The Philippines will vote a new president in May. From the list of presidential candidates, a tough-talking mayor is zooming to the top of the polls.
Known as the 'Dirty Harry' for stopping criminality in his city, Rodrigo Duterte has also been likened to Donald Trump…
From Manila and Palawan, Jofelle Tesorio and Ariel Carlos find out more.
When Rodrigo Duterte addresses a rally called 'Mad For Change', the crowd goes wild and chants his name.
The tough-talking mayor of Davao City formally announced his bid for presidency only late November.
He has vowed to stop criminality and eradicate corruption.
“I can promise not heaven, but I will promise you comfortable life,” he tells the crowd, “Corruption has to stop. Criminality has to stop.”
Duterte’s entry to the presidential race is a real game-changer.
Popular figures such as Senator Grace Poe, Vice-President Jejomar Binay and former interior secretary Mar Roxas had dominated the polls.
But many voters see Duterte’s brand of politics as refreshing, different from the other candidates drawn from the political elites.
While his numbers slipped last month, a survey by Pulse Asia Research this November showed Duterte with 34% of the popular vote, 8 percent higher than his closest rival.
Political observer Jose Fernandez explains.
“Being an attorney and being fiscal at that, and with all the stories about how he deals with criminals, instead of eroding his charisma, it has enhanced it even more,” explains Fernandez, “And Filipinos think maybe we need this kind of president.”
Duterte has been mayor of Davao, a city of 2 million people, for 22 years. He has also served as vice-mayor and congressman.
He is credited for making it the safest city in the country. But through controversial means.
Human rights groups accuse him of supporting a group of vigilantes that extra-judicially kill criminals and drug pushers.
There have been around 1,000 suspected criminals who were allegedly executed without trial during his term in Davao city.
One of Duterte’s closest friends, Butch Chase, says these accusations are hearsay.
“These human rights issues are all hearsay,” claims Chase, “As a friend, he never told me that he ordered the killing of a criminal or of someone. There are only small things like he would say ‘if this criminal won’t listen to me, I’ll warn him and if not, he should fear for his life’.”
Many see Duterte’s popularity as a product of a breakdown of law and order, and endemic corruption.
The mayor has a moniker ‘Duterte Harry’ for his style of swift-justice.
Duterte in a rally says he simply hates criminals.
“If the military or the police see you. You are a criminal, a car-napper a kidnapper, and you are on bail because the evidences against you are not strong enough, I will also abduct you. I will do whatever you did to your victim,” he says.
He is also called the Donald Trump of the Philippines because he admits to being a womanizer and has a penchant for using expletives, even in public.
Still, Duterte’s image resonates.
The common Filipino voter is desperate for someone who will represent them, says civil society activist and environmentalist, Gerthie Anda.
“I’d like to echo what a taxi driver told me. I would rather vote for a guy whose mouth is dirty because he speaks dirty but he has no corruption charges whatsoever, rather than voting for a candidate who goes to church who speaks clean language but who is linked with corruption,” he says, “So he represents in a sense the general public.”
Unlike other candidates, Duterte also has an image of being incorruptible.
Activist Gerthie Anda says the common Filipino aspires security and a corruption-free society.
This is what the Duterte brand offers.
“To them, the crimes, the womanizing, the badmouthing, killings… that can be forgotten as long as basic services are actually implemented,” he explains, “The priorities now are basic services. As long as there is no corruption, poverty can be addressed, to them that is enough.”
Jaren Atrero, a young professional, will vote for Duterte.
He believes the mayor can deliver on his promises.
“He is a concrete example of true change,” says Atrero, “Filipinos are craving for change. He is not a traditional politician. He is really different. If you can see his platforms, very simple… and that’s very attainable. I believe he is the one.”
Filipinos today feel insecure because of crimes, especially in the cities. Duterte offers a clear platform of dealing with criminality, a feature his competitors lack.
But not everyone, including Voter Ken Chan, is impressed.
“I don’t want him to become president because he has a lot of characteristics that don’t fit a true leader,” says Chan, “I don’t like his leadership style that uses force.
Activist Gerthie Anda also sees some red flags.
She says Filipinos should not immediately believe the hype.
“On enforcement, that is his strength but there are still blind areas,” she says, “What is good governance for him? How will he address social justice issues or agrarian reform? The land issue is still dominant in this country. Natural resource use. How do you deal with corruption?”
But the way the numbers look right now, it’s not impossible that Rodrigo Duterte could be the next president of the Philippines…
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