The Philippines’ new president Rodrigo Duterte has admitted he is rude, often erupting in expletive-laced comments that could hurt diplomatic relations.
Just days after the official election results in May, he launched into an unprovoked attack against the United Nations amid criticism that his policies could violate international human rights conventions.
“You son of a bitch, UN, you can’t even solve the Middle East carnage, couldn’t even lift a finger in Africa. Shut up, all of you,” he said.
“I never signed anything that said I have to behave,” he added.
Before he was elected president, Duterte cursed at Pope Francis for causing heavy traffic in Manila during his visit in 2015. He later apologized after a public uproar.
He also challenged the United States and Australia to sever ties with the Philippines after the ambassadors of the two countries criticized him for joking about the gang rape of an Australian missionary during a jail siege in Davao City in 1989.
During another press conference, he whistled at a female reporter who was asking him a question. and then he suddenly started singing a Filipino love song.
When called out for the cat-calling, Duterte said there was nothing sexual about his whistling and that he was merely exasperated by the question.
“You can’t stop me, that’s my freedom of expression,” he said.
While stressing he will never change his “style, character and identity,” the 71-year-old mayor of the southern city of Davao also promised a metamorphosis, and analysts believe he will not be as careless when his term starts.
“I’m really a rude person. I’m enjoying my time as a rude person. I am not yet president,” Duterte said.
“But when I become president, when I take my oath of office, if you want, I can be more in keeping with the dignity of the office,” he said. “I will tone down my cursing. That will be past. It’s gonna be history.”
Aries Arugay, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said much concern raised by foreign officials about Duterte arises from the fact that the new president is virtually unknown internationally.
“The international community of nations doesn’t really know him,” he said. “And because he is not known, there is room to define your reputation and your image internationally.”
“At the end of the day, Duterte is still Filipino and all Filipinos are very charismatic to foreigners,” he added.
Duterte’s experience in public service was limited to local politics, being a seven-term mayor of Davao City, which once was infested with rebels and ridden with crime.
Since he became mayor, then congressman, and mayor again starting in 1986, Duterte transformed the city into one of the most peaceful and progressive in the country.
But that transformation came at a price, as human rights advocates accused Duterte of sanctioning the killings of criminals in the city. The mayor did not deny the accusations and instead dared his accusers to haul him to court.
Duterte has called on Congress to restore the death penalty in the Philippines, and ordered police to shoot to kill suspected criminals who resist arrest as part of his anti-crime campaign.
He said the executions should be done by hanging, and criminals convicted of murder with robbery and rape should be meted “double the hanging.”
“After the first hanging, there will be another ceremony for the second time until the head is completely severed from the body,” he said.
Arugay said Duterte might eventually have problems defending his human rights record before the international community, especially among members of the European Union.
“We have not really heard a categorical statement from him that he will defend human rights,” he said. “This is a problem particularly since the EU is very strict on this.”
Arugay said that since Duterte is pragmatic and practical, there would be “duality” in his leadership personality.
“He will really be controversial, that is the nature of the animal we have,” he said. “But Duterte the decision maker will be different from Duterte the talker.”
Duterte has appeared to be soft on China and tough on the US, amid the Philippines’ arbitration case against Beijing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
But Arugay said Duterte is aware that there is very little room to manoeuvre with the country’s foreign policies because national interests do not change.
“When there are foreign policy changes, it’s only the methods or the means but the interests are the same,” he said.
Arugay said that although the new president might have appeared cold to the US, he appointed a defence secretary who was once the Philippines’ defence attache to Washington.
“That signals he has not forgotten how important the US is by appointing someone who is very close to the US,” he said. “And yet, you will see his press releases that he is a bit anti-US.”