Rodrigo Duterte does not mince words when he tells Filipinos what will happen if they vote for him next month.
“If I become president, I will kill all of you (expletive) making the lives of the Filipino miserable,” he once said. “I will really kill all of you.”
The 71-year-old mayor of the southern city of Davao, the largest metropolis in the Philippines, has vowed to get rid of crime and corruption in the country in the first six months of his presidency.
The tough talk has propelled the mayor also known as “the Punisher” to the front of the race, according to surveys taken just a month before the elections on May 9, overtaking first-time Senator Grace Poe.
Analysts said Duterte’s decisiveness and clear message of fighting crime and corruption were drawing voters to choose him amid growing frustration with past governments.
“This is manifestation of the deep frustration and disenchantment about the many problems that are not being resolved,” said political analyst Temario Rivera. “While voters know that the solution is not that simple, they are looking for a leader that is decisive and has the political will.”
In one of his campaign rallies in Manila, where his support was growing, according to a Pulse Asia Inc survey from March 29 to April 3, thousands of supporters chanted and pumped their fists in the air as Duterte arrived on a truck.
Aaron Navarrete, a 31-year-old businessman, said he believes only Duterte can implement the changes needed to improve the lives of Filipinos.
“I only want to be able to walk in the streets safely, no matter the time, and not be afraid,” the father of a 4-month-old daughter. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Navarrete, who lost a brother to a shooting in 2002, said Duterte’s promise of ridding the country of criminality convinced him that he should be the next president.
“My brother was walking around our subdivision, in broad daylight, when he was shot dead,” he said. “It was an apparent robbery. The killers were caught and eventually jailed. But that does not bring back my brother.”
In a debate with rivals in March, Duterte stood out as someone with a mission.
When asked how he plans to resolve the country’s crime problem in six months, he said, “I’m different. If I say (to the criminals), do not come here, do not come here. When I say, leave, you leave. If you do not do that, you are dead.”
Duterte has been linked to a spate of extra-judicial killings of suspected criminals Davao City, 957 kilometres south of Manila.
While he does not confirm he was behind the so-called Davao Death Squad killings, he admits he has killed people in the past.
“If you do not know how to kill people and if you are afraid to die, you cannot be president,” he told rival Mar Roxas, the administration’s candidate, during last month’s debate.
Roxas warned that Duterte was “the most dangerous thing to happen” to the Philippines since late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ 20-year rule that ended in an uprising in 1986.
“He’s a threat to democracy because it’s his way or no way,” Roxas said. “He is a threat to our way of life because if you will confront him with the truth, he will answer you with invectives, insults or bullets.”
Poe, who was the early frontrunner in the presidential race, also hit Duterte for espousing extrajudicial killings to resolve criminality.
“What we need is justice not violence because we should not take vengeance in our hands solely on mere accusations,” she said. “Killing is not the only solution. What we need to do is be organized, we need to have justice.”
Duterte’s supporters believe that he only has the best intentions in his tough leadership.
“Mayor Duterte only kills those who are evil,” said Rochelle Padilla, 36. “We need people to be afraid, because if you are afraid, you will follow the rules. If you are afraid, you will change for the better.”
Padilla, who came to Duterte’s campaign rally with her 11-year-old nephew, lived in Davao City for more than a year while working for a government agency.
“The city is very beautiful, the public hospital is like a private facility and the public market is very clean,” she said. “I wasn’t afraid to walk around the city even very late at night.”
The cheers at the rally grew louder as Duterte spoke to the crowd.
In a speech laced with foul language, the mayor told his supporters that he loved the Philippines and that he only wanted to do what’s best for the country and its people.
“At the end of the day, you will realise that I am your last resort,” he said to howls and fist-pumps. “Now, we’re done here. Leave. Go home!”