If Americans were to look ahead and see how the U.S. presidential election would play out, we would need to simply see who is elected into office in the Philippines on May 9.
Drawing parallelisms between the two nations’ politics, frontrunners from either country are drawing on populist agendas that they hope will bring them into the presidency. Citizens from either country benefit from a strong democracy – the Philippines, a former U.S. colony at the end of the 19th century until World War II, has its political system patterned after America’s.
Much like leading Republican candidate Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte, a mayor of one of the largest cities in the Philippines, is riding on a platform that includes eliminating corruption and conducting extrajudicial justice to reduce crime – two issues that resonate with the Filipino people who have become fed up with establishment politics. His brash attitude and draconian rule in Davao City earned him the praise of local residents, who nicknamed him Duterte Harry, after the same tough-talking movie character Dirty Harry.
Like Trump, Duterte was an unlikely candidate who seemed unremarkable against a spate of candidates that included the incumbent vice president and the scion of a political dynasty. But within a matter of months, many Filipinos started to believe that some of the difficult tasks he had undertaken in his city, such as reducing drug use by taking out dealers, might work across the country. As Trump carries no political baggage, Duterte has no political legacy other than his mayoral record, giving him a clean slate on national affairs.
Still, like Trump, electing Duterte is wrought with concerns. Women’s rights are at the forefront of those fears, after the mayor made inappropriate comments, of which he later apologized, about the murder of an Australian missionary. His stance on the rule of law conjures the specter of former President Ferdinand Marcos, whose own iron-fisted policies led to martial law and longtime dictatorship. Duterte’s lack of experience in handling economic and financial matters could be a hindrance to the country’s progress in improving the lives of Filipinos. Trump’s lack of political experience — with the exception of his own businesses — makes it difficult to presume whether he can be an effective president, especially to those who lie outside the one percent Trump’s businesses generally serve.
The Philippines, like the United States, is riding on a wave of growth that puts its economy at the top in Southeast Asia. A streak of policies under President Benigno Aquino III helped boost the livelihoods of millions, drawing the praise of of its allies, including the United States.
So, could the aptitude of a city mayor make the cut on the national scale and lead the Philippines at the forefront of the international community? Or could he set the Southeast Asian nation on a path of decline and dictatorial rule and back to its moniker “The Sick Man of Asia”? The decision rests in the hands of the Filipinos and what they want.
That holds true for America. Do Americans want an anti-establishment candidate, whose own business record of company bankruptcies, to lead the world’s biggest economy. Do we want a candidate whose campaign has been marked by belittling rivals and drawing support from right-wing groups?
The Philippines, a bright spot for democracy in Asia, can lead the way for us.