Rodrigo Duterte has been sworn in as the 16th president of the Philippines in front of an audience of 600 guests and millions more watching on television and online, crowing a rise from little-known mayor to leader of a huge nation.
His youngest child by his side holding the family bible, Duterte was sworn in at noon on Thursday (0400 GMT) in Manila, declaring before a Supreme Court justice that he would “preserve and protect” the constitution, which analysts say will likely see major changes during his six years in office.
“True change is the mandate of my government,” Duterte said in his inaugural speech.
“I was elected as president to serve the entire country. I serve everyone. But not only one.”
The 71-year-old broke with tradition by taking his oath at the Malacanang presidential palace, instead of hosting an inaugural rally, which he said would only cause traffic jams in the already congested streets of the capital.
In a nod to his millions of followers on social media, Duterte’s inauguration was broadcast online using Facebook Live, allowing Filipino workers abroad, who overwhelmingly voted for him, to witness the event.
Duterte brings to the presidency more than two decades of experience as a mayor seen as having cleaned up Davao, a major city in Mindanao once described as the Philippines’ “murder capital”.
In three decades in politics, he has never lost an election. He is also the first city mayor to be elected president without previously holding a national position.
“I think this is a fresh change,” Jenny Lind Elmaco, a Manila-based political observer and women’s rights advocate, said, describing the Duterte presidency.
“Duterte is an authentic leader. He does not hide behind pleasantries, sugar coat his opinions or mince his words,” Elmaco told Al Jazeera.
Still, given Duterte’s controversial pronouncements that he would like to see all drug criminals dead, there are apprehensions about how he will wield his power to solve crime.
“I believe we all need to be optimistic about his leadership. But we also have to be vigilant. Governance is too important to be left only to government,” Elmaco, executive director of the women’s group SPARK, said.
During the campaign, Duterte also vowed to amend the constitution and support federalism, which he said would help solve the Muslim rebellion in the country’s south.
With the promise of breaking the domination of “Imperial Manila”, Duterte now faces the challenge of expanding the economic growth during the previous administration, while fulfilling his promise to fight corruption and solve criminality.
During the term of his predecessor Benigno Aquino, the economy posted record growths. But at least a third of the population live below the poverty line.
South China Sea: Filipino activists raise national flag on disputed island
Jose Torres, director of the National Press Club of the Philippines, told Al Jazeera, that the benefits of the economic growth “was not really felt” by the country’s poorest.
He said Duterte was “able to take advantage of the despair of the poor and the middle class” towards the “ruling political order”.
The problem for Duterte, however, is that he has over-promised, Torres said.
“My only hope is he would be able to at least fulfill 25 percent of what he promised.”
Torres also said the new president has to learn to deal with the media, saying that reporters will never tire from asking questions, even if it annoys Duterte.
Meanwhile, Duterte faces his first test in foreign policy, when the international court decides on July 12 on the dispute between the Philippines and China over jurisdiction in the South China Sea.[Source: RT]