News analysis

Little success beyond crime war for Duterte

But many willing to overlook his missteps and expect him to tackle other issues soon

Ask anyone here what he thinks of President Rodrigo Duterte's first 100 days in office, and chances are he will say: "Has it really just been 100 days?"

So much has happened since Mr Duterte took office on June 30 that it seems he has been president for years already.

The Philippines has seen an anti-crime drive that is unprecedented in its brutality and impact. As of his 99th day in office yesterday, more than 3,500 drug suspects have been killed, more than a third by police and the rest at the hands of ruthless vigilantes or their own gangs.

These deaths have resonated in the halls of Congress, and ricocheted globally, drawing criticism from world leaders such as United States President Barack Obama and United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon.

In Congress, the killings have led to a reality show with a complex narrative that not even such master weavers of cloak-and-dagger tales as John Le Carre can create: Mass murders perpetrated by a cabal of ruthless lawmen and assassins-for- hire, cheered on by a mayor with a fancy for Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood movies; crime suspects garrotted, disembowelled, hacked to pieces, fed to crocodiles; a national penitentiary run by drug kingpins who enjoy luxuries such as armed bodyguards, celebrity- studded concerts and jacuzzis. A senator and arch-foe of the President has been portrayed as a "drug queen" with a voracious sexual appetite.

Artwork in the image of Mr Duterte is created on a paddy field in Los Banos city, 70km south of Manila. People feel that so much has happened in Mr Duterte's first 100 days in office that it seems like he has been governing for much longer. PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite the rising body count and the often horrendous, sometimes lurid tales that have swirled around his anti-crime drive, Mr Duterte remains as popular as ever.

A survey released on Thursday showed that three in four Filipinos approve of what he has been doing. The anti-crime drive, in particular, got an 84 per cent approval rating.


He is the most tactless, arrogant, narcissistic, misogynistic, paranoid, cognitively dissonant president this country has ever had.


Mr Duterte gave himself six out of 10. "It is not a self-derogating thing. I just don't like to brag," he said.

But he said with the public firmly behind him, "we will move on to the drug campaign".

"There will still be so many deaths, and I will not apologise for it," he added.


There are ups and downs in his first 100 days. But at the end of the day, his critics will only see the failures and downside. Let us admit, the first 100 days were never as successful as the complete six years of past administrations. We are just in the drug war. Next stop will be the war on corruption.


There has ironically been a sense of peace and order amid the killings. Police statistics show the crime rate has fallen by half. People are talking about feeling safer when they are on the streets.

"I worry less now about getting mugged or robbed when I go to work," said Mr Aljen Rosales, 24, who works the late-night to early-morning shift at a call centre in Quezon City, an hour north of Manila.

Apart from his war on crime, Mr Duterte has little to show for on other fronts.

Traffic remains horrendous in metropolitan Manila, and the train system that millions rely on to get to work continues to break down. Wages have not risen, and prices remain high. Everything is as Mr Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino has left it.

There are even signs of trouble. Businessmen have been grumbling.

The Environment Minister has shut down 11 mining companies and is looking to close 20 more. That is holding up US$25 billion (S$34.3 billion) worth of investments, according to mining advocate Philip Romualdez. The Labour Ministry, meanwhile, is looking to raise the minimum wage by 20 per cent and end the practice among the nation's biggest retailers of hiring contractual employees.

The key stock index has dropped 2.3 per cent since June 30, the only decliner among major Asian gauges, and the peso plunged to a seven-year low against the US dollar at 48.26 on Sept 26.

Mr Duterte is himself rocking the boat. He is expending most of his energy on crime, and leaving other matters to his surrogates who, afraid to act on their own, wait for him to make up his mind.

His almost daily barrage of invectives and obscenities directed at the US and Europe, seemingly for no reason other than their criticism of his anti-drugs push, is shaking up old alliances that have been the bedrock on which the Philippine economy stands.

He is turning to China and Russia for arms and money, and looking at dumping defence arrangements with the US.

Yesterday, Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana announced that Manila had officially informed Washington that joint patrols in the South China Sea had been suspended on Mr Duterte's orders.

"They have been suspended for the time being. They (Washington) know it already," he told reporters, adding he relayed the decision to the head of the US Pacific Command when he was in Hawaii at the start of this month.

But many here are willing to overlook the missteps. After all, it has been only 100 days.

"What he is doing actually is breaking down the old order, the old system of politicking, the old system of governance, the old system of foreign relations... He is actually repudiating the old order in order to build something new. He is breaking down the old order, and you know that is the reason why his style is so acerbic," said De La Salle University dean and political science professor Julio Teehankee.

While Mr Duterte may be off to a "very good" start, he must soon pivot to matters other than crime, said political analyst Richard Javad Heydarian.

He said Mr Duterte "will have to pour more attention to other urgent problems such as the infrastructure bottlenecks, particularly the traffic woes in the major cities".

"I expect the administration to slowly diversify its political agenda over the coming months," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Little success beyond crime war for Duterte'. Print Edition | Subscribe