19 February 2019
Rodrigo Duterte joked about his penis Wednesday and vowed to pardon himself for mass murder. Photo: AFP
Rodrigo Duterte joked about his penis Wednesday and vowed to pardon himself for mass murder. Photo: AFP

Meet the man who could be Philippine president

In a year of anti-establishment politics around the world, Philippine voters appear ready for a renegade president: self-confessed killer Rodrigo Duterte, a 71-year-old Viagra-chomping womanizer, Bloomberg reports.

Duterte’s promise of a “bloody war” on crime has sent him to the top of opinion polls.

He has been mayor of Davao City on the southern island of Mindanao for two decades, where his strongman swagger and endorsement of the execution of criminals earned him the nicknames “Duterte Harry” and “The Punisher”.

He’s been likened to US presidential candidate Donald Trump, using populist rhetoric to reach Filipinos who feel the mainstream political parties are out of touch.

“Duterte’s main asset is that, rightly or wrongly, many people see him as having led a ‘Filipino life’, with all the frustrations and hardships that entails,” said Stephen Norris, senior Southeast Asia analyst at Control Risks in Singapore.

“To voters, it’s conceivable that he would actually make a difference on traffic, crime and corruption from the top down, because he has done so locally.”

The leadership in the Philippines has for decades been the realm of powerful families whose main assets are their wealth and dynastic connections.

But the latest Pulse Asia Research Inc. survey shows Duterte, whose father was a lawyer and mother a teacher, holding a double-digit lead over the other candidates, which would take him to the presidency under a first-past-the-post voting system.

While President Benigno Aquino delivered average growth above 6 percent — one of the fastest rates in the world — and nearly four million jobs in his six-year term, the stronger economy has also spurred frustration.

Record car sales have clogged the already gridlocked capital Manila, while infrastructure spending hasn’t improved public transport.

Graft, illegal drugs and crime are concerns of voters nationally, Pulse Asia found, and poverty rates remain stubbornly high.

While Duterte’s remarks resonate with voters, and the influential Philippine church Iglesia ni Cristo reportedly backed him this week, investors are voicing concern over his lack of economic experience, plus suggestions he’ll trade Aquino’s fiscal discipline for spending on populist programs.

Last month the peso slumped 1.7 percent, the worst performing currency in Asia, and stocks fell 1.4 percent.

“I hope when he does become president he’ll be more grounded and less controversial,” said Lim Soo-hai, a Hong Kong-based money manager at Baring Asset Management.

“His platform to reduce crime is good, but at the end of the day investors need somebody who could implement policies that are generally good for the investment climate.”

Duterte has sought to reassure business leaders, but he’s also been unpredictable on the campaign trail and avoided specifics.

He has pledged to keep spending on public transport and cash handouts to the poor, while identifying education and agriculture as priorities.

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