Day 6

Why the Donald Trump of The Philippines is heading for victory

The front runner in the Philippines' presidential election says if elected he will rule as a dictator. Rodrigo Duterte leads the polls despite his sexism, his vulgar language and his involvement in extra-judicial killings. Philipino journalist Maria Ressa has interviewed Duterte and she says the comparisons to Donald Trump are dead on.
Supporters watch the motorcade of presidential candidate Rodrigo "Digong" Duterte (not pictured) during election campaigning in Malabon, Metro Manila in the Philippines. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

When voters in the Philippines go to the polls on Monday they are likely to elect a vulgar, sexist strongman who some call the Donald Trump of Asia. 

Rodrigo Duterte has been the mayor of Davao, a southern city in a troubled region of the country for over 20 years. He has been connected to death squads and extra judicial killings in the region, and he has a habit of making outrageous, sexist statements about women. He's 71 years old, but boasts of his sexual prowess and admits openly, in a country where divorce is illegal, to having two wives and two girlfriends. 

They feed and fuel the anger that is in those societies. They are outsiders, to a degree. They say outlandish statements that wouldn't have gone into the mainstream before.- Maria Ressa on the similarities between Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump

But none of this is stopping him. In fact, polls show he may have an easy path to the presidency. 

"Despite the controversy of his statements on rape, despite the charges of corruption against him which have made headlines in the last few days, he still remains significantly ahead," journalist Maria Ressa tells host Brent Bambury

Maria Ressa has met Duterte and describes him as confident, straightforward and unpolished. 

I must admit that I have killed three men. Early on I killed about three people.- Philippine Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte to journalist Maria Ressa

In some ways, Ressa says, Duterte is similar to Trump.

"They have some things in common. They feed and fuel the anger that is in those societies. They are outsiders, to a degree. They say outlandish statements that wouldn't have gone into the mainstream before. But their supporters will say that they're actually authentic, they're true to themselves."

And Ressa says there's a crucial difference between Duterte and Trump. "I think where the comparison stops is the kind of experience that Rodrigo Duterte has. He has won every election since 1988. He has been a town mayor, at the same time a congressman."

Man of contradictions

Last month a recording emerged of Duterte stating — to the laughter of his audience — that he wished he'd been among the men who gang raped and murdered an Australian missionary. "She was so beautiful", he said. "The mayor should have been first. What a waste."

The statement was internationally reported and widely condemned. But it did not affect his popularity among his followers. Duterte asserts this is the way people talk, it's the hallmark of his authenticity.

 "To a degree, he is correct. Most people see him as not hypocritical," says Ressa.

Ressa says Duterte embodies contradictions, that he is both a womanizer and a women's rights activist.

"He talked about all of the women he's been with. He kisses women on the lips during the campaign. This is a macho society, in some ways that appeals to the men in the audience. At the same time he has also stood for women's rights."

Ressa recalls Duterte's support for a long-delayed bill liberalizing birth control and women's health issues in the Philippines. 

"He put that in motion and actually made it effective before it even passed Congress." 

The law and order candidate

Duterte's power as a regional mayor is strengthened by his willingness to take on criminal elements. His methods though, have been condemned.

He has publicly admitted a connection to death squads in Davao that have murdered more than 1,000 people. During the campaign, he promised more bloodshed. 

 "How do you think I did it?" Duterte boasts. "How did I reach that title among the world's safest cities? Kill them all [criminals]."

Ressa pressed him on this during an interview with Duterte:

Ressa: So no qualms about killing killers? 

Duterte: Yes of course. I must admit that I have killed three men. Early on I killed about three people.

Ressa says Duterte's president portends a dangerous state for perceived enemies.

"The human rights groups are up in arms and many of them say that if you are part of 'the other', the people who are innocent but could be accused, you are in danger under a Duterte presidency."

Blood on the ballot

Elections in the Philippines have been marred by considerable bloodshed. "The single worst instance of election-related violence globally happened in the Philippines, [in 2009] when 58 people were killed 30 of them were journalists in one day in broad daylight."

The chaotic violence plays to Duterte's perceived strengths, especially among the poor who compose the majority of the population. 

"I think what people see in him is somebody that calls it like it is, he says 'I will fix what you're unhappy with'. He also stands as a voice for the people who were marginalized, who now see this as an opportunity to gain some kind of power."