JUNE 1, 2019



Duterte and Allies Win A Supermajority in Midterm



May 13, 2019 – Philippine democracy freefalls.

This is how some critics of Asia’s most brash autocrat President Rodrigo Duterte, see the Philippines midterm election, claiming that in its aftermath the country could very well be in transition to a democracy in steep slide.

To a majority of over 60 million Filipinos who voted for Duterte allies this midterm, they viewed the election less about a waning democracy and more about continuity of what’s good in the country.

Some say for the fairly bullish economy (overlooking a hiccup recession); some say for “safer” drug-

free streets, no matter the cost.

Whatever the reason, a majority of Filipino voters have elected to brush off widespread condemnation of Duterte abuses and favor his hardline leadership.

Duterte allies won 12 of the 12 open seats in the Senate (11 if counting one independent), giving the president’s ally count up to 18 of the 24 total Senate seats. In the House, pro-Duterte allies will keep a 245-seat majority out of 297 seats

Allies of the president are now positioned to hammer the might of a new supermajority. All elected candidates will take office on June 30 this year.

Critics say the political calculous was a risky one, that Filipino voters have chosen this midterm, considering the nation’s post-EDSA style democracy is still nascent (some 30 years).

This midterm rendered to Duterte a strongman’s dream, control of all branches of government: the Senate (that was his sole opposition before the midterm), the House, and a Duterte-stacked Supreme Court (he appointed seven justices, including the current Chief Justice in just three years).

Midterm Election Impact on Future Policies

UH-Manoa Asian Studies professor Patricio Abinales, who grew up in the Philippines, forecasts what the midterm election could mean in the way of future policies under a Duterte supermajority.

“At the domestic level it will be a continuation of the war on drugs and more extrajudicial executions, but now with the police or their hired assassins not having to worry about any possible Senate or congressional investigation or the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the courts raising questions about legal procedures,” said Abinales.

Human Rights Watch estimates Duterte’s campaign on drugs had killed more than 12,000 drug suspects, as of January 2018. The official count based on police records lists 5,000. Human rights groups accuse the President of often carrying out extrajudicial killings in the guise of a drug war.

The president has also been accused of using his anti-drug war to intimidate, even take out, political opponents. Human rights activist, lawyer and Senator Leila de Lima was jailed on drug-trafficking charges, which she says were trumped up charges to silence her. De Lima was chair of a panel investigating extrajudicial killings in the drug war before her arrest.

De Lima condemned the President’s drug war, but was made an example of what politicians could have happen to them should they go against Duterte, human rights groups claim. In May 2018, Amnesty International conferred to de Lima the first ever “Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender” award.

The abuses, political intimidation – all hadn’t imprinted enough for voters to be swayed in the midterm.

Among the 12 Duterte allies elected to the new Senate is Ronald dela Rosa, the chief police who spearheaded Duterte’s war on drugs.

Abinales said in terms of foreign policy, the president will now push the Philippines closer to China. “This means an end of an effort to reclaim Philippine sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, and use of high-interest Chinese loans for President Duterte’s infrastructure projects.

“This, in turn, means a considerable downgrading of US-Philippine ties. The Philippine government will of course, not try to anger Filipino-Americans and Filipinos who are mainly pro-American, by just focusing on official issues like reducing the number of joint exercises between the US and Philippine militaries or scaling down and limiting the assistance extended by the US military on the anti-terrorist campaigns of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

He said FIl-Ams and pro-American Filipinos will not immediately notice the serious consequences of these official actions as they do not directly impact them. “But in the long term, this erosion of US-Philippine ties will affect them in various ways, including losing their ability to express and convince the Duterte government of how unwise it is to displace these traditional ties.”

Other reforms expected from a pro-Duterte legislature include revising the Constitution to end term limits; making children as young as 9-years old subject to prosecution; bringing back the death penalty; lowering corporate taxes; implementing more anti-crime measures.

The pro-Duterte alliance’s handbook similarly mirrors other ultraconservative majorities around the world – give a helping hand to corporations and make law and order an urgency. For the latter to work as freedom is not easily traded off, political analysts say heaps of fear are seared into the psyche of the masses to where the masses fear the masses, an orchestration of fear-mongering Duterte has mastered.

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, a Manila advocacy group summed up the election this way, “Whatever he’s doing now, it will be with more confidence.”


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