Politics in 2016: The Year of Rodrigo Duterte

TJ Billones and Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 26 2016 08:23 AM | Updated as of Dec 31 2016 03:47 PM

The year 2016 is definitely one for the books in the world of Philippine politics and the biggest news maker is President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte, with his colorful language and controversial war on drugs, is the center of almost every news this year.

Here are the ten biggest political news of 2016:

1. Rodrigo Duterte becomes Philippine president, launches war on drugs

From being a relative outsider in Philippine national politics, long-time Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte rocked the boat when he won the May 2016 presidential race after much dilly-dallying about running.

Duterte, 71, ran on a campaign to curb criminality and corruption in three to six months and a promise to replicate the peace and order he had instilled in his city. After winning with a big lead over his rivals, Duterte called for healing after the elections which were described by many as "polarizing."

Duterte’s victory changed the Philippine political landscape as he tapped the anger of the public towards the previous government’s failures. He has also made bold promises that easily struck the hearts and minds of ordinary voters.

Since assuming power, Duterte has made shockwaves mainly due to his controversial war on drugs, which has claimed over 3,000 lives.

He has also reignited hopes for a lasting peace throughout the country when his government revived talks with country’s communist movement and promised to follow through on efforts to end the Moro secessionist rebellions.

Photo: Malacanang Photo

2. PH beats China in international arbitration

The year 2016 is a pivotal one for the long-standing dispute over the South China Sea.

Following a tense standoff at Scarborough Shoal, the government of Benigno Aquino III brought Beijing before a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in 2013 in an attempt legitimize its maritime rights in the disputed waters.

In a stunning rebuke of Beijing, the Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated in July 2016 most of China's claims to the resource-rich sea.

Beijing, which snubbed the arbitration proceedings, has said it will not follow the tribunal's ruling, even as it faces the risk of being labeled an international outlaw.

While the arbitration ruling is a victory for the Philippines, it was widely considered a moral one as the tribunal has no means of enforcing its ruling. The decision, nonetheless, is considered a blow to Beijing, which has been seeking to project itself as a benign superpower.

The historic ruling threatened to raise tension in the region, but newly installed President Rodrigo Duterte tempered heightened emotions over the ruling.

Duterte has sought to downplay the ruling, choosing instead to pivot Philippine foreign policy towards Beijing and away from the US.

Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

3. Duterte goes after narco-generals, narco-politicos

Just a little over a month into his presidency, Rodrigo Duterte revealed a long list of politicians, judges, and uniformed personnel whom he accused of involvement in the narcotics trade.

He said, the names had been validated by the police and the military.

Come June, Duterte named five high-ranking police officers, including two who were already retired, allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade.

The police officials have all denied the allegations.

Photo by King Rodriguez, Malacanang Photo

4. Leila de Lima stands up to Duterte

One of the popular Cabinet officials during the Aquino administration, Senator Leila de Lima found herself in an unfamiliar situation when long-time Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte rose to the presidency.

The tiff between De Lima and Duterte goes a long way back. The senator, as human rights commissioner, investigated then-Mayor Duterte for allegedly running a death squad that targeted criminals in his city.

Now the country's most powerful person, Duterte went after De Lima. He accused De Lima of coddling drug lords with the aid of her driver, Ronnie Dayan.

After Duterte's pronouncements, rumors of De Lima building a house for Dayan in his hometown and alleged sex videos fueled rumors that two had indeed maintained a romantic relationship.

De Lima had previously admitted to being "very close" to Dayan, but she eventually confirmed the relationship in a television interview.

Dayan allegedly served as De Lima's bagman in her transactions with drug traders to beef up her campaign kitty. In a series of congressional hearings, high-profile inmates at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) tagged him as the bagman of the then-Justice Secretary.

An arrest warrant was then issued against Dayan after he failed to appear in a House inquiry. Months after, he surrendered to authorities in La Union.

Dayan faced the House of Representatives, where he claimed that De Lima had urged him to go into hiding to avoid the congressional probe.

This spurred the House to issue a show-cause order to De Lima for her failure to face the inquiry and for her advise to Dayan not to attend the hearing.

House leaders have since filed an ethics complaint against De Lima before the Senate, and criminal charges before the Department of Justice.

Photo by Junny Roy, ABS-CBN News

5. The fall of the Espinosas

Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa is one of the first major casualties of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

Months after Duterte linked the local executive to the drug trade, Mayor Espinosa's bodyguards were arrested in a buy-bust operation.

Following the arrest, Duterte issued a 24-hour deadline for Espinosa and his son, Kerwin, allegedly Eastern Visayas' top drug dealer, to surrender within 24 hours, or face being shot on sight.

The elder Espinosa met the deadline, but Kerwin remained at large. The mayor denied the charges and appealed to his son to surrender.

Kerwin was later arrested in the United Arab Emirates, but before he was repatriated to the Philippines, his father was shot dead inside a jail facility in Leyte while being served a search warrant.

In a Senate committee probe into his father's slay, Kerwin testified that he had given drug payoffs as protection money to several police officials and then-Justice Secretary Leila de Lima through her driver, Ronnie Dayan.

Kerwin also denied that he kept "pink and blue books" allegedly containing the names of officials who protected his illicit dealings. He also insisted that his father was not involved in the drug trade and could not have supplied information about narcotics.

A Senate probe has found that the mayor's slay was premeditated. Charges were also filed against the policemen allegedly behind the mayor's killing.

Photo: ABS-CBN News

6. Marcos burial divides the nation

The burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, which triggered pockets of protests across the country, was one of the political gambles of the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte, an ally of the Marcoses, was unfazed by criticisms that he was aiding in revising the country’s history by allowing the burial of the late dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

The Supreme Court, acting on petitions to stop the burial, ruled that Duterte did not commit grave abuse of discretion when he allowed the burial.

Anti-Marcos burial groups, who had been mulling filing an appeal of the high court’s decision, was surprised that the Marcos family carried out the burial surreptitiously.

The president stood by his decision and campaign promise, saying it was in accordance with the law. He also called for "forgiveness" for the Marcos family amid the outrage triggered by the burial.

Photo: Marcos Presidential Center

7. Duterte versus the West

The 6-month-old presidency of Rodrigo Duterte would not be as colorful and controversial without his expletives toward many popular figures, such as outgoing United States President Barack Obama and outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The firebrand leader made headlines after headlines with his frequent tirades against world leaders and other figures.

Duterte grabbed headlines when he cursed Obama for criticizing his war on drugs. He also told the American leader to "go to hell."

The UN secretary-general also got a similar treatment from the Filipino leader. The UN’s move to call out Duterte over his bloody war on drugs, particularly the plan of its envoy to probe extrajudicial killings, drew the ire of the president.

The Obama administration and European Union’s criticism of his war on drugs soured ties between the Philippines and the West. This has also prompted Duterte to seek closer ties with other powerhouses China and Russia.

Photo by Jorge Silva, Reuters

8. Duterte-Sereno clash risks constitutional crisis

Political pundits cautioned of a looming constitutional crisis after President Rodrigo Duterte and Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno got into a heated exchange over the government's war on drugs.

Sereno voiced concerns after Duterte accused several judges of having links to the illegal drug trade.

The chief magistrate said Duterte's ''premature” announcement would have the "unwarranted effect of rendering the judge veritably useless in discharging his adjudicative role."

Duterte responded by saying that he may just declare martial law if the Supreme Court continued to interfere in his campaign.

Fortunately, the two sides opted not to let the tension escalate further.

The SC later cleared the judges named by Duterte.

Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

9. Bongbong-Leni Protest

While it became clear that PDP-Laban bet Rodrigo Duterte was the winner in the presidential race when the votes came in, the vice-presidential contest between Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and Leni Robredo was a nail-biter.

Initial vote counting showed Marcos leading Robredo, until the latter overtook him in the wee hours of May 10.

Robredo, the Liberal Party bet who had been reluctant to run for the country's second highest post, eventually emerged as the winner following a tight race. She beat Marcos by a hairline.

Groups critical of the Marcoses heaved a sigh of relief following Robredo's victory, even drawing parallelisms between her and fellow widow, the late President Corazon Aquino, who rose to power following the ouster of Marcos’ father.

However, Marcos is not going down without a fight. A day before Robredo's inauguration, he filed an electoral protest, claiming he lost because of poll fraud.

Robredo's supporters are now up in arms amid what the vice-president said are alleged attempts to steal the vice-presidency from her.

Photo by Voltaire Domingo, NPPA

10. Self-confessed DDS hitman crashes into Duterte juggernaut

Edgar Matobato, an elementary graduate from President Rodrigo Duterte’s home city of Davao, shocked the nation when he boldly claimed in a Senate committee hearing that the long-time mayor was behind the so-called Davao Death Squad.

Matobato claimed that Duterte and his son, Paolo, ordered the killings in Davao City not only of known criminals but their political and personal enemies as well.

Matobato also claimed that Duterte had killed someone himself.

The president has denied knowing Matobato and the existence of the death squad. He also pointed to supposed inconsistencies in Matobato's testimonies in debunking the latter's claims.

Duterte, known for making contradictory statements, however, recently said that he had personally killed people when he was mayor of Davao City.

Photo by Joseph Vidal, Senate PRIB/ NPPA Images