In trying to explain the rise of Donald Trump, this writer has published previous articles that have attempted to illustrate similar phenomena in other countries. Political populists and far right wing parties have shown gains in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, Peru and, most recently, Austria. The dynamics of what is happening there is somewhat similar to what is happening here.
The latest example is the presidential elections to be held on May 9th in the Philippines. The current president- Benino Aquino- is term-limited. Unlike the United States, they have more than one party. Additionally, their vice-president is elected separately so that the winner and the presidential winner are sometimes of different political parties.
Under Aquino, the Philippines has enjoyed relative strong economic growth in the Pacific/Asia region. And although it still exists, the level of government corruption and the problem of Islamic terrorist groups like Abu Sayyef have decreased, although that terrorist group has increased attacks in anticipation of the election.
Miriam Santiago of the People’s Reformed Party and Mar Roxas of the Liberal Party are considered long shots. Roxas in particular is described as a free-market friendly liberal whom foreign investors seem to like. He has the backing of Aquino and describes his campaign so far as boring and lacking in drama and that is by design. He is running on a platform of strengthening agriculture, empowering local communities and helping business investment by cutting regulations and corruption. In short, he wants to continue what Aquino started.
Jejumar Binjay, the current vice president, has distanced himself from the Aquino administration and resigned. He is the equivalent of our Bernie Sanders. The consummate populist, he is stressing a welfare state that cares for the poor and addressing the need to decrease income inequality.
Grace Poe is the independent candidate, sort of like our Ted Cruz. Adopted by one of the country’s most beloved actors after she was abandoned by her birth mother, she later became an American citizen. Since moving back to the Philippines, she won a seat in their senate. However, her eligibility to run for president was challenged and it required her renouncing her American citizenship and winning a court decree making her eligible to run. This sounds eerily similar to Trump’s ignorant statements about Ted Cruz’s eligibility to run for President given his birth in Canada. She is pro-free trade and fiscally somewhat conservative.
Finally, there is the Philippines rendition of Donald Trump- Rodrigo Duterte- the mayor Davao City. The mayor for 22 years, his claim to fame is his crime-busting emphasis on law and order which has transformed Davao City into one of the safest in the nation. He has promised to totally eradicate crime, drugs and corruption if elected within the first six months in office.
Davao City is known for its vigilantism that has drawn the concern of some governments and quite a few human rights organizations. For his part, Duterte has not condemned the vigilante justice and has even driven around the streets on a motorcycle late at night seeking out criminals himself. He has threatened to make the fish fat in Manila Bay feeding on the bodies of dead criminals. He has not disavowed death squads. He doubled down on his actions claiming that as president he would execute 100,000 criminals and dump them in the bay. This is akin to the Great Wall of Trump assertions here.
But most strange is the case of the Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill who was jailed in 1989 in his Davao City. During a prison riot, she was gang raped and later killed by other prisoners. Duterte had this to say during a presidential campaign rally:
She looks like a beautiful American actress. What a waste. The lined up and raped her. I was angry because she was raped. That’s one thing. But she was so beautiful. The mayor (him) should have been first.
Say what you will about Trump’s outrageous comments, but they pale in comparison to this. In response to criticism, he said sometimes his mouth gets the best of him. When the Australian ambassador criticized these comments, he warned them to stay out of it. The Australian embassy office and their Facebook page was inundated with abusive comments and threats from his supporters.
He has also referred to the Pope as a “son of a bitch” for a traffic jam upon the Pope’s most recent visit. When his daughter, in response to the Hamill statement, said she too had been raped, Duterte dismissed it as the ramblings of a “drama queen” and that she could not have been raped because she never reported it. He has referred to the United States as an outdated and obsolete military ally (sort of like Trump’s references to NATO). He has even been compared to Trump. He dismissed those musings stating that Trump is a bigot whereas he is not.
Now for the scary part: Rodrigo Duterte is the front runner heading into the actual election with Poe in second place according to most polls. As his statements have grown more bold, his popularity has risen (sound like Trump?). The closure of American military bases in the country is still a source of national pride and his bravado against the United States taps into that pride.
If nothing else, this proves that no matter how bleak and bad things seem here in the United States when it comes to presidential politics, things can always be worse.