A twitter storm with the Australian Ambassador might signal just the start of a rocky new relationship.
The results are in from the hotly contested five-way presidential election in the Philippines, and the winner bears more than a little resemblance to Presumptive US Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
In his campaign, 71-year-old President Elect Rodrigo Duterte proudly admitted to carrying out extra-judicial killings, promised to kill thousands of criminals and called the pope a ‘son of a bitch’.
Australian Ambassador, Amanda Gorely, was even told to ‘shut her mouth’ following a recent Twitter-storm.
Earlier in April, Mayor Duterte dared Australia and the US to sever diplomatic ties after joking about the 1989 gang rape and murder of Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill.
“I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful, I thought, the Mayor should have been first,” he told a crowd.
The comments provoked a rare comment on domestic politics from Australia’s ambassador, Amanda Gorely, later supported by US Ambassador Philip Goldberg.
After initially telling the Ambassadors to stay out of it, Duterte back-tracked – sort of – stating that ‘sometimes my mouth can get the better of me.' Perhaps demonstrating exactly that, he also claimed to have taken an Uzi submachine gun and emptied the magazine into the perpetrators (a claim hotly disputed).
These sort of comments ensured Duterte remained the most talked about candidate on Twitter throughout the campaign, but they don’t necessarily explain his appeal.
“He is a hero to people who have always found themselves outsiders in political and economic decision-making. Duterte is their proxy in a long-running, silent but seething war against the country’s elite and their backers,” Philippines based journalist Inday Espina-Varona explained in a blog post on The Interpreter.
If you see parallels there with the Trump campaign, you’re not alone.
So too does Malcolm Davis, Senior Security Analyst at the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy.
“The people, desperate for strong leadership after decades of mismanagement, are supporting Duterte – in the same way that ‘angry white men’ in the US are supporting Trump," Davis told SBS.
But tonight’s results could be far more serious for the Philippines than the American billionaire’s candidacy – Davis says the win risks a return to dictatorship for the Philippines, a democracy since the late 80s.
“Duterte is using similar language to Trump – ‘I’ll make the problems go away quickly – just trust me’ – but like Trump – he fails to say how. So like Trump, if elected, he will actually have to act on his boasts and promises quickly, or see his credibility erode quickly.”
“Duterte could either impose an authoritarian system, complete with risk of human rights abuses – that probably will be no less corrupt – or he could face the risk of a coup de’tat from the military,” Davis said.
Either scenario would also put Australia in a very tough position. Australia is counting on its relationships with the Philippines, the United States, and other regional partners to counter China’s increasingly assertive claims to the islands in the South China Sea close to the Philippines.
“An authoritarian Duterte-led Philippines would be a blow to Australian-Filipino security relations, at a critical time given events in the South China Sea,” Davis said.
Duterte’s election will likely also put a wedge between the US Philippines alliance, one which Davis says China would be likely to exploit.
“Australia would have to reconsider its foreign and defence relations with the Philippines if a Duterte-led government did undertake widespread human rights violations,”
“Australia may therefore be more hesitant to support such a regime, even in the face of Chinese provocation – and Chinese planners will potentially exploit this factor, or at least calibrate their actions accordingly,” Davis said.
For it's part, a spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told SBS, “As a close neighbour, regional partner and country with shared values, Australia will continue to work with the Philippines Government in areas of shared interest.”
Whether or not predictions of instability prove true, it looks like President Elect Duterte’s campaign slogan was definitely on point.
“Change,” he said, “is coming.”