After the arrest last week of his main critic in the Senate, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte seems to be tightening his grip over the Senate, sidelining rivals opposed to his drug war. Reuters:
Four Philippine legislators who supported a staunch critic of leader Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs lost important positions in the Senate on Monday, drawing political lines in the upper house in a tightening of the president’s grip on power.
In a motion led by Senator Manny Pacquiao, a famous boxing champion and close ally of Duterte, three senators lost their leadership of house committees and one was ousted as pro-tempore, the Senate’s second highest position.
All four had backed Senator Leila de Lima, the chief critic of Duterte’s anti-narcotics crackdown, who since Friday has been remanded in police custody on drug-related charges.
Duterte’s latest moves seem to indicate a political purge is underway, coming after two weekends of protests against his bloody anti-drug campaign and an ongoing effort by opposition senators to probe Duterte’s links with a death squad in his native Davao.
To some observers, the combination of the anti-Duterte protests and his latest machinations suggest that he is getting desperate, but it is far from clear that any of this will actually hurt Duterte’s reputation with the public. Last month, his approval stood at 83%. The two most recent anti-Duterte protests drew approximately 20,000 and 5,000 people, respectively; by contrast, an estimated 200,000 showed up at a rally to support the president. Those numbers may have been artificially inflated—there were some reports of government agencies helping to actively mobilize supporters—but the sheer scale of the discrepancy belies the idea of a mass awakening against Duterte’s drug war.
Duterte won the presidency on a blunt promise to go after criminals and drug dealers by whatever means necessary; for his supporters, he has amply and unapologetically delivered. And at a time when the terrorist threat seems to be growing in the southern Philippines—just days ago, Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded a German captive—the desire for a brutal response may only grow. That may not bode well for the Philippines’ democratic institutions or its rule of law, but for many Duterte supporters his strongman tactics are a feature, not a bug. If a purge is indeed imminent, it is likely to strengthen Duterte’s hand, not awaken a mass resistance movement out of a fractured opposition.