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What a Duterte Presidency Could Mean for the Philippines?

| May 13, 2016

 Dr. Nicole Curato On Duterte


Dr. Nicole Curato is 2013 TOYM awardee and Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Canberra. She is a former University of the Philippines Sociology Professor. Below is our transcript of her interview with Bloomberg regarding the electoral ascendancy of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to presidency.


Bloomberg: So it does look like the Filipinos are voting for change. What is the key takeaway from this election?

Dr. Nicole Curato: I think the key takeaway from this election is, you’re right, people are actually looking for change but change that delivers. Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, if you go beyond the tough-talking, rhetorics that we have seen in the election or in the electoral race he actually has a track record of making things work in Davao City.

This is not an insignificant achievement. We have to remember that Davao is in the Southern Philippines known for protracted conflict and disorder. And to use that as an example of what a Philippines could look like under a Duterte administration has been very appealing to a lot of voters.

I think that’s the key message; it’s the promise of change with a track record to back it up.

Bloomberg: A promise of change. Does it mean we could see change in the south, for instance, could he strike a deal with the communist where there has been lots of troubles?

Dr. Nicole Curato: I think the unique factor when it comes to Rodrigo Duterte is precisely the personality. I understand that a lot of people say that we have to build institutions, we have to look at platforms, but when we talk about peace processes with Islamic insurgents, with communists rebels the personality of Rodrigo Duterte matters. Here, he is using his own political capital because he has good relationships with the leaders of these movements. So I think that’s one of the things we can look forward to as part of the change that he promised.

Bloomberg: He has said he is willing to share power with the communists. That is significant.

Dr. Nicole Curato: Well, we’ll see how far that goes because so far we have only heard talks about it but in terms of the precise shape that that power takes it still a wait and see at the moment.

Bloomberg: It’s been deemed as one of the most divisive election in 30 years can Duterte, is he the man to unite the people he has won the votes from the middle class, from the millennials 13 to 34. Can he win the vote of confidence, the support from the rest of the community?

Dr. Nicole Curato: I think it matters that he has a very wide lead compared with other candidates. It also matters that some of the candidates have also started conceding and have called for unity.

I think what’s worth monitoring in the Duterte administration is not just his performance as a president but the performance of the opposition. What kind of character the opposition will take? Will it be an opposition set on ousting this legitimately elected president? Or will it be an opposition that can support a healthy debate about Duterte’s reform agenda?

Bloomberg: Why is there such a high level of discontent among the people. This is an economy that has been going at about six percent and like it or not Aquino has put in place a long-term economic plan.

Dr. Nicole Curato: Precisely because the impact of inclusive growth has not been felt yet among the middle classes. For the poorest communities the conditional cash transfer program has already registered which kind of explain why it’s one of the classes that threw in their support the latest for Duterte. But for the middle classes, the people who feel a sense of urgency regarding making the change on a day to day issue of traffic, bad public transport. This is a crisis essentially, and they want something concrete. And that’s something Duterte promises. He has captured the discourse of urgency for this election season. So that’s why he captured the imagination of the middle classes.

Bloomberg: And his biggest challenge when if he comes to power, would be?

Dr. Nicole Curato: I think forming a credible government. One of the major criticism against Mayor Duterte is. First, he did not have a clear economic platform, second we are still left wondering who the people are behind the Duterte campaign. So, I think one of the challenges for him is to create an inclusive and credible government that can work in different sectors of society.

Bloomberg: He has suggested that he has some close friends in power, a good or bad thing?

Dr. Nicole Curato: It really depends. Some people say that some of the people he mentioned are part of the very controversial Arroyo administration. But some of these personalities are superstars in the Ramos administration. So it will be a hodge fudge, I think, of very different personalities. I think if we are a bit generous with our interpretation we can say it’s a good thing because, precisely, we are creating a unity government here. So it’s still a wait and see, but he has until June 30 to create that cabinet.


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