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.


Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

Updated 36 min 43 sec ago

Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

  • Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown
  • China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Thirteen prominent Hong Kong democracy activists appeared in court on Monday charged with holding an unauthorized gathering to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the latest in a string of prosecutions against protest leaders in the restless financial hub.
Last month tens of thousands of Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown against students pushing for democracy.
The annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong for the last three decades and usually attracts huge crowds. It has taken on particular significance in recent years as the semi-autonomous city chafes under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
This year’s vigil was banned for the first time with authorities citing coronavirus measures. At the time local transmission had largely been halted.
But thousands turned out to hold candles in their neighborhoods and in Victoria Park, the traditional site of the vigil.
Police later arrested 13 leading activists who appeared at the Victoria Park vigil.
All appeared in court on Monday to be formally charged with “inciting” an unlawful assembly, which carries up to five years in jail.
Among them are Jimmy Lai, the millionaire owner of the openly pro-democracy Apple newspaper, veteran democracy activists such as Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho as well as young campaigner Figo Chan.
When asked if he understood the charge, Lee invoked the hundreds who were killed by Chinese tanks and soldiers at Tiananmen.
“This is political persecution,” he said. “The real incitement is the massacre conducted by the Chinese Communist Party 31 years ago.”
Some of those charged on Monday — and many other leading democracy figures — face separate prosecutions related to last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage and portrayed the protests as a plot by foreigners to destabilize the motherland.
Earlier this month Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law aimed at stamping out the protests once and for all.
The law targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, with sentences including life in prison.
But its broad phrasing — such as a ban on encouraging hatred toward China’s government — has sent fear rippling through a city used to being able to speak its mind.
Police have arrested people for possessing pro-independence or autonomy material, libraries and schools have pulled books, political parties have disbanded and one prominent opposition politician has fled.
The law bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and its contents were kept secret until the moment it was enacted.
It empowered China’s security apparatus to set up shop openly in Hong Kong for the first time, while Beijing has also claimed jurisdiction for some serious national security cases — ending the legal firewall between the mainland the city’s independent judiciary.
China has also announced global jurisdiction to pursue national security crimes committed by anyone outside of Hong Kong and China, including foreigners.