[ELECTION UPDATE] Filipino Front Runner Worries US on China Pivot

[ELECTION UPDATE]  Filipino Front Runner Worries US on China Pivot
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像


Election results

Rodrigo Duterte looks to have won the Philippine presidential election with a clear margin over his rivals.

The controversial candidate, who has pledged to be tough on crime and corruption, had 14.9 million votes, or 39%, according to unofficial results released overnight.

Almost 90% of the votes had been counted.

The Davao City Mayor’s closest rivals were former Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas with 8.9 million votes, 23%, and Senator Mary Grace Natividad Poe-llamanzares with 8.3 million votes, 22%. Vice President Jejomar Binay, was in fourth place with 4.9 million, 13%, and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago had 1.3 million, 4%.

The race for vice president was closer. Liberal Party candidate Maria Leonor Robredo, with more than 13 million votes, was ahead of Independent Ferdinand Marcos Jr by about 50,000 votes.


The potential for Filipino presidential front runner Rodrigo Duterte to pivot the country towards China appears to be worrying some in the US.

Despite the long-running stalemate between Manilla and Beijing over disputed territory in the South China Sea, Duterte has signaled several times that if elected he may soften the country’s stance on the issue.

Rappler reported in February that the Davao City Mayor said he was open to share resources in the disputed waters with China. The website noted that the position was shared by fellow candidate Vice President Jejomar Binay, but opposed by the current Aquino administration.

ABS-CBN similarly reported last month that Duterte, who is now strongly ahead in the polls heading into Monday’s election, said he was willing to make the concessions if China agreed to construct several infrastructure projects in the archipelago.

Getting serious

Duterte, who has made a raft of controversial comments on the campaign trail, has kept his lead over his fellow candidates with a voter preference of 33% as of late April. According to a Pulse Asia Research poll, he was ahead of former Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas and Senator Grace Poe who have 22% and 21% respectively. Next is Vice President Jejomar Binay who has 17%, while Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has 2%.

As his chances of becoming the country’s next president increase, Duterte’s views are drawing fresh criticism from the US.

Reuters quotes a US official as saying Duterte’s stance appears “contradictory” – he had earlier promised to ride a jet ski to a disputed island to stake his country’s claims.

In a column for The Diplomat, United States Army’s JAG Corps Captain John Ford says Duterte has demonstrated he is “tragically naïve about China’s intentions in the western Pacific.”

Holding bilateral talks with China would be “naïve and self-defeating,” says Ford, who notes that China is seeking to deal with the different South China Sea claimants individually.

“Once the Chinese have the Philippines in a bilateral negotiation, Beijing will have gained a huge advantage because Manila lacks the hard or soft power to effectively press its claims alone,” says Ford. “The Philippines needs to work in concert with other claimants, like Vietnam and Malaysia, to counter China’s activities.”

On the Chinese side, it appears that the potential shift in direction from the Philippines would be welcomed by Beijing.

State-owned Xinhua yesterday reported “the door for dialogue with the Philippines on the South China Sea is always open.”

Xinhua quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei as saying the “argument that ‘bilateral dialogue has come to an end’ is indeed another lie made up by the Philippines.”

Meanwhile, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague is expected to later this month release its decision on ownership of the ownership of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The case was brought by the Philippines in 2013.

Speaking to the arbitration, Hong was quoted as saying that China, which has rejected the court’s authority of the case, had exercised its right under Article 298 of the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) in 2006 and made a declaration that excludes compulsory arbitration.

Sydney Morning Herald
The Diplomat
Pulse Asia Research