The Presidential Palace in Manila has formally summoned the US Ambassador to The Philippines in light of an offensive report published jointly by multiple US intelligence agencies, including the infamous CIA, which branded President Rodrigo Duterte a “threat to democracy”.
This comes after President Duterte spoke in Iloilo province in a bold challenge to US military hegemony in The Philippines. Duterte suggested that in the future it might be possible for Philippine troops to train in China under the supervision of the People’s Liberation Army, thus challenging over a century of US military dominance over the country. He further stated that while he would not allow his troops to fight a war for China, he would likewise move to refrain troops from fighting any wars for the United States. During his remarks he slammed the fact that in 2003, some Filipinos were involved at a low level in the US invasion of Iraq in spite of the fact that Baghdad did not possess the weapons of mass destruction alleged by the US and UK at the time.
Earlier, Duterte weighed into the ongoing scandal over the Rappler news site which is currently under investigation for breaching laws regarding foreign financing of major news outlets. He stated that the outlet which “takes every chance to undermine” his government, could well have ties to the CIA which Duterte accurately stated, has a history of toppling foreign governments it does not approve of.
While Duterte’s problems with the United States have been inevitable due to his decision to re-align his country away from a post-colonial and counterproductive relationship with the US towards a non-aligned/multipolar geopolitical position, his domestic opponents have become the more worrying stumbling bloc to the important reforms he seeks to implement.
There is a solution and while not an easy one, it can be done and certainly must be considered. Currently, a proposal to restructure The Philippines as a federal republic, is the flagship policy of President Duterte. In order to achieve this, he must combine his federalist proposals with sweeping anti-corruption laws which will give his increasingly aggressive opponents a taste of their own foul medicine.
Ever since 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the leading figure in Turkish politics, first as Prime Minister and after 2014, as a powerful President. Erdogan and Duterte are very different men as the Turkish leader is an incredibly shrewd political and geopolitical mover who has been able to solidify his power more thoroughly than any Turkish leader since Ataturk. Duterte, by contrast, is a leader who strives not for power or glory but instead, labours to achieve the best possible life for his people. That being said, there are areas where Erdogan has done much to improve the lives of Turks, while inversely, Duterte’s own proposals could stand a better chance of being turned into a new reality for The Philippines if Duterte took a page out of Erdogan’s own reformist playbook.
Erdogan’s most lasting legacy to the Turkish republic has been a wholesale reform of governance, combined with a clearing out of old political, judicial, civil service and military elites. Both have been equally necessary in respect of Erdogan achieving his goals. For Duterte, corrupt Senators, party leaders, corporate oligarchs, judicial oligarchs and to a degree some military leadership have proved themselves to be far too close to foreign interests, particularly the United States. How are Duterte’s opponents a “democratic opposition” when they get their money, orders, speeches and agendas from a foreign superpower? By contrast, while Duterte has worked to achieve better relations with Russia and China, he remains very much his own man – true to his humble roots in Davao, in spite of his national leadership position.
Duterte must open up investigations into every politician, judge, corporate oligarch and military officer whose ties to the US stand in the way of the will of the Filipino people. Those whose foreign ties are too deep should be forced to resign from their positions. In cases of extreme corruption, prison should also be considered as a means of rectifying a gross injustice against the Filipino nation.
Some of Duterte’s most loyal supporters, as is the case with Erdogan, have been young activists who previously had no inclination towards politics. In the case of Duterte, his inspiring message of reform, equality, federal realism, clean and safe streets and progressive geopolitical relations have made Duterte appear as a political saviour in a sea of previous leaders who have consistently failed in their duty to the people.
It is this generation of Duterte supporters who hold the key to the future of The Philippines and it is they whose hard work should be rewarded with positions in government and the civil service that had previously been reserved for a small cosmopolitan elite who have served only themselves or in the worst cases, a foreign power.
Finally, Dutete should make a use of referenda in order to secure genuine democratic support for his proposals. In respect of federalism for example, there is no reason that a region-by-region vote shouldn’t take place in order to determine how Filipinos themselves want to be governed. Federalism is too important an issue to be left to politicians who stand much to gain by preserving an ineffective status quo.
Duterte has consistently stated that he does not seek to amend existing laws limiting a Filipino President to a single six year term. While these reforms could require more than six years to get through, he should nevertheless begin such initiatives as soon as possible. Furthermore, while some have openly suggested that Duterte revive Proclamation No. 3, a legal device used by Corazon Aquino in 1986 to create a Revolutionary Government, Duterte could use people power to achieve something more long lasting, just as the Turkish President has done.
If the Filipino people want to amend the law so that a President can stand for more than one term, they should have the opportunity to say so through a referendum. If the people want to lift existing term limits, Duterte can simply run in a new Presidential election after his current term is over. If the people would prefer to keep the law on term limits as it is, then things can stay as they are.
President Duterte retains incredibly high approval ratings, thus making him de-facto far more democratic than his opponents who chant about democracy but who ironically have little meaningful support among the people. The best way for Duterte to expand his democratic base would be to tackle the corruption holding the country back while giving the people a direct opportunity to express their feelings about their country’s future through referenda on key issues. This is the way forward for Duterte and for future generations of Filipinos who look to the future Duterte seeks rather than the past which Duterte has already departed from.
While Turkey and The Philippines are two very different countries, with different histories and different political systems, both countries were long time US “allies” who under reformist leaders find themselves increasingly at odds with a hegemonic Washington. Erdogan has made Turkey far more independent than it was previously due to his uniquely bold leadership. Duterte could do something similar with his nation, not least because Duterte’s reformist agenda is vastly less controversial than the one Erdogan has pursued in Turkey.
If Duterte’s will is the people’s will, which most Filipinos believe it is, the people should not only speak but vote in favour of Duterte’s messages, thus silencing his abrasive critics forever.