Duterte allies seek to dominate Philippine midterm polls

President Rodrigo Duterte’s name is not on the ballot but Monday’s mid-term elections are seen as a referendum on his phenomenal rise to power, marked by his gory anti-drug crackdown and his embrace of China. (AP)
Updated 12 May 2019
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Duterte allies seek to dominate Philippine midterm polls

  • Nearly 62 million Filipinos have registered to choose among 43,500 candidates vying for about 18,000 congressional and local posts
  • The most crucial race is for 12 seats in the 24-member Senate, which Duterte wants to fill with allies to bolster his legislative agenda

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s name is not on the ballot but Monday’s midterm elections are seen as a crucial referendum on his rise to power with a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, unorthodox style and contentious embrace of China.
Nearly 62 million Filipinos have registered to choose among 43,500 candidates vying for about 18,000 congressional and local posts in one of Asia’s most rambunctious democracies.
The most crucial race is for 12 seats in the 24-member Senate, which Duterte wants to fill with allies to bolster his legislative agenda. That includes the return of the death penalty, lowering the age for criminal liability of child offenders and revising the country’s 1987 constitution primarily to allow a shift to a federal form of government, a proposal some critics fear may be a cover to remove term limits.
Opposition aspirants consider the Senate the last bastion of checks and balances given the solid dominance of Duterte’s loyalists in the lower House of Representatives. Last year, opposition senators moved to block proposed bills they feared would undermine civil liberties.
Duterte’s politics and key programs, including his drive against illegal drugs that has left more than 5,200 mostly urban poor suspects dead, have been scrutinized on the campaign trail and defended by close allies running for the Senate, led by his former national police chief Roland dela Rosa, who first enforced the crackdown when the president took office in mid-2016.
Aside from the drug killings, Duterte’s gutter language and what nationalists say is a policy of appeasement toward China that may undermine Philippine territorial claims in the South China Sea, have also been hounded by protests and criticism.
“This is very much a referendum on his three years of very disruptive yet very popular presidency,” Manila-based analyst Richard Heydarian said. “Are we going to affirm or are we going to reject the 2016 elections? Was that an aberration and historical accident that we have to fix, or is this actually the beginning of the kind of new era or new normal?“
A May 3-6 survey by independent pollster Pulse Asia showed 11 of Duterte-backed senatorial candidates and four other aspirants in the winning circle, including only one from the opposition. The survey of 1,800 respondents had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.
Duterte himself remains hugely popular, topping ratings surveys with about 70 percent approval.
While the election survey strongly indicated a favorable outcome for Duterte, there was a probability that the result could still change given the considerable number of undecided voters and narrow leads of some candidates.
Divided, cash-strapped and without a unified leader, opposition aspirants are fighting an uphill battle to capture the few number of Senate seats they need to stymie any hostile legislation. Many Filipinos seem more open to authoritarianism due to past failures of liberal leaders, Heydarian said. Such a mindset has helped the family of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to make a political comeback.
Among many dirt-poor Filipinos, however, the concern is day-to-day survival.
“Martial law is scary but we’re more afraid of dying in hunger,” Arturo Veles, a jobless father of six, told The Associated Press.
Wiping away tears, Veles spoke outside his family’s shanty in the humid squalor atop Smokey Mountain, a long-closed dumpsite in Manila’s Tondo slum that remains a symbol of the country’s appalling poverty. His asthma-stricken wife, Agnes, said that not one congressional candidate had treaded the fly-strewn and trash-littered path to their cluster of crumbling huts, probably because of the smell and filth.
Arturo Veles said the poor always suffer the most, indicating he and his wife would not vote for administration candidates. “They only see the poor, those using and selling drugs. That’s the only thing they see, not the depth of our poverty.”
Village guard Jose Mondejar, who lives in a Tondo community heavily festooned with elections streamers and posters, said Duterte’s anti-crime campaign has reduced daytime robberies by drug addicts of passing cargo trucks by about 70 percent in his neighborhood.
“Criminals once even opened fire on our village hall because we were cracking down on them,” he said. “Now you can walk around here without being pestered. Duterte’s campaign has worked.”


North Korea: US extension of sanctions ‘a hostile act’

Updated 21 min 22 sec ago
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North Korea: US extension of sanctions ‘a hostile act’

  • The White House extended six executive orders containing sanctions imposed over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs by one year
SEOUL: The recent US extension of sanctions against North Korea was an act of hostility and an outright challenge to a historic summit between the two countries in Singapore last year, a spokesman for Pyongyang’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
The White House last week extended six executive orders containing sanctions imposed over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs by one year.
The unidentified North Korean foreign ministry spokesman denounced US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks on Sunday that more than 80 percent of the North Korean economy has been affected by sanctions.
The spokesman also accused Washington of “viciously slandering” Pyongyang in its latest reports on human trafficking and religious freedom around the world.
“This is ... a manifestation of the most extreme hostile acts by the United States,” the spokesman said in a statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency.
“All these speak clearly to the fact that the wild dream of the United States to bring us to our knees by means of sanctions and pressure has not changed at all but grows even more undisguised,” he added.
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held their first, groundbreaking summit in Singapore in June last year, agreeing to foster new relations and work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
But a second summit in Vietnam in February collapsed as both sides failed to bridge differences between US calls for denuclearization and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.
Since then, North Korea has complained of US sanctions and demanded Pompeo be replaced by someone “more mature,” while lauding the rapport Kim built with Trump.
Pompeo, speaking to reporters on Sunday, raised hopes for a revival of nuclear talks after a recent exchange of letters between Trump and Kim.
The North Korean spokesman warned it would be difficult to achieve denuclearization as long as US politics are dominated by policymakers who have an “inveterate antagonism” toward North Korea.
“We would not thirst for a lifting of sanctions,” the spokesman said.
“Our state is not a country that will surrender to the US sanctions, nor are we a country which the US could attack whenever it desires to do so,” he added.