Duterte allies dominate Philippine Senate race, shut out opposition

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte backed eight winning aspirants in the 24-member Senate. Above, the 12 newly elected senators during their proclamation on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2019

Duterte allies dominate Philippine Senate race, shut out opposition

  • Philippine elections officials proclaimed the winners after finishing the official count of the May 13 elections overnight
  • President Rodrigo Duterte backed eight winning aspirants to half of the seats in the 24-member Senate

MANILA, Philippines: The Philippine president’s allies won a majority of the 12 Senate seats at stake in the midterm elections, official results showed Wednesday, while the opposition’s shutout heralds a stronger grip on power by a leader accused of massive human rights violations.
Elections officials proclaimed the winners after finishing the official count of the May 13 elections overnight. The tally had been delayed by glitches in automated counting machines.
President Rodrigo Duterte backed eight winning aspirants to half of the seats in the 24-member Senate, including his former national police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, who enforced the president’s crackdown on illegal drugs in a campaign that left thousands of suspects dead and drew international condemnation.
Last week’s vote has been seen as a gauge of public support for Duterte, who is midway through the single six-year term Philippine presidents are allowed under the constitution. His anti-drug crackdown, unorthodox leadership style, combative and sexist joke-laden outbursts, and contentious embrace of China have been the hallmarks of his presidency.
“Do I look like a rubberstamp?” Senator-elect Bong Go, a longtime Duterte aide, replied when reporters asked him about concerns that the new Senate would be beholden to Duterte.
But he stressed he would back the president’s war against criminality, corruption and illegal drugs and would support a bill to reimpose the death penalty for heinous crimes and drug trafficking. Go said Duterte has not given any illegal orders to him or anyone he supervised.
Duterte’s three children also won races for mayor, vice mayor and a congressional seat representing their southern home region of Davao city. Voters also decided congressional, gubernatorial, mayoral and city and township races. Nearly 75 percent of more than 63 million registered Filipinos cast their votes in a strong turnout.
Analysts say many Filipinos seem more open to authoritarianism due to failures of past liberal leaders. Such a mindset has helped the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos make a political comeback, the latest example being his daughter, Imee Marcos, one of the winning Senate candidates who was endorsed by Duterte.
The president has aimed for stronger leverage in the traditionally more independent Senate to bolster his legislative agenda. That includes the return of the death penalty, lowering the age for criminal liability below the current 15, and revising the 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.
During the campaign, Go said he felt Filipinos were not ready yet to support a shift to a federal form of government partly because of a lack of adequate information campaign about its benefits. “It’s a longshot and it’ll be difficult for us to work for the approval of federalism at this time,” Go said.
“My no. 1 agenda is the reimposition of the death penalty for drug trafficking,” dela Rosa said in a separate news conference, adding the drug menace remains troubling despite Duterte’s crackdown.
The handful of opposition senators whose seats were not up for election and the independents who won office last week could potentially offset the strong majority Duterte’s allies hold in the new upper chamber. At least seven senators are needed to block amendments to the constitution, which was passed with safeguards against dictatorship in 1987, a year after Marcos was ousted by an army-backed “people power” revolt.
Opposition aspirants, who were set back by a lack of funding and other campaign issues, considered the Senate the last bastion of checks and balances in the Philippine national government given the solid dominance of Duterte’s loyalists in the lower House of Representatives.


Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

Updated 12 min 20 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.