WHILE Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has countered and deflected most criticism over his tempestuous and rocky nine-month term, his heavy-handed and outspoken approach has finally proven too hard to swallow for the opposition who last week filed an impeachment motion against the controversial leader.
The complaint, filed last Thursday by Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, accuses Duterte of a litany of criminal offences that fall well within the purview of an impeachment.
Allegations include bribery, betraying the public trust, committing graft and corruption, violating the constitution, and other high crimes.
In his filing of the motion, the opposition lawmaker claimed the battle is a “fight for all Filipinos,” insisting he is “just an instrument” for the people.
These proclamations of selflessness from Alejano appear noble, but as unrest starts to bubble within the Philippines, it raises the question: how do the people feel about the challenge, and is this a “fight” they want?
“I am saddened the opposition is trying to impeach a president who is working hard for the benefit of Filipino people, for their selfish gains,” Edward Go, a 32-year-old farmer from the Visayas region, told Asian Correspondent.
Go claims the opposition have been wanting to impeach Duterte since he took office due to his “strong crackdown against drugs, corruption, (and) irresponsible mining in the Philippines,” believing their motivation to be the detrimental affect his policies have had on their corrupt business dealings.
“Who would not be irked if their business is affected?” Go explains. “You can see the crime rate went down because of his tough stance against lawlessness and drugs,” implying those with the power to challenge him are the ones benefitting from these nefarious dealings.
The message from all the Filipinos we spoke to were along a similar vein.
Fyke Silvano, an Electrical Engineering student currently residing in Cebu, believes the impeachment attempt is “all for publicity” and part of a wider plot to “destabilise his (Duterte’s) administration” by those corrupt officials impacted by his crackdowns.
“He has so many enemies – the drug lords, corrupt officials, oligarchs and even the mining companies which he is about to issue a total mining ban in the coming weeks,” Silvano claims.
And Silvano is not alone in his suspicions. The consensus among the majority of Filipinos appears to be one of support for Duterte and a scathing rebuke of those that challenge him.
“Filipinos are upset,” said Efhraim Santiago, a small business owner based in Manila.“It’s a stupid impeachment complaint.”
“For the first time in the history of our country, we have a true patriot for a president – one who is willing to kill or be killed for the good of our country, for the benefit of our children and our children’s children,” Santiago, a staunch Duterte supporter, said.
“Do not take away this hope … Do not kill our chance to rebuild our nation and provide a safer and brighter future for the next generation,” he said in response to the impeachment motion.
Santiago also felt the backlash against Duterte was predominantly due to corrupt officials. “The financiers for the bank robbers are congressmen,” he said. “That’s why so many politicians are enraged by what Duterte is doing, because their extra income has gone.”
“The people behind the black propaganda against him are the people who have now lost all their millions of income from illegal sources.”
Asian Correspondent found for many Filipinos, their devotion to Duterte has not wavered despite all of the controversy he has courted while in office.
“For me, him being simple, humble, strong, and sincere and his willingness to sacrifice his life, honour, and presidency just to solve the problems that existed a long time before his presidency is why I love him,” Sheliane (name changed for the article), an office clerk from Mindanao said.
“His political will and iron-fist…is what I am looking for in a leader.”
Duterte’s direct approach and ability to connect with everyday Filipinos has not only maintained his fanbase, but has also managed to expand it while in office.
Silvano wasn’t a Duterte supporter initially -in fact he spearheaded “Youth for Miriam”, a group of volunteers in Cebu who campaigned for then-presidential candidate Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Duterte’s opponent in last May’s presidential election.
His opinion changed, however, after seeing Duterte’s honesty and sincerity in person.
“The people love him because he is the only one who voices out the most pressing problems like criminality, rampant corruption and the looming narcopolitics,” he said.
It seems Duterte’s heavy-handed approach to crime and drug offences, which has been condemned as brutal and inhumane by international leaders and human rights groups, is celebrated by some in the Philippines who see the positive affect these no-nonsense policies have on their streets and in their neighbourhoods.
“Because of the campaign (drug war), more and more streets are safer at night. More and more innocents will be saved,” Sheilane said. “No other leader had the will to do it.”
SA TOTOO TAYO
The FILIPINOS TRUST and SUPPORT DUTERTE’s war on drugs.
NO TO #LeniFakeNews
— Mocha Uson Blog (@MochaUson) March 17, 2017
Even those Filipinos living abroad see themselves as part of the Duterte army.
“Here in Dubai we all love him. And we strongly support him all the way,” Edna Aloveros, a single mother working in Dubai said.
She said her support for the drug war was because, “as a mother, I want my children to go outside in our street without apprehension and doubt someone might do something bad.”
Media vs the people
Although the highly-negative reports in the local and international press have been difficult for many to reconcile with the fair and sincere leader that many Filipinos describe, local people have developed explanations for the hostile media.
The damning international press is often explained away as “liberal propaganda” and reports of the killing of 8,000 people in the drug war is considered by many to be inaccurate and pedalled by “paid journalists who are painting him as a murderer.”
Admittedly, this seems a highly popular opinion in the country with many prominent bloggers and social commentators supporting the claim.
While much of the international community and local media are up in arms over Duterte’s approach, it seems the opinion on the streets is somewhat different, and this latest attempt to discredit and ultimately overthrow the polemic leader will undoubtedly be met with popular resistance.
The political temperature in the Philippines will likely heat up over the next two months, as Duterte prepares his political and legal defence, and Alejano attempts to sway congressional defections in his favour.
But even in the case of defections, impeachment is a numbers game that Duterte is unlikely to lose.
He still enjoys strong support in Congress and indications are that political currents are still moving in his favour, with government officials branding the impeachment motion as “stupidity” and a “consolidated” effort to discredit Duterte.
If Duterte proves successful in his fight against impeachment, that may not be the end of the scrutiny of his behaviour.
Analysts say information and testimony revealed during the impeachment proceedings could provide sufficient justification to file a case with the International Criminal Court, something prominent local lawyers have been threatening for some time. In this instance, the international court could take jurisdiction leaving all of Duterte’s political and popular support powerless to do anything.
But the Filipino people seem unlikely to go down without a fight for a leader they truly believe is looking out for their best interests and fighting for the rights of everyday Filipinos.
As Sheilane says: “Most of the Filipinos, especially the poor and marginalised, see Duterte as our hope because he is the answer to our prayers. He brings change to our country… Because of him we can say: ‘There’s hope for a brighter tomorrow’.
“And we will rally behind him no matter what happens.”