Pubdate: Wed, 28 Dec 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: Bullit Marquez / Associated Press


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks at a military ceremony in
suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks at a military ceremony in
suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. (Bullit Marquez /
Associated Press)

He has compared himself to Hitler, called President Obama a "son of a
whore," and overseen a wave of extrajudicial violence that has left
thousands of people dead.

Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines' 71-year-old president -- a former city
mayor with a level gaze and an aura of casual dishevelment -- passed his
100th day in office Oct. 8, and despite his profanity and repeated calls
to violence, he is the country's most popular leader in recent memory.

Duterte's "war on drugs," the hallmark of his early tenure, has left about
3,600 suspected drug dealers and users dead -- an average of 36 people a
day. Few, if any, perpetrators have been prosecuted.

To outsiders, Duterte is a puzzle -- ideologically liberal, but disdainful
of human rights; politically gifted, but often seemingly unhinged. In late
September, he said he wants to slaughter drug dealers like Hitler
slaughtered Jews. The following week, he visited a synagogue to apologize
for causing offense. Earlier this month, he said Obama -- a persistent
critic of his drug war -- could "go to hell," and vowed to deepen ties
with China and Russia.

Then, on Thursday, he announced that he was "separating" from the United
States and embracing China as the new best friend of the Philippines.

Who is Duterte, and what makes him popular?

Where did Duterte come from?

Duterte grew up on the island Mindanao, hundreds of miles south of the
Philippine capital, Manila, amid a landscape of grinding poverty,
dictatorship, civil conflict and extreme crime.

He attended university and law school in Manila, then returned to Mindanao
to work as a prosecutor in the city of Davao. He has been married twice,
and has four children.

It didn't take long for him to enter politics -- the city elected him as
vice mayor in 1986, the year that Ferdinand Marcos, the country's dictator
for more than two decades, fell from power.

At that time, the city was riven by a communist insurgency, with
guerrillas raging against the abuses of Marcos' military. Soldiers,
vigilantes and communist insurgents shot and hacked one another to death
on the streets, often in broad daylight, often with no repercussions.

Duterte led Davao for more than two decades, serving twice as vice mayor
and thrice as mayor. By most accounts, he was highly effective. He drove
out the communist insurgency, using both the carrot and the stick (he gave
some former insurgents government jobs). He banned smoking, imposed a
curfew for minors, and restricted alcohol sales after dark. He launched
nongovernment organizations for women's rights and poverty alleviation,
and adopted liberal policies toward gays and minority groups.

Now, Filipinos call Davao one of the country's safest cities; many compare
it to Singapore.

So what's the catch?

Human rights groups say that Duterte also oversaw the "Davao Death Squad,"
a gang of vigilantes that killed 1,400 suspected criminals in the city
during his tenure.

On Sept. 15, a Senate committee investigating Duterte's current war on
drugs heard testimony from Edgar Matobato, an admitted former member of
the squad. Matobato said Duterte personally ordered many of the killings.
Once, the mayor killed a Justice Department agent with an Uzi, he said;
another time, he threw a grenade at a mosque, in retribution for a
cathedral bombing. (Duterte has strongly denied the allegations).

"Ideologically eclectic and politically savvy, Duterte combined [former
Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez-style populism with Singapore-style
disciplined governance to build himself as the penultimate strongman in
the city," said Richard Javad Heydarian, an assistant professor in
political science at De La Salle University in Manila. "He progressively
cultivated a macho, no-nonsense image, backed by shock and awe approach to
criminality and drugs."

Obama administration officials have largely ignored the insults and
ultimatums from Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte.

How did he become president?

Duterte's presidential campaign was shockingly crude, and according to
some experts, tactically brilliant. While campaigning, he remarked on the
size of his penis, called Pope Francis the "son of a whore" and joked
about an Australian missionary who was raped and killed during a prison
break in 1989.

He also promised to essentially remake the Philippines in Davao's image.
He pledged to rid the country of illegal drugs within six months, without
regard for human rights or due process -- in the spring, he threatened to
dump drug dealers' bodies into Manila Bay "and fatten all the fish there."
His campaign posters displayed a clenched fist.

Voters believed him. Although the Philippines had enjoyed years of
sustained economic growth under the previous president, Benigno Aquino
III, many Filipinos felt that they'd been left out of the boom. They
worried about rising crime, entrenched corruption, crumbling
infrastructure, a broken justice system -- and of course, rampant drug
abuse. They felt that electing a radically different leader was the only
way to enact real change.

The Philippines' last two presidents were the children of former
presidents; Duterte was an outsider. He hailed from Mindanao, far from the
halls of power. And he eschewed the staid, diplomatic lexicon of legacy
politicians. His crass outbursts were a boon; he spoke like a man of the

Duterte won the election by a landslide, with 16 million total votes --
6.6 million more than the runner-up, Mar Roxas (in the Philippines,
candidates need only a plurality of votes to win). He was inaugurated June

Who is getting killed?

The drug war's statistics are staggering. Duterte has said there are 3
million drug dealers in the country of 102.7 million (the Dangerous Drugs
Board, a government body, estimates there are 1.24 million). About 700,000
people have surrendered to authorities since his inauguration.

Yet many observers have called Duterte's drug crackdown a "war on the
poor." Most victims of police and vigilante killings occupy the country's
lowest socioeconomic rungs, where drug use is the most prevalent. They
subsist on a few dollars a day, living cheek-to-jowl in sprawling,
garbage-strewn slums. They see drugs as an escape, however brief, from

Now, they're turning up dead in dark alleyways, often next to signs
reading "pusher," their hands bound and their faces wrapped in tape.

Will he succeed?

It's too early to tell. Experts say the country has a free press, a
politically engaged citizenry, and a strong enough political ecosystem
that, if public opinion swings against him, the Congress and Senate could
keep him in check.

"More and more people are beginning to question his seeming obsession with
war on drugs, hoping he will shift attention to more pressing issues such
as poverty and unemployment and traffic congestion in big cities,"
Heydarian said. "But the voters seem to be willing to still give him at
least six months to one year before more critically assessing his
leadership mettle."

Last week, Duterte challenged the U.S. and EU to withdraw their aid to the
impoverished nation, and Filipino actress, Agot Isidro, responded in a
Facebook post.

"First of all, no one is trying to fight you," she wrote in the post,
which quickly went viral. "As a matter of fact, you're the one who's
picking a fight. Secondly, the country where you are elected as president
by 16 million out of 100-plus million is Third World. You talk as if the
Philippines is a superpower ... Third, I know a psychiatrist. Get yourself
checked. You're not bipolar. You are a psychopath."
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