It doesn’t look like there is going to be a more presidential Rodrigo Duterte. The former mayor of Davao made his name on the campaign trail for his blunt rhetoric, which often offended many civil society activists, journalists, and other Filipinos. He had a reputation, as mayor of Davao, for both effective management and for allegedly condoning extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects. He had a highly testy relationship with the press.
Not much has changed, even though Duterte is now president. Since he was elected, there has been a rash of suspicious killings of criminal suspects---killings that seemingly resemble the “encounter killings” common in India in which police are believed to have just executed suspects. While president-elect, he also has made a series of statements that could be construed as highly insulting to women, and questioning the rule of law.
Duterte also has brought his seeming contempt for journalists to a national stage. As president-elect, he announced that journalists could be assassinated if they were corrupt, a terrible public signal in a country where more journalists are killed each year than anywhere else in East Asia. He appointed as his presidential spokesman a man who had worked as a lawyer for the leaders of the Ampatuan clan, which was linked to a massacre of 58 people in 2009. The dead included at least 34 journalists.
Now, Duterte banned journalists from his swearing-in, even though the Philippines has a vibrant media culture and one of the most media-hungry populations in East Asia. (The swearing-in was shown only on a state television station.)
As Foreign Policy reported:
“The move [to ban reporters from the inauguration] is in line with Duterte’s promise to boycott the media: Earlier this month, he subjected a female reporter who was mid-sentence in asking a question to catcalling and then a serenade---all during a televised news conference. Three days after that, he cut his losses and announced he would no longer grant interviews until the end of his term.”
On the other hand, Duterte has long demonstrated that he hates Manila, that he wants the country to have a larger and more diverse set of political and economic capitals, and that he plans to include a broader range of Filipinos in his government. On the campaign trail, he repeatedly disparaged Manila, and he has now appointed many of his allies from Davao to his cabinet. He also seemingly plans to run the government, at least some of the time, from Davao rather than from the Palace in Manila. More importantly, Duterte appears willing to push hard for a constitutional amendment that would shift power from a highly centralized system to a decentralized one, potentially modeled on the political and economic devolution tried in Indonesia, which has been highly successful. Although passing an amendment will be extremely difficult---as hard as pushing through a constitutional amendment in the United States---there is deep popular desire for systemic political change in the Philippines. Just don’t expect Duterte to change.