World

Rodrigo Duterte, the Filipino Donald Trump, favoured to win presidential race

The Philippines may be heading into a new era of strong-man rule if the general election Monday produces a win for presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, who has been dubbed the Filipino Donald Trump and earned an international reputation for his foul language and outrageous comments.

Former mayor of Davao has garnered broad support with tough talk and anti-crime agenda

Rodrigo Duterte's straight-talking - if foul-mouthed - manner and tough-on-crime policies have earned him comparisons with Donald Trump. The former mayor of Davao is leading in the polls and could win Monday's general election in the Philippines. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

The Philippines may be heading into a new era of strong-man rule if its general election Monday produces a win for presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, who has been dubbed the Filipino Donald Trump and earned an international reputation for his foul language and outrageous comments.

The 71-year-old is known for his unfiltered speeches, which have included insults against women and the Pope, whom Duterte called a "son of a whore" for holding up traffic in Manila on a recent visit.

He is a former state prosecutor, and his tough-on-crime position is so tough that he has been accused of running death squads in the southern city of Davao, where he has been mayor for over 20 years.

The squads are thought to be a kind of vigilante group that takes justice into its own hands and has killed more than 1,000 people, according to Human Rights Watch.

Instead of the death squads being a problem for Duterte, however, "they are a political platform," wrote Phelim Kine, the deputy director of HRW's Asia division, in an article last summer.

Duterte's supporters see him as the people's candidate. Popular news website Rappler has said he represents a politics of the extreme and 'voices the helplessness and rage of Filipinos.' (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

Duterte is from the conflict-ridden southern region of Mindanao, where two Canadians were taken hostage by the radical Muslim group Abu Sayyaf last September.

One of them, John Ridsdel, was executed last week. Duterte reacted by saying that beheadings must stop.

"It's too early to comment. I'm not yet the president of the Philippines. But this has to stop," he told Inquirer.net, the website of the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper and several other publications.

'Kill them all'

Duterte insists his city is an oasis of law and order in a troubled region.

But his critics say, at what cost?

"Am I the death squad? True. That is true," said Duterte last year while discussing his time as mayor.

"Duterte built a reputation on making Davao City one of the safest cities in the Philippines," said Marc Singer, a director at Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a risk consultancy based in Manila. 

Other than his law and order platform, Duterte has had said very little about his plans for the country.- Marc Singer, risk consultant, Pacific Strategies and Assessments

"It is true he has made Davao City a safer place for tourism and investment. However, according to national police data for 2015, Davao City has the fourth-highest incidence of crime among cities in the Philippines."

Duterte has said he would hunt down criminals with the help of the military and police and if they resisted, he would "kill them all."

He has pledged to revive the death penalty and execute as many as 100,000 criminals if he becomes president, thus earning him such monikers as Duterte Harry, Dirty Harry and The Punisher.

"I say let's kill five criminals every week, so they will be eliminated," media quoted him as saying in December.

Short on policy

Singer says that while Duterte's campaign has attracted a lot of noise, it's short on substance.

"Other than his law and order platform, Duterte has said very little about his plans for the country, but he caters to Filipinos' desire for change," he said.

He's a populist who draws huge crowds, and he's certainly not the establishment candidate. That would be Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the ruling party's candidate, who is the grandson of the country's fifth president Manuel Roxas and has the endorsement of the current president, Benigno Aquino.

Duterte was denounced at home and abroad after he made jokes about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

Like Trump, ​one of the areas that has gotten Duterte in the most hot water is the subject of women. Duterte has publicly praised the powers of Viagra, admitted to having two wives and two girlfriends and his comments on women have been even more off-colour than Trump's.

In early April, he made international headlines with his comments on the rape and murder of an Australian woman who was doing missionary work in a Davao prison when she was taken hostage and killed during a prison riot in 1989.

Duterte described seeing her face as her body was being taken out of the prison and noting that she looked "like an American actress, a beautiful one."

Duterte has been less strident than some on the contentious issue of territorial claims in the South China Sea. He has said he would rather attempt to find a resolution with China before tuning to the U.S. for help asserting Filipino claims in the region. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

"I was angry because she was raped, that's one thing," he said, "But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste."

When the Australian and American ambassadors to the Philippines complained, Duterte responded: "Shut your mouth." He said he would cut ties with their countries if he was elected.

1st in the polls

There is another side to Duterte, though. He is a self-described socialist, lives in a modest home and has poured city funds into helping kids with cancer. Although his image was somewhat tarnished by allegations that came out in the final days of the election campaign claiming that he failed to declare $4.5 million US in income.

One of the big differences between him and Trump is that Duterte is the odds-on favourite to win on Monday.

Duterte's closest rival is former interior minister Mar Roxas. He is the establishment candidate and comes from Philippine political royalty. His grandfather, Manuel Roxas, was a prominent politician before and after colonial rule and served as the first elected president of the Philippines post-independence. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

According to recent polls, Duterte has the support of around 33 per cent of voters, more than any other candidate, so he could very well be elected. Around 54 million Filipinos are eligible to vote in this election, including those who work overseas.

Some see his popularity in terms similar to those used when describing Trump's surprising rise.

He voices the helplessness and rage of Filipinos forced to make do in a country where corruption is casual and crime is ordinary.- Rappler news site

​Duterte represents "the politics of the extreme," said a recent polemic on the English-language Filipino news site Rappler, which bills itself as a "social news network" devoted to community engagement and social change.

"He says screw the bleeding hearts, and to hell with the bureaucracy. He voices the helplessness and rage of Filipinos forced to make do in a country where corruption is casual and crime is ordinary. 

Duterte has appealed to Filipinos fed up with crime and corruption. He has said he would crack down on criminals and 'kill them all' if necessary. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

"Duterte has their backs, and he says the struggle ends here, today. He goes beyond anger, even beyond solutions. … Duterte offers retribution."

But the piece also offered a warning that echoed some of the hand-wringing that has accompanied the more vocal — and at times violent — manifestations of Trump's growing support.

"The streets will run red," if Duterte keeps some of the law-and-order promises he's made on the campaign trail, it warned. 

About the Author

Sylvia Thomson is a producer with the CBC in Toronto. She spent several years as a producer covering politics in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa and has covered major international stories.

With files from Reuters

now