Forced to apologise through gritted teeth after making a joke in poor taste at the expense of an Australian missionary raped and murdered in the 1980s, Philippine presidential campaign frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte unwittingly added a new rhetorical tool to his repertoire: understatement.
“Sometimes my mouth can get the better of me,” he said. He’s not wrong. Here are just a few of the times the former mayor of Davao City, dubbed ‘Duterte Harry’ by the media, has let his mouth run away with him.
Is nothing sacred?
During his formal declaration as PDP-Laban’s presidential candidate last November, the Davao mayor launched a scathing attack on government incompetence following a gruelling five-hour slog through Manila traffic the previous year. The unlikely culprit? Pope Francis.
“We were affected by the traffic,” he complained. “It took us five hours. I asked why, they said it was closed. I asked who is coming. They answered, the pope. I wanted to call him, “Pope, you son of a bitch, go home. Do not visit us again.”
The attack on the popular pope was met with widespread condemnation, made all the worse by an unrepentant Duterte’s insistence that his anger was directed not at Pope Francis but a bungling government. The mayor’s eventual redemption cost him a grovelling apology to the Vatican, a dressing-down by the local bishops and a dubious pledge to donate P1,000 ($21) to Caritas Davao for every swear word uttered during the campaign to occupy the presidential palace.
Unsurprisingly for a man often called “the Punisher”, Duterte’s approach to crime in Davao has been defined by all the subtlety and nuance that moniker implies. Even after widespread reports of roving “death squads” dealing out vigilante justice on alleged criminals on his watch, it was still shocking to hear the frontrunner declare his solution to rising levels of crime in just three stark words: “kill them all”.
Speaking to more than 200 delegates at the first national convention of the Workplace Advocates on Safety in the Philippines, Duterte denounced Western ideas of rehabilitation.
“You rape a child in my city? I will kill you, I have no problem with that. You commit robbery and rape your victim? I will kill you,” he said.
“We’re the ninth safest city. How do you think I did it? How did I reach that title among the world’s safest cities? Kill them all.”
Human rights, watch out
Not everyone has embraced Duterte’s unique brand of crime prevention with open arms. After the mayor came out in support of the wave of extrajudicial killings ravaging the city, New York-based Human Rights Watch was quick to call for an investigation into Duterte’s relationship with the death squads.
In a retaliatory statement released to the media, the mayor slammed the group as little more than self-righteous puppets of an ineffectual Western regime, pointing to widespread inequality and prejudice in the US as proof of their impotence.
“What?!!!??!! US-based human rights wants me investigated?! Bullshit!! You are all hypocrites!” he wrote. “You cannot even protect the human rights in your own country; the American-Africans and other minorities, not to mention your inutility in dealing with the genocide going on in Africa and other countries.”
In case he’d left any room for misunderstanding, Duterte issued a challenge to any human rights group that dared challenge him:
“To all the bleeding hearts of US-based crime watch: You want a taste of justice, my style? Come to Davao City, Philippines, and do drugs in my city. I will execute you in public. And finally, you SOBs, I offer no excuses nor do I apologize. So be it.”
Rising to the occasion
Speaking last June to a nationwide gathering of the Philippine Councillors League, the would-be president told a giggling audience that he couldn’t imagine life without one thing: Viagra.
“Before, when our fathers and brothers reached their 50s, you’re only up to there,” he said. “But now, even when we reach 60s and 70s, thanks to the brilliance of Pfizer [the manufacturers of Viagra], life has been extended.”
It would not be the last time the little blue pill would earn a place on the podium.
At a concert in Taguig City, the rumoured womaniser confessed to a crowd of delighted supporters that his love of women wasn’t satisfied by just one partner.
“I have two girlfriends,” he said. “One is working as a cashier and the other works for a cosmetics store at a mall. The one working at the cosmetics store is younger. The other one is older but more beautiful.”
Eager to avoid any suggestion of impropriety, Duterte joked that he could only afford to put his girlfriends up in a low-rent boarding house – although he admitted to the odd thrifty trip to a motel.
“When I was younger I could go overnight, but that’s expensive,” he chuckled. “Now that I’m older, I can only do short time – because my time is short. Just one thrust and that’s it. No more. If there’s no Viagra, I’ll have a difficult time.”