Duterte set to cement power in Philippine mid-term elections

Asia House Advisory takes a closer look at the Philippines' mid-term elections.

Duterte set to cement power in Philippine mid-term elections


Andre Woolgar, Business and Policy Programme Assistant

People in the Philippines gathered to vote in elections for the House of Representatives, Senate in Congress and local elections on Monday 13 May that come at the midterm of President Duterte’s term in office. With more than 63 million people registered to vote, these elections represent a referendum on the President’s first three years in office – and decide whether Duterte will be able to continue to push his agenda in the next three years.

With 94 per cent of the Senate ballots counted, unofficial results put Duterte allies as likely to take nine of the twelve seats available. Candidates such as Christopher ‘Bong’ Ko, a close Duterte aide and Imee Marcos, daughter of former controversial president, Ferdinand Marcos, look set to take seats.

House of Representatives results are expected in the coming days, though the general prediction is that President Duterte’s bloc will be returned with a dominant position. They held 258 of 297 seats coming into the election, with many representatives defecting to the bloc over the course of the President’s term.

These results will represent a key breakthrough for the President, as his allies would seize control of the upper house for the first time. This is especially pertinent, given Duterte’s ambitious reforms where he needs the support of the House, Senate and Supreme Court. He wishes to realign the Philippines’ foreign policy away from the US towards China for economic reasons, though tensions remain in the South China Sea.

Duterte has also the proposed reorganisation of the political system from a centralised to a federal model. Proponents believe federalisation will kick-start economic growth in the outlying regions across the country, while opponents suggest it may be a way that Duterte will hold onto power beyond his term limit in 2022.

With the Supreme Court already pliant, and Duterte dominating in the House, taking the Senate would mean Duterte could push through with his rewriting of the Constitution to create the federal system. This, as well has harsher criminal punishments, had been previously blocked by the Senate.

The results are unsurprising as Duterte experienced his highest polled satisfaction rate at the end of March, hitting the heights of 74 per cent. A recent Asian Development Bank Report also predicted that the economic growth of the Philippines will accelerate from 6.2 per cent in 2018 to 6.4 per cent in 2019, one of the few Asian nations predicted to increase in pace.

Meanwhile, the Duterte family have managed to consolidate their hold in Davao city’s local elections. Sara Duterte, the incumbent mayor and daughter of the President, was able to maintain her hold over the city. This is significant as she is being tipped to be her father’s successor when his term expires in 2022.