6 Years of Iron, Blood, and Injustice: Recapping the Duterte Administration (Part 1)

Thumbnail by A&L

by Probe

The presidency of Rodrigo Roa Duterte is certainly one that has proven to be memorable. Yet, whether it be his decorum and speech, his stark disdain for drugs, or his use of unconventional methods in obtaining or maintaining peace and order, Filipinos are divided on whether to view this regime in a positive or negative light. In this six-part Probe series, we look back at the incumbent president’s reign, before we soon welcome the nation’s new chief executive.

2016: Launching the Regime

Seven years ago, a rising strongman from the south took on the challenge of running for president. Gaining popularity due to his blunt and bold mindsets, and more so for his experience and accomplishments in his years of service, Rodrigo Roa Duterte became the frontrunner in the 2016 elections.

For the most part, Duterte’s political power centered in the city of Davao, where he served as mayor for a total of 22 years. From vice mayor, to mayor, to congressman, and back to mayor, not only did his hold on the people of Davao stay strong, but his support from the southern island of the country remained solid, too. By the final election tally, he was found to have won in 22 out of 27 provinces, and in 29 out of 33 cities in Mindanao.

While the strongman had been in politics for 30 years prior to his momentous 2016 candidacy, his most significant role for the nation was just about to begin. 

Platforms and Promises

Throughout his campaign period, Duterte made a total of 30 promises. These included daring plans with corresponding time frames for execution, tackling multiple goals such as widening infrastructure projects, clarifying relations and land claims with China, promoting family planning, removing corrupt officials from office, and so much more. 

Moreover, with a strong connection to the southern portion of the country, one of his desired systemic reforms was to begin implementing federalism in the Philippines. “Nothing short of a federal structure would give Mindanao peace,” he stated

The promises that Duterte aimed to satisfy the quickest, however, revolved around his battle against crime and drugs—all of which, he believed, he could fix in three to six months.

At the April 27, 2016 MBC-MAP Presidential Dialogues, the current president also vowed to suppress crime within the same given time period. With a noble end goal in mind, his strategized means to get there included shoot-to-kill commands and re-implementing death penalty for heinous crimes. 

Duterte also promised in multiple presidential debates that the Philippines would be drug-free within the short time frame he declared. Through one of his main platforms, the War on Drugs, he aimed to bring back death penalty for imposition on drug lords and users to suppress drug trade in the nation. This plan would then go on to harm many Filipinos throughout his reign— not just within three to six months.

To add, in a press conference in Davao on May 16, 2016, he expressed his intent to establish the city’s law-and-order measures on a nationwide scale. These measures included curfews for minors and instructions to arrest parents whose children defy such rules. 

With these plans, Duterte emerged victorious, with 16 million votes, with the then Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas finishing in second place, at six million votes.

The First 6 Months 

On Duterte’s first day in Malacañang on June 30, 2016, he was able to make attempts at bridging some divides. On his inauguration day, militant leaders of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and other progressive groups were invited to Malacañang for the first time, for a dialogue with the newly-elected president. Further, he engaged in peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines for a week in August. 

Although the United States of America had long been an ally of the Philippines, Duterte’s unfiltered choice of words shook this norm, affecting its relationship with the country. The president, instead, started to establish good relations with China, in light of territorial disputes with the said country. Upon arriving in Davao from the Laos ASEAN Summit in 2016, Duterte said that there were “only two options: go to war and pick a fight, which we could not afford at all, or we have a talk,” and that “[we] cannot solve this problem with anger.” While there is indeed no harm in advocating for peace talks, some believed that it would be ironic for him to pledge for an independent foreign policy, while still depending heavily on nations that threaten Philippine sovereignty. 

Pursuant to Duterte’s drug war, by December 31, 2016, 6,216 people had already been killed. About 2,167 suspected drug personalities were killed in police operations, 4,049 people had been victims of vigilante-style killings, and 43,114 drug personalities were arrested.

Among all the controversial decisions made in his first year of presidency, though, one that undoubtedly caused much public uproar was his decision to have former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. buried in the National Heroes’ Cemetery.

Duterte gave the go-signal in August, but he had already made it clear since his campaign that this had long been a goal of his. In fact, this was one of his 30 promises that he aimed to carry out. Duterte explained that he would decree the burial in order to honor Marcos Sr.’s rendered service as a soldier. 

He also noted beforehand that a hero’s burial for Marcos Sr. would contribute to uniting the country. “All Ilocanos have Marcos as their hero, and they want the [former] president buried there. For as long as this issue hangs, it will remain a divisive factor in our society in the Republic of the Philippines,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino, defending his stance. He denied claims that his ties with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. affected his thoughts, and agreed with the sentiment that “it’s time to move on” from Martial Law.

The Immoral Gray Area

In a pursuit of a more disciplined and people-centered Philippines, many Filipinos sought a strict yet relatable leader—and so, an iron-fisted man, who many would argue speaks the language of the masses, was chosen for the country’s highest post. The year 2016 gave citizens a first glimpse of what their lives would look like for the next few years under such leadership.

President Duterte’s first year in office was marked by brave and somewhat far-fetched promises, multiple rude statements and human rights violations recorded in just six months, and the provision of a hero’s burial to a criminal. It seems as if the line that dictates to this man whether or not something is “good” or “evil” remains to be a blur.