Duterte butts heads with the military

Duterte © Getty images
Duterte: testing the limits of his power

Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has “had the limits of his executive power exposed” after a “botched attempt” to imprison his chief opposition critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, says Jason Castaneda in Asia Times. Duterte ordered his arrest, without a warrant, after voiding a presidential amnesty granted to him in 2010 for leading two attempted military coups against the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The move prompted a “public backlash” and mounting speculation of opposition plans to oust him. On Tuesday, during a TV interview, Duterte challenged the military – which has denied any plot – to get rid of him.

Trillanes, a former navy officer, has “long been a thorn” in Duterte’s side, says The Economist. He has accused the president of “hiding unexplained wealth” and repeatedly condemned his war on drugs that has left thousands dead. This episode is merely the latest evidence of Duterte’s desire to tighten his grip and silence his opponents, says Felipe Villamor in The New York Times. Another senator, Leila de Lima, has been in jail since last year, having been arrested on what she says are “trumped up charges” after also criticising his drugs war.

Meanwhile, vice-president Leni Robredo – who belongs to a different party to Duterte – says the president’s actions are a “tactic” to “divert public attention” from the country’s economic woes, says Joseph Hincks in Time. And no wonder, says Richard Heydarian in Forbes. Inflation is 6.4% and the currency at its weakest in 13 years. The urban poor, who are suffering most, comprise more than half the electorate and may decide the administration’s fate in the 2019 mid-term elections. Given the risks, Duterte is seeking advice from Arroyo, who recently became Speaker of Congress. The former president, an economist, is hugely unpopular, but brings “much-needed experience and technocratic acumen” to the game.