Now serving his seventh non-consecutive term as the Mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte has long earned a national reputation for his iron-fist approach to criminality. In 2002, he was even described in a Time Magazine article as “The Punisher.”
His tough guy image is bolstered by his strong rhetoric against rice smugglers, drug pushers, local terrorists, child rapists, and even delinquent students. Because of this, Duterte has cultivated a sizable national following who are egging him mainly through social media to run for president in 2016.
Based on recent public opinion polls, he is in the top tier of potential candidates, behind Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Grace Poe, and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
It must be pointed out however that in past election cycles, presidential candidates who emphasized a tough approach to maintaining peace and order didn’t win, particularly then-Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim in 1998 (5th among ten candidates) and then-Senator Panfilo Lacson in 2004 (3rd in a field of five).
Nevertheless, Duterte’s emergence as a possible presidential contender has inevitably put the spotlight again on his human rights record, which can be regarded as his Achilles’ heel. In a recent speech, Duterte boasted that he turned Davao City into one of the world’s safest cities by killing all criminals.
In a subsequent media appearance, he claimed that he will do the same thing if he runs and gets elected as President. “You will see bigger fish in Manila Bay because that is where I will dump (criminals’) bodies,” he reportedly said as quoted in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
In response to these pronouncements, the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the administration of President Benigno Aquino III to investigate Duterte, saying in a statement that he “epitomizes impunity for extrajudicial killings.”
“The Philippine government should take a zero-tolerance approach to any public official who publicly endorses extrajudicial killings as an acceptable means of crime control,” said Phelim Kine, deputy director for Asia of HRW.
“Duterte’s public support for the extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals should prompt a long overdue investigation into Duterte’s possible role in those deaths,” he added.
The long-serving Mayor lashed out at HRW for this statement, challenging the group to come to Davao City to file charges against him. He also blasted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for suggesting that he can face criminal charges if his links to the notorious Davao Death Squad can be proven.