Rodrigo Duterte hands power to son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in Philippines

In his three decades in Filipino politics, Rodrigo Duterte built a name with his vicious crackdown on drugs, expletives-laced outbursts and disdain for human rights.

Now 77 and frail of health, his turbulent six-year presidency has ended, with the ascension of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr on Thursday.

The former dictator’s namesake son won last month’s presidential election by a landslide.

He will govern alongside Mr Duterte’s daughter, Sara, who won the vice-presidency, also by a huge margin.

Amid the president’s departure, the state-run TV network has been running Mr Duterte legacy documentaries, mostly highlighting his administration’s infrastructure and pro-poor projects.

In a thanksgiving rally in Manila over the weekend, Mr Duterte’s supporters waved Philippine flags and cheered him on as he belted out a song with an orchestra and popular singers backing him up.

Sara Duterte is the eldest daughter of Rodrigo Duterte.(Reuters: Lean Daval Jr)

But activists have regarded Mr Duterte as “a human rights calamity”, not only because of the widespread deaths during his so-called war on drugs but also for his brazen attacks on critical media, the dominant Catholic church and his political opposition.

The thousands of killings under Mr Duterte’s brutal campaign against illegal drugs — unprecedented in its scale and lethality in recent Philippine history and the alarm it set off worldwide — are leaving families of the dead in agony, an International Criminal Court investigation and a savage legacy.

Despite all this, Mr Duterte has remained popular.

‘I will kill you idiots’

People were rounded up at alleged drug dens as part of Mr Duterte’s “war on drugs”.(AP: Aaron Favila)

More than 6,250 mostly poor drug suspects have been killed under Mr Duterte’s crackdown, based on a government count since he expanded the campaign nationwide after becoming president in 2016.

Human rights proponents have reported much higher death tolls.

They add that, under his two-decade crackdown against crimes in southern Davao city, where he served as mayor, vice-mayor and a congressman starting in 1988, more than 1,000 people were killed.

However, Arturo Lascanas — a retired police officer who served under Mr Duterte for many years in a unit fighting heinous crime in Davao — said as many as 10,000 suspects might have been killed in the vast port city on orders of Mr Duterte and the former mayor’s key aides.

Mr Duterte has denied authorising extrajudicial killings in Davao or elsewhere in the country.

But he has long openly threatened drug suspects with death and ordered law enforcers to shoot suspects who threaten them with harm.

“All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you,” Mr Duterte told a huge crowd in a 2016 presidential campaign rally in Manila’s Tondo slum district.

Killings leave devastating legacy

Catholic missionary priest Father Flavie Villanueva said the widespread killings had left many orphans, deprived already-poor families of breadwinners, and sparked other complex problems that Mr Duterte was leaving behind.

Father Villanueva heads a religious centre in Manila that provides food, shelter, livelihood training and burial assistance to more than 270 families of slain victims.

Rodrigo Duterte has overseen mass killings of suspected drug offenders.(Reuters: Marconi Navales)

He said they were just a tiny fraction of the many families devastated by the anti-drug violence in a largely unnoticed humanitarian crisis sparked by the killings.

Another tragic consequence of Mr Duterte’s populist and coercive style was the blurring of the line between right and wrong that had sparked arguments among people and even within the church, Father Villanueva said.

He often asked Mr Duterte’s apologists: “Are we reading the same Bible?”

Now, with Mr Duterte leaving, Father Villanueva said: “We’re not only broken and wounded, we are even divided as a church and as a people.”

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched an investigation into the drug killings — from November 2011, when Mr Duterte was still Davao’s mayor, to March 16, 2019 — as a possible crime against humanity.

So far, only one murder case against three policemen accused of gunning down a teenager they linked to illegal drugs has progressed to a conviction.

Mr Duterte’s opponents have cited that to highlight the difficulty of prosecuting law enforcers and, possibly, Mr Duterte himself for extrajudicial killings.

Marcos Jr praises dictator father

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were exiled to Hawaii in 1986 after a popular uprising backed by the military.(Wikimedia Commons: Marvin D. Lynchard, USAF)

As Mr Duterte stepped down, the new leader completed a decades-long effort to restore his family to the country’s highest office.

Ahead of his swearing-in, Mr Duterte received Mr Marcos Jr at the riverside Malacanang presidential palace, from which the Marcos family fled into exile 36 years ago after a popular revolt.

After Mr Marcos Jr was sworn in as President, he praised his dictator father’s rule.

In Manila, in front of hundreds of diplomats, dignitaries and supporters — and with his 92-year-old mother, Imelda, sitting metres away — Mr Marcos Jr spoke fondly of his father’s regime.

“I once knew a man who saw what little had been achieved since independence … but he got it done,” Marcos Jr said, also claiming his father built more roads and produced more rice than his predecessors.

“So will it be with his son. You will get no excuses from me.”

The rule of his father has been described by critics as a dark period of human rights abuses and corruption that left the country impoverished.

Crucial to Mr Marcos Jr’s electoral success was an alliance with Sara Duterte, who secured the vice-presidential post with the backing of rival dynasties.

In 2016, just months after he rose to the presidency, Mr Duterte also allowed the burial of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the country’s heroes cemetery.

That significantly boosted efforts by the Marcoses to restore the family name.

Scant details on Marcos Jr’s aims, leadership style

Many expect Mr Marcos Jr will be less violent and more predictable than Mr Duterte, but activists and clergy fear he could use his victory to entrench himself in power.

“Marcos Jr’s refusal to recognise the abuses and wrongdoings of the past, in fact lauding the dictatorship as ‘golden years’, makes him very likely to continue its dark legacy during his term,” left-wing alliance Bayan warned.

Mr Marcos, who becomes the country’s seventeenth President, celebrates with Vice-President Sara Duterte.(AP: Aaron Favila)

Mr Marcos Jr — who has previously distanced himself from his father’s rule but not criticised it — last month pledged to “always strive to perfection”.

As rising prices squeeze an economy already ravaged by COVID-19, Mr Marcos Jr has made tackling inflation, boosting growth and ramping-up food production his priorities.

He has taken the rare step of appointing himself Agriculture Secretary, to lead the overhaul of the problem-plagued sector.

Mr Marcos Jr has also pledged to defend the Philippines’ rights to the disputed South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely.

He promised on Thursday: “We will go very far under my watch.”

However, he has offered scant detail on how he will achieve his goals and few hints about his leadership style after largely shunning media interviews.

He has filled most cabinet positions.

However, the most influential adviser during his six-year term will likely be his wife, Louise, who is widely believed to have run his campaign.


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