Rodrigo Duterte: the controversial contender of the Philippine elections

The soon-to-be president of the Philippines and the mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte, has continued to make headlines these past few months. If not because of his insurmountable lead in the elections, the publicity has been because of his booming rally against corruption, his confident and candid character, and his offhand remarks on various controversial topics.

“I was also charged with acts of lasciviousness,” he once told Rotary Club members in Makati City. “But you know the woman was really very, very beautiful that if you do not touch her, you will die. I was just saving my life.”

Throughout the presidential race, Duterte has won over the hearts and minds of the clear majority of the Philippine population. Many believe he can reduce the country’s crime rate with new policies, like he did with a city that was once known as Philippines’ “murder capital.” He can rid the country of corruption with his no-nonsense nature too; he can bring it out of its impoverished state.

Duterte calls for the passage of a wage-increase bill as thousands of citizens march for change in Davao in 2006. Creative Commons License.

Duterte has appealed to citizens by tapping into the evident and widespread discontent over crime, corruption, and inequality. For many, he is just the sort of strong, pro-active leader the Philippines needs at this time.

Many students at SAS have relatives living in the Philippines who took part in voting during the elections. Several were interviewed.

“His strict governance in Davao, when applied to the whole country, could lessen crimes, corruption, and other irregularities,” believes Maybelline Carlos, a Filipino citizen and aunt of this reporter who lives in Manila.

But what has marked him as controversial, and has even gained him international attention, are the policies he aims to enact paired with his inflammatory, albeit candid, public comments.

During his 20 years as mayor of Davao City, Duterte has succeeded in lowering the city’s overall crime rate. From 2014 to 2015, the crime rate was reduced by 27.76 percent – an achievement Duterte takes credit for. But this success also reveals darker statistics. According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), there have been 1,032 reported extra-judicial killings in Davao from 2010 to 2015. Among those killed were street children, petty criminals, and petty drug dealers.

While Philippine law enforcement has yet to successfully prosecute anyone for these murders, there are indications of Duterte’s involvement. The mayor himself even publicly admitted to having killed “about 3 people.”

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Duterte speaks in front of press members at Matina Enclaves in Davao City, discussing his presidential policies. Photo by

As president of the Philippines, he vows to use this same vigilantism in his law enforcement policies. He has also made other grand statements throughout his campaign – vowing to to potentially abolish the congress, to crack down on public smoking and drinking, and to sever ties with certain countries.

More than stunning many with talk of such policies, Duterte has also gained himself international infamy with the very public, crude jokes and disrespectful statements he has made.

Adamantly against drugs, he has pledged to kill those who use drugs, including his own two children. During the Pope’s visit to the Philippines, Duterte described him as the “son of a whore,” because of the traffic jams he created. Regarding the rape and murder of an Australian missionary 27 years ago, he joked that he should have been first in line to rape her.

In Duterte’s public appearances, he has managed to offend women, Catholics, citizens of other countries, and anybody who empathizes with them.

Senior Alan Datu sees this colorful language as Duterte’s expression of confidence.

“I feel like he’s only saying what he does to be more confident in himself, but I don’t think he really means it,” Alan expressed. “If he did, then there is something wrong with him. That’s the side of him I don’t support.”

Some argue that this is only how he speaks; his actions won’t be characteristic of the words he says, which may even be a problem in itself. But others worry that the foul-mouthed, excessively frank character they see now is a preview of the way Duterte would lead the country for the next six years. He has even been compared to the likes of the equally controversial Donald Trump, earning the title of “The Trump of the East.”

While results for the presidential elections won’t officially be announced until June, it is quite certain that Duterte has won – the lead he held during the week of voting was unassailable. From this point on, Filipino citizens can only hope for a leader who will continue the country’s upward trajectory – both locally and internationally. Duterte could be the one to do so, though most certainly in an unconventional way.

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