History will likely be favorable to Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte leading the Independence Day rites on June 12, 2022. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

President Rodrigo Duterte leading the Independence Day rites on June 12, 2022. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte still has a few days left in office, but some are already drafting reviews of his presidency. While no one can predict the future, we believe that he will be seen favorably from a historical lens. And his legacy will have a larger historical footprint because they will likely be continued by the next administration.

Even now, Mr. Duterte leaves office with unusually high approval and satisfaction ratings. His political coattails remain long enough for his successor, along with a ticket mate who happens to be Mr. Duterte's daughter, to secure a majority victory in the recent polls.

If the President's popularity withstands the test of time, credit might be given to his infrastructure program, known as Build, Build, Build. Many candidates, including President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., said they would continue that program.

On the flip side, critics highlight the brutality of the Duterte government's war on drugs, particularly the extrajudicial killings. While most Filipinos support the campaign against illicit drugs, many are troubled by the deaths.

The future historical account of that campaign will be shaped by pending investigations into the alleged extrajudicial killings. But a negative report is not certain. For instance, some argue that the number of alleged extrajudicial killings have been exaggerated, and that the government's actions were appropriate for the severity of the threat. Remember that before President Duterte assumed office in 2016, the Philippines was in danger of becoming a narco state. Nine out of 10 villages had been infiltrated by drug syndicates, according to media reports.

Also, those who accused Mr. Duterte of being authoritarian might find it difficult to reconcile that portrayal with the peaceful transition of power about to take place. Strongmen usually hold on to the post as long as possible.

Indeed, the outgoing President is a bundle of contradictions. He is reportedly pro-China, yet his foreign policy stance on many issues is aligned with the United States. And Mr. Duterte's anti-American statements might later be interpreted as moves toward an independent foreign policy. It might also turn out that reaching out to China was necessary to de-escalate tensions in the region, resulting from the foreign policy of the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd.

Unfinished business

Another reason why history is likely to be kind to Mr. Duterte is that most Filipinos want his policies to continue. That is true even for the controversial campaign against illegal drugs. Perhaps sensing the public's sentiments, Mr. Marcos said he would continue that but within the limits of the law.

Rightly so, more attention should be given to drug prevention and rehabilitation. There should be more capacity-building programs for law enforcement, and better coordination with foreign governments, since the drug trade is a transnational crime worth billions of dollars. National police officials have said that the largest drug syndicates operating locally are likely based abroad.

Mr. Duterte's campaign promise to end the drug trade in six months will probably be interpreted as a political hyperbole, rather than a firm pledge. And his public apology for failing to deliver on that promise might be remembered as an expression of humility, rather than an admission of failure.

Granted, the President is infamous for making outrageous remarks. They include his statement about jet skiing to the disputed islands in the South China Sea and planting a Filipino flag on one occupied by the Chinese navy.

For sure, he is unconventional for a head of state, particularly when he verbally attacked opponents and spewed profanities against world leaders, like Pope Francis and former US president Barack Obama. But Mr. Duterte also never claimed to be presidential, saying he was merely a mayor from Mindanao. Still, he connected with the masses, speaking in a manner that they understood.

His speaking style does put off people, but some consider that part of his appeal. In any case, no leader is perfect, and Mr. Duterte never claimed to be one.

Granted, we could be wrong. History may turn out differently than what is imagined here. Perhaps, but not today or anytime soon.

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