all the more surprising given America’s huge popularity in the Philippines.

In other words, Mr Duterte is not just crass and brutal; he is alarmingly volatile. He has little experience of national politics, let alone international affairs, having been mayor of Davao, a city of 1.5m or so, since 1988 (apart from a brief stint as vice-mayor to his daughter and three years as a congressman). Since becoming president, he has threatened to withdraw from the United Nations and to declare martial law. He idolises Ferdinand Marcos, a former dictator who did impose martial law. He says he wants to give Marcos a hero’s burial in Manila. All this, naturally, frightens both local and foreign investors and threatens to undermine the Philippines’ newly acquired status as South-East Asia’s economic star.

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