Duterte sworn in as Philippines president with bold future vision

The ‘Trump of Asia’ has promised to be tough on crime in his inauguration speech

Wearing a simple white barong shirt and promising a new era in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte was sworn in as the southeast Asian nation's 16th president after sealing the position with a landslide win on a hardline anti-crime ticket.

Known as “the Punisher” for his pledge to kill suspected drug dealers, Duterte spoke in his inauguration speech of taking “wobbly steps” towards the future and being tough on crime, a message that has endeared him to tens of millions of poor people in the Philippines.

"Love of country, subordination of personal interests to the common good, concern and care for the helpless and the impoverished – these are among the lost and faded values that we seek to recover and revitalise as we commence our journey towards a better Philippines," he said in a modest ceremony at the Malacanang Palace in Manila – the president's official residence.

Known as the Donald Trump of Asia for his populism and his theatrics, a comparison he abhors, the 71-year-old angered many at home and abroad for joking about wanting to be first in line during the rape-murder of an Australian missionary, and scandalised this 80 per cent-Catholic country by calling Pope Francis "a son of a bitch" as well as accusing senior church officials of corruption and committing himself to encouraging birth control.

But he has won hearts and minds with his anti-crime and anti-corruption message. He says he wants to drive around in a pick-up truck rather than the presidential Mercedes.

Moderating influence

Vice-president Leni Rebredo, a human rights lawyer from a rival party and the widow of interior secretary Jesse Robredo, who died in a plane crash in 2012, was also inaugurated today and she is seen as being a possible moderating influence on Duterte.

“She was shaky and emotional in her speech, but she is a good person. I didn’t vote for Duterte but I think she will be very good for the Philippines,” said one young man watching the speech on TV in downtown Makati.

Folk singer Freddie Aguilar, who is best known for Bayan Ko, the anthem of the People Power movement opposed to dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, sang Para sa Tunay na Pagbabago, a song about fighting corruption, crime, rape and narcotics.

Senator Richard Gordon, a former presidential candidate who attended the inauguration, said he thought the speech was "reassuring" and "presidential".

“He is presidential today. He didn’t go overboard. I think this is one of the best, very simple. If I were to do it, I would have done it that way,” Gordon told the Inquirer newspaper.

“He was speaking to the whole world, an entire audience of the world, and people are looking at him. And the words the world wanted to hear – rule of law, dispatch in business, lack of corruption, justice for all men – was spoken in well crafted language for the high and low,” he said.

Duterte is not a member of the small group of elite families that dominate the Philippines, and there are questions about whether he will b e short of natural allies in congress and the senate.

“Erosion of faith and trust in government – that is the real problem that confronts us. Resulting therefrom, I see the erosion of the people’s trust in our country’s leaders; the erosion of faith in our judicial system; the erosion of confidence in the capacity of our public servants to make the people’s lives better, safer and healthier,” he said.

For the first time since democracy was restored in 1986 after dictator Ferdinand Marcos was deposed, journalists were banned from covering the presidential inauguration and the press corps had to watch a live feed.

During the campaign, he went after the media, asking a reporter about his wife’s vagina, wolf-whistling another and saying journalists were “not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch”. He has sworn not to speak to the media during his entire period in office.

Duterte flew to Manila from his southern base of Davao for the inauguration ceremony where outgoing president Benigno Aquino III formally handed over the seal of office in a ceremony which did not feature the usual banquet.