The May 13 elections draw near and President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is beset by a number of issues that hound his administration. One primary controversy for most critics is his move to deepen ties with the People’s Republic of China that calls into questions the President’s commitment to securing territorial sovereignty over the disputed West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea.
International critics also show immediate concern over the human rights abuses committed under Duterte’s administration. There were also allegations of continued corruption in spite of a campaign slogan bannering for change within the country’s political system. Growing inflation was a problem for a portion of 2018, mainly attributed to the passing of the country’s tax reform law, better known as the TRAIN Law (which stands for the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act).
The elections will affect how Duterte’s preferences and policies will be treated in the Senate and, by extension, the House of Representatives. Federalism is seen as a major issue for consideration that was said to improve governance within the local level but faces difficulty with the existing political dynasties holding feudal control over provinces.
South China Sea Dispute
Duterte’s rhetoric has changed the diplomatic ties of the country, moving away from the United States, its traditional ally, and towards new economic ventures with China. Recently, Duterte has agreed to sign 19 business contracts worth US$12 billion at China’s Belt and Road Forum. He also promised to further economic and business ties with Beijing. For its part, the Chinese government seeks joint border, tax and macroeconomic policies for countries under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Such policies strive to increase Chinese influence and thus erode the sovereignty of said countries the more they involve themselves with Beijing. The lack of action towards demanding reparation for the damages on coral and clams in Scarborough Shoal near the Philippines makes it clear that the promise of defending the country’s claims in the disputed territorial waters has not been fulfilled.
Concerns over Chinese Influence in the Cabinet
Some critics complain over the administration’s lax attitude towards Beijing. This is especially apparent on how some members of Duterte’s cabinet exploit their Chinese heritage to improve their status. Furthermore, Duterte’s tone towards China is comparatively more accommodating, as when he visited the country in 2016, a local television interview showed the Philippine president self-identifying as Chinese while speaking about the need to negotiate with China amid the territorial conflicts.
Opposition candidates also air out their outrage at the number of Chinese nationals easily entering the country to take Filipino jobs. Many of the 100,000 to 250,000 workers are from Macao, where Xi Jinping is aiming to limit crime by sending them away.
Opposition candidates, mainly from the group known as Otso Diresto (direct eight), are bannering for strong support from the youth and academe, as well as the Catholic church, who have expressed opposition to the increased incidents of extrajudicial killings and problems in the war on drugs.
Much of Congress is loyal to the Duterte administration. Most of Duterte’s vocal critics have been derided, jailed, or ousted, such as Senators Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes. It was during Duterte’s term that Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was removed in a maneuver that remained questionable for many critics.