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
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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.


Sharer of New Zealand mosque shooting video gets 21 months

Philip Neville Arps, left, appears for sentencing in the Christchurch District Court, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Tuesday, June 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 31 min 20 sec ago
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Sharer of New Zealand mosque shooting video gets 21 months

  • Under New Zealand laws aimed at preventing the distribution of objectionable material, Arps faced up to 14 years imprisonment on each count

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A Christchurch businessman who shared a video of worshippers being slaughtered at a New Zealand mosque was sentenced on Tuesday to 21 months in prison.
Philip Arps had earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of distributing the video, which was livestreamed on Facebook by a gunman on March 15 as he began killing 51 people at two mosques.
Christchurch District Court Judge Stephen O’Driscoll said that when questioned about the video, Arps had described it as “awesome” and had shown no empathy toward the victims.
The judge said Arps had strong and unrepentant views about the Muslim community and had, in effect, committed a hate crime. The judge said Arps had compared himself to Rudolf Hess, a Nazi leader under Adolf Hitler.
“Your offending glorifies and encourages the mass murder carried out under the pretext of religious and racial hatred,” the judge said.
O’Driscoll said Arps had sent the video to 30 associates. The judge said Arps also asked somebody to insert crosshairs and include a kill count in order to create an Internet meme, although there was no evidence he’d shared the meme.
Under New Zealand laws aimed at preventing the distribution of objectionable material, Arps faced up to 14 years imprisonment on each count.
In other cases, at least five other people were also charged with illegally sharing the shooting video. An 18-year-old was jailed in March while the others weren’t kept in custody. The teen is accused of sharing the video and an image of the Al Noor mosque with the words “target acquired.” He is next due to appear in court on July 31.
The judge said Arps had argued he had a right to distribute the video under the banner of freedom to pursue his political beliefs.
Arps’ lawyer Anselm Williams told the judge that Arps should not be sent to prison.
“It’s my submission that this court needs to be very careful to sentence Mr. Arps based on what it is that he has actually done, and what he accepts he has done, not on the basis of the views that he holds,” Williams said.
After the hearing, Williams said Arps had filed an appeal against his sentence at the High Court, but declined to comment further.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, last week pleaded not guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism in the mosque shooting case. His trial has been scheduled for next May.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has helped lead a global pledge named the “Christchurch Call,” aimed at boosting efforts to keep Internet platforms from being used to spread hate, organize extremist groups and broadcast attacks. New Zealand has also tightened its gun laws and banned certain types of semi-automatic weapons since the attack.