Philippines gives thumbs-up to Duterte as loyalists dominate election

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, center, raises the hands of senatorial candidates during a campaign rally in Manila on May 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2019

Philippines gives thumbs-up to Duterte as loyalists dominate election

  • Nine of 12 available seats in the all-important Senate looked set to go to pro-Duterte candidates
  • ‘You expect normally two or three candidates from the opposition to win, but this is a wipe-out’

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte looked set on Tuesday to strengthen his grip on power after unofficial results of a mid-term election showed big wins for his candidates, and resounding public endorsement of his controversial rule.

Nine of 12 available seats in the all-important Senate looked set to go to pro-Duterte candidates and the rest to independents, unofficial tallies showed, as the opposition that campaigned against his strongman approach failed to make the cut.

Monday’s ballot for more than 18,000 posts, among them hundreds of mayors, governors, and congressmen, was billed as a referendum on the firebrand president, with special focus on his bid to consolidate power in an upper house that has not always worked in his favor.

A Senate majority would cut the chance of censures and house investigations against his government, making it easier to co-opt independents and remove the few remaining hurdles to an ambitious agenda for massive infrastructure spending, re-drafting the constitution and the return of the death penalty.

“This president’s popularity and transferability of his popularity is unprecedented to say the least, despite all the controversies,” said political analyst Edmund Tayao.

“You expect normally two or three candidates from the opposition to win, but this is a wipe-out.”

Candidates leading the Senate contest include Duterte’s closest aide, the daughter of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the wife of the country’s richest man, a movie star, a jailed politician recently cleared of plunder charges, and a police general who spearheaded Duterte’s brutal war on drugs.

They would join 12 Senate incumbents, only four of whom are from the opposition, including Leila de Lima, the biggest critic of Duterte’s deadly anti-drugs crackdown, held since 2017 on narcotics charges.

The mid-term results leave the opposition in tatters and will change the dynamic of a Senate that has traditionally been a check on state power, and a bulwark against the kind of political dominance Duterte is demonstrating.

He is also expected to retain control in the lower house.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Senate’s independence would not be in question, but the vote showed the public overwhelmingly backed Duterte and his vision.

“Undoubtedly, the Duterte magic spelled the difference,” he said. “People yearn for stability and continuity of the genuine reforms that this administration started. They yearn for a constructive and not obstructionist Senate.”

The mid-terms come as Duterte, 74, appears untouchable, with last year’s spiraling inflation under control and a recent poll showing his public approval rating at a staggering 81 percent.

Experts say the winning formula was selling Duterte as a brand, including use of his daughter Sara as a surrogate to promote his candidates, in a possible succession play for the 2022 presidential election.

The result also shows the effectiveness of a diehard social media support base, despite intermittent outrage over his pro-China stance, jokes about rape, tirades about the church, and his anti-drugs crackdown.

Duterte’s critics needed to accept that the electorate had rejected such negative propaganda, Panelo added.

The opposition, however, said it would not give in.

“Our fight for justice, for sovereignty and a more progressive future for our people continues,” said incumbent Senator Francis Pangilinan.


UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.