MS: Now that Duterte's managed to win a legislative super-majority, what will he do with it?
RJH: It seems Duterte has utilized his appointment power to build a coalition. This has helped him to get enough support in the Congress to push for major legislations, beginning with restoration of the death penalty and, potentially, even charter-change for the creation of a parliamentary-federal system.
MS: And what about taming the South, Mindinao ?
RJH: One of the Arroyo-era officials, Jesus Dureza, is an experienced peace negotiator. This signals Duterte's focus on tackling the conflict in Mindanao, both with Muslims and communist rebels. As a Mindanaon himself, with profound understanding of the challenges in the area, Duterte is in a perfect position to achieve what his predecessors couldn't: Peace in Mindanao. Dureza will be a reliable and experienced deputy. Duterte has also offered four cabinet positions, Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Labor and Employment, and Department of social welfare and Development, to communists, the leader of which, Jose Maria Sison, was Duterte's former professor at the Lyceum of the Philippines. It is a curious choice, since many of these communists would be sitting next to defense officials, whom they have had a testy historical relations with.
MS: Strange political bedfellows, in his cabinet...
RJH: Duterte seems confident that he can manage this "team of rivals", which has no precedence in Philippine politics. Clearly Duterte is signaling change and continuity, a balanced cabinet that could steer the country towards the next stage of development with the right kind of experience and inclusiveness. He has to continue the good reforms of previous administration while upgrading them by bringing in more rapid infrastructure development, agricultural sector revival, and manufacturing boom. This requires patient and systematic reform and steering, which is why Duterte is relying on seasoned technocrats.
MS: How do you think President Duterte now, has to change, versus candidate Duterte?
RJH: It is important for Duterte to make sure that he tones down his often pugnacious rhetoric, stop making controversial statements that allow his critics to portray him as dictator-in-the-making, and constantly reassure the markets and international partners that he is a stable, reliable leader who can take the Philippines through necessary structural reforms. His cabinet choices seem to have been taken positively by the international investment community. It is important for Duterte to be economized in his utilization of his political capital. Simultaneously pushing for multiple major reforms, including controversial bills like charter-change and death penalty and re-opening relations with China, could exhaust his political capital and empower his opponents. So he should move forward in a steady and reassuring fashion without losing track of the end goals of bringing about meaningful and desirable change.