Populist demagoguery isn’t unique to the U.S. presidential elections, as 71-year-old Rodrigo Duterte, a man known as the ‘Punisher’ for his propensity to advocate lethal extrajudicial solutions to crime problems, leads the polls in the Philippines.
An ex-prosecutor and mayor of the city Davao for two decades, Duterte has been likened to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his use of vulgar language, his dismissal of the importance of human rights, and the manner in which the political establishment dismissed his campaign. Despite the similarities, Duterte labeled Trump a bigot.
One of Duterte’s most obscene comments was delivered at a campaign rally to a crowd of supporters, where he joked about the rape and murder of Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill. Hamill was raped and killed in 1989 after a riot in the Davao prison where she worked. Duterte was mayor at that time.
“They raped all of the women,” he told a crowd of supporters. “There was this Australian lay minister… when they took them out… I saw her face and I thought: ‘Son of a bitch. what a pity… they raped her, they all lined up. I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first.”
Apart from crude rape jokes, Duterte’s time as Davao mayor is marked by the extrajudicial killing of around 1,000 suspected criminals by vigilante squads. His support for vigilante kill squads is part of the popularity behind his campaign, despite blatantly dismissing the value of human rights.
“Forget the laws on human rights,” he said in campaign speech last week. “If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because … I’d kill you.”
One of the main drivers behind support for Duterte comes from disenchantment from the Philippines’ working and lower classes. Locals say they are tired of government corruption, insufficient means of fighting poverty, and an inability to counter violent insurgencies in the country’s southern regions. More than a quarter of the 100 million people living in the country live in poverty and wealth inequality is a serious problem, despite the country’s economic growth in recent years.
While Duterte has been accused of corruption himself, his rhetoric style has enchanted voters who view him as a man action.
“Duterte is completely out of the system, he’s out of the box,” political science Prof. Richard Heydarian of De La Salle University in Manila, told CBS. “There is a gap between the rhetoric and reality but it’s working, it’s creating panic among a lot of people and rallying them behind Duterte.”