Asia in 2016: Philippines

The Philippines has endured a turbulent year under Rodrigo Duterte, who assumed the country’s presidency from June 30. His agenda, which has included extra-judicial killings as part of a war on drugs and sidelining the United States as an ally, has put the Philippines back in the headlines.

The controversial campaign against drugs, in which nearly 6,000 people were killed without arrest, trial or conviction during the second half of 2016, drew international concern. Duterte reacted by condemning anyone who opposed his tactics, including the U.S. and the United Nations. In September, before heading to the ASEAN Summit, he appeared to call Barack Obama a “son of a bitch” and warned Washington he would terminate the countries’ alliance after the then-U.S. President had expressed his concerns about extrajudicial killings. Philippine National Police chief Ronald Marapon “Bato” de Rosa said crime data vindicated the campaign, with 11,800 crimes reported in July 2016, compared with 17,105 reports lodged in July 2015.

Relations between the U.S and the Philippines stumbled throughout the year as Duterte amplified his rhetoric, saying he would turn to other allies such as China and Russia. In October, the Philippine leader met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two countries signed US$13.5 billion in deals, according to Ramón López, the Philippines’ Secretary of Trade.

China and the Philippines appeared to put aside their hostilities related to sovereignty of the South China Sea. Filipino fishermen were allowed to continue operating in the disputed Scarborough Shoal area for the first time since Chinese ships seized the islets in 2002. For its part, Manila said it would not confront China about military bases in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Talks were concluded in early December over cooperation in environmental protection, humanitarian assistance and fishing.

The Philippines was hit by several severe typhoons in 2016, including only the second tornado to be recorded in metropolitan Manila, and heavy flooding caused by a strong southwest monsoon from August. Several regions of Luzon were declared to be in a state of calamity due to the weather phenomenon known as El Nino.

Although the Philippine stock market was the second-worst performing globally last year, after only Ghana's, the overall economy expanded strongly, racking up third-quarter growth of 7.1 percent year-on-year, its fastest pace since 2013. Both investment and consumer spending has surged since Duterte’s presidency began, helped by US$160 billion in infrastructure spending pledges. The announced projects include at least US$1 billion to build an airport and a railway line to transform the former Clark Air Base north of Manila into a commercial hub. Redevelopment of Clark, abandoned by the U.S. military in 1991, has been beset by delays.

Nicole Pabello is a master's degree candidate at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre.