Asia

Profile: Duterte the controversial 'strongman' of the Philippines

  • 4 October 2016
  • From the section Asia
Rodrigo Duterte kisses a Philippines flag in Manila (7 May 2016) Image copyright Reuters

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has attracted intense controversy for a bloody drug war and undiplomatic remarks since he took office in June 2016.

The straight-talking leader won by a landslide on the back of promises to tackle crime and corruption, and remains popular domestically for his hardline policies.

But he has increasingly earned criticism from the international community and rights groups that say his policies amount to human rights abuses.

'Slaughter' of addicts

The hallmark of Mr Duterte's administration so far has been a relentless crackdown on drug dealers and users.

He has urged citizens and the police to conduct extra-judicial killings of suspects. More than 3,000 people have died in a campaign which Mr Duterte controversially compared to the Holocaust in September.

Noting that there are three million addicts in Philippines, he has said he would be "happy to slaughter them".

Read more: The woman who kills drug dealers for a living

The United Nation, the Roman Catholic church, the European Union and the United States have repeatedly condemned his policy as a violation of human rights. Domestic activist groups have also protested the killings.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The war on drugs has attracted protests from local student and activist groups

But Mr Duterte has said a hardline stance was necessary to wipe out the illegal drugs trade and remains undeterred, vowing to kill "every last one" of the traffickers.

The police has said the campaign has worked in reducing overall crime, with hundreds of thousands of suspects turning themselves in - although homicides and murders have gone up.

'Son of a whore'

Faced with mounting criticism, Mr Duterte, known for making brash off-the-cuff remarks, has been bellicose.

He has threatened to "separate" from the UN - which he later said was a joke - and called UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon "a fool".

He also called the EU "hypocrites" during a September speech and showed the middle finger.

He famously referred to US President Barack Obama as a "son of a whore", but later expressed regret when Mr Obama cancelled a meeting.

Earlier he called the Pope "the son of a whore" in a largely devout Catholic country, and joked that when he was still the mayor of the southern city of Davao he should have been the first to rape an Australian missionary murdered in a prison riot.

Read more: Duterte in quotes

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Duterte won on a platform of tough action against crime, saying many criminals should be executed

Political origins

Rodrigo "Digong" Duterte was born in 1945 into a family closely tied to local politics. His father was once a provincial governor and the family had links with the powerful families in Cebu province, where his father was once mayor.

Mr Duterte trained as a lawyer and rose to become state prosecutor, eventually becoming mayor of Davao in 1988, ruling the city for much of the past 30 years.

He built his reputation fighting some of the biggest problems facing the Philippines - crime, militancy and corruption. All three dropped significantly during his time leading Davao, making the city one of the safest in the Philippines.

He has vowed to replicate his efforts in Davao at a national level.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Duterte supporters say his tough reputation is what the Philippines needs to deal with corruption and crime

Pivoting to China?

Self-styled as both a socialist and a reformist, he has promised to change the country from a centralised system to a federal parliamentary form of government, to better share wealth.

His foreign policy direction, vague during campaigning, has continued to flip-flop.

Mr Duterte had previously hinted at taking a stronger stance against China, which the Philippines is engaged with in maritime disputes in the South China Sea. He famously said he would ride a jet ski to a disputed island claimed by both countries and stick a flag on it.

But since becoming president he has emphasised a desire to move away from the US - the Philippines' former colonial ruler turned military and economic partner - and pivot closer to China and Russia, sparking concerns from investors.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Duterte's firebrand speeches have done little to dent levels of support among Filipinos hungry for change

'Duterte Harry'

His tough approach has earned him the nicknames "The Punisher" and "Duterte Harry". He said in a televised debate that he would kill his own children if they took drugs.

All have burnished his strongman image among many in the Philippines as someone who will do what is necessary to get things done. A July poll saw him earning a historic 91% approval rating.

But horrified opponents have continued to castigate him, comparing him to US presidential Republican nominee Donald Trump. Mr Duterte has rejected the comparisons, saying that "he is a bigot and I am not".

Married twice, he has four children, one of whom - daughter Sara - took over as mayor for a term before he resumed office. He is now officially single, but has claimed to have several girlfriends.

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