He’s been called The Punisher, the Maverick Mayor, Firebrand, a Donald Trump, and the outgoing President compared him to Adolf Hitler, but Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte, the crime-fighting Mayor of Davao, last Tuesday humbly accepted his election as President of the Philippines.

The same man who boasted of ordering the execution of over a thousand criminals, who outraged Australia when stating he was angry he didn’t get a chance to rape an Australian missionary raped and killed in 1989, wept at his parents tomb as he asked for theirs, and God’s, guidance in running the archipelago for six years.

Duterte has promised to tone down the rhetoric and be a responsible leader now that he has gained power, however, the Filipinos are looking forward to him cleaning up the rest of the Philippines in the same way he managed Davao, the country’s fourth-largest city. Like many other Filipinos, Clara Mimenez, 26, is frustrated at the corruption that pervades her beautiful island nation. “We want Duterte to do for the rest of the country what he has done for Davao. He talks rough and tough, but that’s fine with me as long as he gets the job done. We’ve had enough of crime, drugs and corruption. And we’ve had enough of the same old political elite doing nothing for us. It’s time to shake this country up – to shake it up big time.” However, as Obanil (2010) states, “the Filipinos would not be seeing (sic) the decline of political clans or dynasties in the Philippines anytime soon.”

The Philippines political and economic landscape is still ruled by the ruling family clans. For example, a quick review of the candidates for the Presidency confirms that these political clans remain dominant. Ex-President Acquino is a member of a powerful Filipino family. Ferdinand Marcos Junior (son of the infamous dictator of the 60’s and 70’s) is still in the running for Vice-President, claiming that all the findings against his father were lies, and Manuel Roxas is a member of one of the oldest families. In fact, from 1992 to the 2013 elections, 68 of the elite political families have won 879 or 20 percent of the combined 4,121 seats in their localities.

The outgoing President of the Philippines, President Benigno Noynoy Acquino III, was elected on a ticket of eliminating corruption, reducing the power of rent-seeking oligarchies and improving social and labour conditions. The problem is, while President Noynoy had the desire to fight corruption in the Philippines, the judiciary itself frustrated his efforts, with the Supreme Court having ‘suspended or stopped all together’ his attempts at bringing justice to the Philippines’ people (Docena 2010:90). The lack of political and judicial transparency that still exists in the Philippines hinders attempts at social change and economic growth.

Australia has close ties with the Philippines and this year, celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the Australia-Philippine relations, so the election of Duterte could be significant. He may be a crime-fighter, but Duterte has no foreign policy experience and has already put the Chinese on notice, threatening a showdown over the hotly disputed South Sea islands. Australia may find itself playing a diplomatic role in Asian relations between the Philippines and other Asian nations, perhaps out of necessity strengthening its Middle Power role.

Article by Eric Masters, PhD Candidate, School of Government and International Relations. Eric is working on research under the direction of Dr. Tom Conley in the Griffith School of Government and International Relations.