‘Donald Trump of the Philippines’ poised for election win
Rodrigo Duterte supports public executions, extra-judicial killings – and gay rights
The comparisons with a similarly outspoken election candidate in the US are obvious, but Dutarte rejects the “Donald Trump of the Philippines” label: “Donald Trump is a bigot. I am not,” he says.
Duterte has supported same-sex and transgender rights and contraception in the fiercely Catholic Philippines and has facilitated representation for indigenous minorities at local government level.
Many voters are keen to see Duterte in the Malacanang Palace – the president’s official residence – as he represents an alternative to the political elite in Manila. He is not a member of the almost feudal families that dominate the country of 98 million and he pledges to break the current system of cronyism.
Outgoing president Benigno Aquino, son of ex-president Corazan Aquino and assassinated opposition leader Benigno Aquino, has overseen six years of stability, but he is constitutionally barred from sitting a second term.
Duterte is polling ahead of his closest rival Grace Poe, a senator abandoned as an infant on the steps of a cathedral and adopted by the Philippines’ two biggest movie stars, Fernando Poe Jr and Susan Roces.
Voters opposed to Duterte are split between Poe and interior secretary Mar Roxas, and this could win him the vote next Monday. The candidate with the most votes wins the presidency, regardless of whether or not they have a majority.
These elections could signal a new strong-arm era in Filipino politics – the favourite to win the vice-presidential race is Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, son of the infamous former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted 30 years ago.
Either you shoot criminals, strangle them with washing line or throw them in Manila Bay, it doesn’t matter, says Duterte, also known as The Punisher or Duterte Harry after the Clint Eastwood character Dirty Harry.
Revered for bringing law and order to once-lawless Davao during his seven terms totalling 22 years as mayor there, he is also close to leftist insurgents such as the New People’s Army operating in the region.
Human Rights Watch said the operation of death squads in Davao has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of street children, petty criminals, and petty drug dealers since 1998.
Duterte attacked Pope Francis for causing traffic disruption during his visit to Manila in January last year, which delayed Duterte for hours. “Pope, you son of a bitch, why don’t you go home,” he said in a speech at the time. This seems a rash thing to say in a country where over 80 per cent of the population identify as Roman Catholic, but his ratings keep rising.
He subsequently apologised, and a monsignor of the Davao archdiocese, Paul Cuison, defended him, saying his remarks were taken out of context.
It was Duterte’s “joke” about the rape-murder of a 36-year-old Australian missionary in a prison riot in 1989 that caused the biggest outcry. “I said ‘f**k, what a waste’. What went through my head was that they raped her. That everyone had lined up to rape her. I got angry. That she was raped? Yes, that too. But it was that she was so beautiful – the mayor should have been first,” he told supporters at an election rally.
Afterwards he seemed to show remorse, but when Australia’s ambassador Amanda Gorely and her US colleague Philip Goldberg condemned his remarks, he lambasted them. “It would do well with the American ambassador and the Australian ambassador to shut their mouths,” he said, threatening to cut off diplomatic ties if elected.
The focus of his campaign has been domestic, and foreign policy is not seen as one of his strengths. President Aquino has brought China before an international arbitration panel to try to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Duterte favours rapprochement with China, although at the same time he has said he will staunchly defend Philippine claims in the contested waters, pledging to ride a jet-ski to one of the islands.
Speaking to Vice Ganda, one of the first openly gay public figures in the Philippines, on his popular talk show Gandang Gabi, Vice!, Duterte said he supported same-sex marriage – “Everyone deserves to be happy”.
He also pointed out that he had condemned the Commission on Elections for delisting the gay rights group Ang Ladlad. “In Davao, no gay person is disrespected. Because I don’t like oppression,” he told the talk show host.
He went on to speak of his two wives — he has three children by his ex-wife Elizabeth Zimmerman and a daughter by his current wife Honeylet – as well as his three girlfriends, before gamely joining in a dance routine and singing the sentimental ballad, “Ikaw” by Sharon Cuneta.
Legends about Duterte abound. In Davao he introduced a smoking ban and forced a tourist who broke the rule to eat his cigarette butt, although he denied pointing a snub-nosed .38 revolver at the offending smoker’s crotch.
As a teenager, he flew an aeroplane over his old high school and dropped a rock on the roof after a public dressing down by the dean of discipline. Duterte’s daughter Sara – herself a former mayor of Davao City – responded to her father’s comments about the rape murder by saying that she too had been sexually assaulted, to which he responded that she was a “drama queen” who could not have been raped because “she carries a gun”.
Sara Duterte concedes that her father “does not have the finesse of Lady Diana. In essence, he is a lawyer with manners of a street thug”, she said.