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Turning back? Philippine security policy under Duterte

International relations Defence Diplomacy Philippines Asia-Pacific


In this Lowy Institute Analysis, Nonresident Fellow Dr Malcolm Cook argues that the incoming Duterte administration in the Philippines promises to be very different from the Aquino administration. In particular, security policy under Duterte will be more inward-looking and focused on the country’s two main insurgencies. Military modernisation and challenging China’s claims in the West Philippine Sea will likely be less important.

Key findings

  • Duterte will be the first president from Muslim Mindanao and his views on security policy reflect this background. As a result, there will be less focus on Chinese acts in the South China Sea.
  • Duterte will be the best positioned president to address the nationwide communist insurgency and the Moro Islamic insurgency in Mindanao. His favoured approaches to both insurgencies risk significant political backlash.
  • Australia, the United States and Japan, as the Philippines’ most important security partners, are best placed to support Duterte’s new security policy agenda.
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