Rodrigo Duterte: the president warlord of the Philippines | Observer profile

Thousands have been killed in his domestic anti-drug campaign. Now, as he hosts Trump at a summit in Manila, new brutal revelations set him back in the headlines

The litany of horrific remarks that have catapulted the Philippine leader, Rodrigo Duterte, to international notoriety is so exhaustive that it is hard to choose his most transgressive lines. Nothing, it seems, is out of bounds.

In September 2016, for example, he glowingly made reference to the Holocaust as an analogy for his brutal war on drugs.” Hitler massacred three million Jews ,” he said.” Now, there are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them .”

Duterte has also boasted of the days when he cruised around on his motorbike looking for people to kill and of throwing a human out of a helicopter. He even joked about missing out on the chance to rape a beautiful Australian missionary before she was murdered in a jail siege.

Last week, Duterte stimulated the headlines again.” At the age of 16, I already killed someone ,” he said.” A real person, a rumble, a knife. I was just 16 years old. It was just over a look. How much more now that I am chairman ?”

The Philippine head was speaking to the Filipino community in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang, ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation( Apec) summit, which Donald Trump is also attending. A brief session between the two at Apec was described as ” warm” by Duterte’s staff, but the big one will be their scheduled bilateral session tomorrow, the final stop on Trump’s Asia tour, at the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations( Asean ), in the Philippines capital, Manila.

Trump, of course, is barely guilty of the crimes Duterte blithely trumpets. But with their populist affirms, propensity for exaggeration and denigration of women, as well as assaults on the mainstream press and total dislike for expected political behaviour, it is perhaps no amaze that comparings have already been described between the two.

While Duterte called Barack Obama” a son of a whore”, the Trump and Duterte relationship seems to be off to a much better start. A leaked transcript of telephone calls between them revealed that Trump had lavished praise on Duterte for an” unbelievable task” in his war on drugs.

A former prosecutor and long-time mayor of Davao, a city on the island of Mindanao, Duterte’s strongman platform – his campaign logo featured a clenched fist- gained widespread popularity across the Philippines.

He rose to power on the back of blustering promises to eradicate narcotics and crime, pledging a crackdown that would see 100,000 people slaughtered and the bodies of drug users fed to the fish in Manila Bay. His people were sufficiently impressed by the tough-talking leader, who promised to stop the country from descending into what he characterised as a narco nation, and he was elected last May.

Nicknamed” the Punisher”, the 72 -year-old was born in Maasin. The induces of his gangster-like persona appear to have been formed from an early age. He was a bully who was expelled from school and, aged 15, reportedly carried a gun.

” He was kicked out of some schools, and even shot a classmate, but he never get punished for anything. He got away with it ,” Philippine senator Antonio Trillanes, one of Duterte’s fiercest critics, told the Observer .” So I believe that contributed to his mindset of impunity, because he was never penalise. He killed people, but it only is away .”

Duterte went on to study law and become a prosecutor, eventually working his way up to vice and then mayor of Davao, a position he held for more than 20 years.

” I believe the only real crisis he had growing up was when his father died and the political power and wealth dissipated. He couldn’t stand being a regular guy. So he was forced to eat humble pie and work his way up ,” says Trillanes.” From that phase on, this guy who relished that life of power and wealth did not want to experience life without it. So from that point on, he didn’t let go .”

A document that was part of his matrimony annulment to Elizabeth Zimmerman in 1998 is also disclosing. In the psychological assessment of Duterte detailed in the report, the doctor concluded that he was suffering form narcissistic personality disorder, with aggressive tendencies including a “‘ grandiose sense of self and entitlement” and” a permeating tendency to humiliate, humble others “.

It was in Davao in the 1980 s that Duterte would first try out his crackdown on drugs and crime, a policy that regularly find dead bodies turn up on the streets. Human Rights Watch has long detailed allegations of the “Davao death squads” while Duterte was mayor, claiming that more than 1,000 people were killed, including suspected drug users and merchants, street children, as well as journalists critical of his rule.

Even Duterte once appeared to openly confess as much.” Am I the death squad? True. That is true ,” he told his local TV show in May 2015.

While Duterte’s aides often furiously back-pedal on the president’s statements, indicating his outlandish comments should not be taken literally or were meant in jest, the president has proved to be a man of his word when it comes to the” medication war “.

Since he assumed office on 30 June last year, at least 7,000 Filipinos have been killed, almost 4,000 by police and several thousand more by purported vigilantes. Grisly scenes of the killed rapidly overwhelmed the local and international press- jarring images of people slain in the street in the middle of the night, their heads wrapped in packing tape, often next to cardboard signs accusing them of being a drug dealer, user or crook. One local paper, the Inquirer , started a” kill listing” in an attempt to keep track of all the dead.

More than a year into his rule, the number of extrajudicial killings has outperformed the number of those killed during the murderous reign of former despot Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the Philippines for two decades.

Assessing one year of Duterte rule, Amnesty International issued a statement in June noting that thousands of Filipinos have been killed by, or at the behest of, a police force that acts outside the law, on the orders of the president.

” Duterte’s violent campaign has not aimed crime or solved the problems associated with drugs ,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.” What it has done is turn the country into an even more dangerous place, further undermined the rule of law and earned him notoriety as a leader responsible for the death of thousands of his own citizens .”

While Duterte’s war has triggered major international condemnation, the president himself has remained impervious. Instead, he has offered immunity to police killing in the name of the” narcotic war”, while his government has denied allegations of death squads.

It has also strived to stillness its most outspoken critics, including incarcerating Senator Leila de Lima, who, as chair as the Commission on Human Rights, spearheaded an investigation into the Davao death squad in 2009. Duterte also set some Filipinos on edge this September when, to deal with a terrorist rebellion in Marawi, he proclaimed martial law throughout Mindanao. The congress had now been voted to hold that in place until 31 December.

Despite all the controversies that have plagued his government, until a recent dip in the polls, the president has remained resoundingly popular. Nationally, gratification with the” narcotic war” is at 63%, according to a poll released by Social Weather Stations in October, although most “says hes” also believe suspects should be captured alive.

In a move he said he hoped would mollify “bleeding hearts”, last month Duterte ordered the police to end all their operations in relation to drugs, instead placing the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency( PDEA) in charge.

Asked how to best understand who Duterte really is, long-time Filipino broadcaster and columnist Solita Monsod says the president is best explained by the psychological assessment he underwent during the course of its annulment of his matrimony.” You cannot judge this man with the usual techniques because the man has a ailment … this guy has mental health problems .”

At least be glad, she adds, he doesn’t have access to a nuclear button.


Born 28 March 1945 in Maasin to a political household. His father was once a provincial governor and his mother a educator. He developed as a lawyer, rising to become a state prosecutor, before becoming the mayor of Davao in 1988. Twice married, four children.

Best of times Gained widespread popular support for transforming Davao from” assassination city” to the safest place in the Philippines.

Worst of days Threatening to leave the UN after it criticised his” war on medications” as a crime under international law. Since the start of his presidency, government figures show police have killed close to 3,500″ narcotic personalities”, while more than 2,000 others have been killed in drug-related crimes and thousands of others killed in unexplained circumstances.

What he says ” Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You medication pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you. I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay and fatten all the fish there .” Campaign rally speech.

What others say ” One thing about my brother is he is hard-headed. The more you tell him not to do it, the more he will do it. He needs to tone down on his anger. He needs anger management .” Emmanuel Duterte , New York Times

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