By Neil Jerome Morales
DAVAO, Philippines (Reuters) – The Philippines’ president-elect, rough-talking city mayor Rodrigo Duterte, announced plans on Tuesday for an overhaul of the country’s system of government that would devolve power from “imperial Manila” to long-neglected provinces.
Duterte’s win in Monday’s poll has not been confirmed, but an unofficial count of votes by an election commission-accredited watchdog showed he had a huge lead over his two closest rivals, both of whom conceded defeat.
By Tuesday afternoon, the ballot count showed Duterte had almost 39 percent of votes cast. He was more than 6 million votes ahead of the second-placed candidate with 92 percent of votes counted from an electorate of 54 million.
It is not clear when Duterte’s victory will be officially declared but he is expected to take office on June 30.
Votes were also cast on Monday for vice-president. One day on, counting showed the outgoing administration’s candidate, Maria Leonor Robredo, ahead of the son and namesake of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Duterte’s spokesman, Peter Lavina, told a news conference that the new president would seek a national consensus for a revision of the constitution which would switch from a unitary form of government to a parliamentary and federal model.
The proposal to devolve power from Manila fits with Duterte’s challenge as a political outsider to the country’s establishment, which he has slammed as self-serving and corrupt.
“The powerful elites in Manila who will be affected by this system will definitely oppose this proposal,” said Earl Parreno, an analyst at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.
Duterte’s spokesman said he would also seek peace agreements with rebel groups in the south of the archipelago, where the outgoing government has been using force to quell militancy.
The 71-year-old’s truculent defiance of political tradition has drawn comparisons with U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, as have his references to his libido.
That tapped into popular disgust with the ruling class over its failure to reduce poverty and inequality despite several years of robust economic growth.
SOUTH CHINA SEA TALKS
Duterte’s vows to restore law and order also resonated with voters. But his incendiary rhetoric and advocacy of extrajudicial killings to stamp out crime and drugs have alarmed many who hear echoes of the country’s authoritarian past.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Daniel Russel told reporters in Vietnam that Washington respected the choice of the Philippine people and “will gladly work with the leader that they select”.
Duterte made a succession of winding, bellicose and at-times comical remarks late on Monday as the votes were being counted, venting over corruption and bad governance and telling anecdotes from his 22 years as mayor of Davao city.
Wearing a casual checked shirt and slouched in a chair, he said corrupt officials should “retire or die” and reiterated his support for police to use deadly force against criminals.
“I’ll behave if I become president,” he said, adding that he would not make state visits to countries with cold weather.
In an early indication of his unorthodoxy, Duterte told reporters on Monday that if he became president he would seek multilateral talks to resolve disputes over the South China Sea.
The outgoing administration of President Benigno Aquino has asked a court of arbitration in The Hague to recognize its right to exploit waters in the South China Sea, a case it hoped could bolster claims by other countries against China in the resource-rich waters.
Duterte said negotiations should include Japan, Australia and the United States, which is traditionally the region’s dominant security player and contests China’s development of islands and rocky outcrops in the sea.
The influential Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times, said that Beijing would not be naive enough to believe that a new president would bring a solution to the South China Sea disputes.
“Only time will tell how far the new leader, be it Duterte or not, will go toward restoring the bilateral relationship.”
FIGHTING THE ESTABLISHMENT
Duterte’s entertaining and profanity-loaded speeches have shed little light on his policies beyond going after gangsters and drug pushers.
He has been vague on what he would do to spur an economy that has averaged growth at around 6 percent under Aquino.
Duterte said on Monday he had been criticized for not discussing policy but would “hire the best economic minds”.
One of his advisers told Reuters spending on education would be lifted to benefit “disadvantaged regions” and rural development will be prioritized to spread wealth more evenly across the country.
“Everything seems to be in imperial Manila,” said Ernesto Pernia, professor emeritus of economics at the University of the Philippines. “He wants to give more attention to the lagging, the backward regions.”
Pernia said the pursuit of tax evaders and corrupt officials should bolster government revenues to fund extra spending.
(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in MANILA and My Pham in HANOI; Writing by John Chalmers; editing by Robert Birsel)