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Duterte, Mindanao, and Political Culture

Cutting cane

Courtesy of Carsten ten Brink / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

This article was originally published by the East-West Center (EWC) on 9 November 2016.

The Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, seems intent on taking his country down an untrodden path. Since being sworn in as the Philippines’ 16th president this June, the first from Mindanao, he has made international news by advocating extrajudicial killings while at the same time thumbing his nose at the US. What could be motivating his dramatic actions? Many observers focus on his idiosyncratic personality. But greater insight comes through understanding the political culture of Mindanao in which he honed his political skills. The political culture of Mindanao sits within the broader Philippine context that is racked by violence, poverty and corruption.

Human Rights Watch reported that in 2015, the year before Duterte came into power, the Philippines was a country where attacks against indigenous people were rampant, child labor, especially in small-scale mining, was commonplace, eight journalists were murdered, and extra-judicial killings especially in Mindanao were routine. In the 2015 Perception of Corruption Index released by Transparency International, the Philippines ranked 95th out of 167 states. While certainly not the worst by global standards, the Philippines is hardly a model of good governance. Its rank of 115 out of 188 countries in the 2015 Human Development Index underscores the challenges it faces. The current tidal wave of population (approximately 102 million with a growth rate of 1.7%), strains the nation’s budgets and infrastructure. Metro Manila’s population exceeds 12 million and continues to grow. The burgeoning population, corruption, disregard for the rule of law and poverty have combined to dramatically inflate the crime rate in the Philippines. In 2012, a total of 217,812 crimes were reported; by 2014 that number had exploded to 1,161,188. Arguably the Philippines was in crisis even before the election of Duterte. His election can be seen, in part, as a reaction to that crisis, as much as it can be seen as contributing to it.

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How Europe should Deal with a Trump Administration

American Eagle

Courtesy Steve Snodgrass/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Elcano Royal Institute on 11 November 2016.

It is very tempting for political leaders to react to Donald Trump’s victory with anger or disdain. Leaders who express such sentiments can be sure to be applauded. And we have seen plenty of such statements over the past few days.

But to alienate the next US President is unwise, as it will harm European interests. Instead, Europe must try to influence Trump’s policies and his decision-making by engaging with him. And it must start to work on a plan B.

Geopolitically, Europe is far from being strong or independent enough to survive a more or less hostile Trump presidency without major damage. It needs an active and engaged US to keep NATO alive and kicking, to help manage relations with Russia and to deal with growing instability in the Middle East and North Africa. Furthermore, Europe has a major interest in being involved in US-Chinese relations, as peace in East Asia is vital for the European economy.

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Can the US-Philippine Alliance Endure Duterte?

Don't Spook the Gun

Courtesy of Thomas Hawk / Flickr

This article was originally published by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on 14 September 2016.

Philippine President Roberto Duterte is continuing his anti-American campaign with two latest bombshell statements, first calling for the fewer than 200 American Special Operations Forces advising and training Philippine troops to exit the southern Philippines. “I don’t want a rift,” he told the press this week, “but they have to go.” The terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, he explained, would kill them on sight, a curious claim since U.S. forces have been helping to counter threats in the southern Philippines for years. Perhaps Duterte’s real motives are designed to permit him to conduct military and law-enforcement operations without worrying about international scrutiny, while at the same time letting China know he is willing to distance himself from his ally if that is the price of major capital investment.

Whatever the real drivers behind Duterte, the Philippine president managed within a mere 24-hours to shock the world by ordering his defense secretary to work on security pronouncements with China and Russia to combat drug traffickers and insurgents and cease joint patrols in the South China Sea alongside the U.S. Navy. In case it wasn’t abundantly clear at this point, Duterte spelled out his position: “I do not like Americans. It’s simply a matter of principle for me.” For a leader actively supporting extra-judicial killings, “principle” may be a relative concept. But the biggest problem is the potential long-term damage that could be caused by Duterte airing his emotions in public.

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Putin´s Plan to Restore the Romanovs

Courtesy the lost gallery / flickr

This three-part series was originally published by the Lowy Institute’s The Interpreter between the 16th and 18th August 2016.

(Part 1)

When US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Moscow in March, looming over his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin was a statue of Russian Emperor Alexander II (1855-81). Known as the ‘Tsar-Liberator’, Alexander freed the serfs, introduced trial by jury, relaxed press censorship and created elected regional assemblies that might, but for his assassination, have laid the foundation for bolder constitutional experiments.

But isn’t Alexander the wrong autocrat? Russia, we are told, is in the grip of Stalin-mania. Over the past 12 months, The New York Times, The New Statesman, The Independent and Foreign Policy have reported on an unspoken Kremlin policy to rehabilitate the Soviet tyrant.

Dubbed ‘re-Stalinisation’, its alleged aim is to return Russia to the fear and suspicion that characterised life until Stalin’s death in 1953 and to secure what are asserted as having ever been Putin’s twin goals: the consolidation of absolute personal power and restoration of the Soviet Union (or something like it) in Eastern Europe.

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