How Duterte has been a force for peace in the Philippines and the region
As he enters his third year in office, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s biggest achievement has been peace.
Amid global uncertainties, geopolitical rivalry and a work-in-progress government, Duterte has not only navigated between contending giants but enabled regional peace and secured gains for the Philippines.
Regional neighbours have praised Duterte for his handling of the South China Sea dispute. This has contributed to regional stability. Ongoing disagreements with China are now discussed at the highest levels and more channels for functional cooperation have been opened and are already delivering benefits for Filipinos.
Moreover, ending the Islamic State-led rebellion in the southern Philippines in less than five months, when other countries that have Islamic State activity continue to deteriorate into war zones, prevented the spread of extremism not only in the Philippines, but in the region as a whole.
On the domestic front, although not without issues just like any other country, the Philippines has been ranked the top investment destination in the world by the US News and World Report, growth rates are up (beating expectations), poverty and crime rates are down, workers are better protected and business processes are faster.
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Critics have blamed the recent tax reform for the acceleration of inflation, but ignore the impact of other factors, notably the volatility of oil prices and the fundamentals of a rapidly growing economy – which the government is managing, including opening up new sources of crude oil from Russia.
Duterte’s efforts to instil discipline and order have reduced incidences of crime.
Critics tend to focus on his war against drugs and ignore the other statistics. While 4,251 suspects died in legitimate anti-drug police operations, 142,069 were arrested, 1.26 million surrendered and 368,504 have graduated from rehabilitation programmes.
Latest data shows a 20 per cent drop in crimes nationwide and more than 80 per cent of Filipinos feel safer. In his state of the nation address, Duterte directly answered his critics: “You value human rights, I value human lives.”
With a fairly peaceful and stable region, and the Philippines finally making bold, political, economic, and environmental steps, it actually has a shot at catching up with its Asian neighbours.
Duterte is a leader who knows history and is proud of the achievements of the Philippines in the Asian family. This is why Duterte said: “The future of the Philippines is in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and in Asia.”
We invite all to heed the internationally respected research and ground realities that are different from the situation that is generally painted.
Austin Ong, director, Integrated Development Studies Institute, Manila