top of page

The 2016 Philippines Elections: Change is Coming

On Monday, an estimated 54 million Filipino voters went to the polls to determine the future of the Philippines in the general national and local elections. In just one day, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is set to become the Philippines' president with a landslide victory at the polls beating his closest rival, Mar Roxas, by 8 million votes.

Throughout the presidential campaign, the 71-year-old Duterte amassed overwhelming support from Filipinos with his hard-line stance against crime and corruption - some of the most pressing political issues that have plagued the Philippines for decades.

Many Filipinos are frustrated with the levels of crime and corruption, and these sentiments can be traced back to the abuse of power under the Marcos dictatorship. Arguably, the current political climate of the Philippines, and the historic legacy of the Marcos dictatorship, have contributed to contemporary Filipino political sentiments and thus, the rise of a Duterte presidency.

The Marcos Dictatorship

The Philippines was plunged into Martial Law on 21 September 1972, when President Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081. The ensuing Marcos dictatorship resulted in extrajudicial punishment, corruption, crony capitalism and human rights abuses that still remain a painful memory for many Filipinos.

Under the Marcos dictatorship, civilians and political opponents were subjected to unwarranted arrest, torture, kidnapping, killings and forced disappearances. Amnesty International estimates that roughly 70,000 Filipinos were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured and 3,240 were killed. In addition to this, President Marcos amassed a fortune of $10 billion USD of which a majority remains unaccounted.

Philippines People Power Revolution

In February 1986, the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue People Power Revolution forced the removal of President Marcos. This grassroots movement saw millions of Filipinos march along the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in Manila in a peaceful revolution to reclaim the nation from the Marcos dictatorship.

This historic moment wrestled democracy from the iron fists of the Marcos dictatorship. However, three decades on, the legacy of the Marcos dictatorship and the political culture of elitist politics, political dynasties, crime and corruption persist at the forefront of contemporary Filipino political sentiments.

‘Change is coming’

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has amassed a reputation as the leader bringing change to Philippines' politics. Duterte has gained mass appeal through his humour, charisma and simplistic approach to corruption and crime, evident in his 7 May Miting De Avance speech – the final landmark campaign rally before voters head to the polls.

Since the late 1980s, Duterte has been Mayor of Davao City, Mindanao, a city notorious for its high crime and conflict between government forces and communist rebels. Under Duterte’s governance, Davao City has purportedly risen to one of the "safest cities in the world" – an achievement that Duterte has used as the backbone of his campaign to prove his ability to achieve peace and order. However, national police data indicates otherwise, with Davao City remaining one of the top five cities in the Philippines for homicide and rape crimes from 2010-2015.

Throughout his Miting De Avance speech, hundreds of thousands of Filipino supporters cheered as Duterte continued to push savage rhetoric, espousing his willingness to kill criminals and corrupt politicians who threaten the peace and order of the Philippines. Human Rights Watch has condemned Duterte’s connection to the Davao Death Squads – armed vigilantes who have killed more than 1,000 people suspected to be criminals, drug dealers and rapists.

In the Philippines, official corruption remains at the forefront of Filipino politics. In 2013, one of the most controversial corruption scandals involved the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), commonly known as the 'pork barrel scandal'. Here, non-governmental development projects were ruthlessly exploited by a Filipina businesswoman, Janet Napoles, and several other Filipino politicians. In recent months, presidential candidate and vice president of the Philippines, Jejomar Binay, has attracted allegations of corruption. Binay is accused of amassing a small fortune from government funds.

Duterte’s mass appeal is rooted in the decades-long frustration about corruption in the Philippines and the perception that political elites have hijacked the country. Despite a national average economic growth of roughly 6% according to the Philippines Statistic Authority, poverty still sits at 26.3% with income inequality persisting.

Duterte’s political rhetoric has strongly resonated with his Filipino supporters as a powerful leader who has the guts and bravado to fight against the system of the corrupt, elite and criminally minded. Duterte has threatened to dissolve congress and kill corrupt officials, with many fearing that his presidency will come at the cost of human rights abuses and the rise of a neo-authoritarian Philippines.

The Future of the Philippines

Duterte’s popularity has remained untouchable, despite his controversial remarks, such as a rape joke about an Australian missionary, cursing Pope Francis and his ties to the Davao Death Squads. Duterte’s platform of change has successfully built upon contemporary Filipino political sentiment, largely fed up with the political status quo embedded in a historic culture of political dynasty, crime and corruption which can be traced back to the Marcos dictatorship. At this stage, Duterte is set to become the next president of the Philippines, however, observers fear that peace, order and change may potentially come at the price of freedom.

Reginald Ramos is currently the president of the Curtin International Relations Society and holds a B.A. in International Relations and History from Curtin University.

This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence. Please email for more information.

Image credit: Keith Bacongco (Flickr: Creative Commons)

bottom of page