Turning Point for the Philippines

The Khmer Times, 15 May 2016

The Philippine elections have drawn quite significant international media attention given it was one of the most divisive elections in the country’s modern history. Political rhetoric during the election campaigns was relatively aggressive.
Rodrigo Duterte, a self-described socialist, was elected president and Leni Roberto, a social-democratic legislator, was elected vice-president. These two leaders are going to structurally transform the economic development model into a social economy which give emphasis on people-oriented and people-centred development apporach.
The election results culminated in an era of a new type of political leadership with quite a radical mindset to change the status quo and transform the political norms in the country.
The voters are interested in seeing change. They expect the new government to carry out dynamic political and economic reforms, promoting inclusive growth and improving social justice.
Over the past decade, the Philippines has enjoyed high economic growth. The Aquino administration has set a foundation for economic development and political stability. However, the low-income population has not enjoyed the fruits of growth. Economic and social inequality is the major development problem, which result in a geographical disparity in the country.
Acknowledging the widening development gap, the government has taken certain measures to address it by investing more in education, healthcare, and a social protection program. Yet the results are limited.
The future leadership aims to address two important issues: corruption and crime. The President-elect promised that he would fight against corruption and crime. The results will be known within six months after he assumes his office.
Mr. Duterte has a proven track record of running a militant anti-crime campaign in Mindanao, where he was mayor of Davao city for 25 years.  But it is less certain whether he can effectively deal with rampant corruption.
To reduce and eradicate corruption, strong political leadership is required, and it needs to start from the top.  He needs to prove that he is clean to set a role model for others to follow. Fighting corruption is done not by words, but by actions.
Under the new leadership, decentralization will gain new steam, particularly in fiscal decentralization, in which local government is delegated more power to generate and use local revenues.
On foreign policy, the new administration will likely become more inward looking. National interest will be strongly defined in terms of socio-economic development. The Philippines will be less active in regional and international affairs.
The new leaders will adopt a slightly different approach from the previous Aquino administration in dealing with China.  Bilateral ties with China will be improved. This Philippine administration will not push the territorial disputes in the South China Sea as hard.
Of course, the main challenges remain. Nationalism and anti-Chinese sentiment are high. The decision by the international court in The Hague will test the resilience of Chinese-Philippine ties.
China is quite confident that there is an opportunity to restore and cement the relationship with the new leadership through an economic charm offensive.
“China hopes the Philippines’ new government can work in the same direction with China, properly handle our differences and get bilateral ties back on track with concrete actions,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang.
But the US government will treat the upcoming Philippine government more cautiously.  State Department spokesman Elizabeth Trudeau stated: “We look forward to working and congratulating the winner. Washington respects the choice of the Philippine people. We gladly work with the leader they have selected.”
Asean countries are watching the political development in the Philippines very closely, particularly with regards to the Philippines’ position in the South China Sea and its role in Asean community building.
Asean will mark its 50th anniversary next year under the Philippine chairmanship. So for the new leadership it is critical to maintain the momentum of the Asean community building process and the central role of Asean in shaping the evolving regional architecture.
There is a certain level of uncertainty and risk associated with power transition. Mely Caballero-Anthony wrote in an RSIS commentary recently that: “Vital to its success and security is a successful and peaceful transition of its leadership.”

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