When Rodrigo Duterte warned people, “don’t vote for me because it will be bloody”, he won the Philippine presidency by a landslide with 16.6 million votes. He had tapped into public anger, fear and helplessness against rising crime.

After two months in office, Duterte’s drug war has resulted in 1,900 deaths – 750 of them caused by policemen who said they acted in “self-defence” during “buy and bust” operations. The rest of the dead, murdered by unidentified men, are considered “deaths under investigation”, Police Director General Ronald de la Rosa told a Senate probe this week. Government critics say “DUIs” are extrajudicial or vigilante killings.

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These unexplained killings have been laid at Duterte’s doorstep, since he has repeatedly encouraged killings as a way to solve nagging problems. Two years ago, while mayor of Davao City, he told rice smugglers to stop or “I will really kill you, I’m not joking.”

On August 18, he told citizens who were being made to go back and forth by government officials for processing their papers, “shoot them. I’ll take care of you, really”.

Now he seems to be turning the gun on China. A week later, giving his strongest statement yet against the country, which claims nearly all of the South China Sea, he warned that an invasion by China would “be bloody and we will not give it to them easily”.

Before this, he had called China’s Xi Jinping (習近平) “a great president”.

Murder and death are two themes that run through Duterte’s administration.

To employers who continue to practice “contractualisation”, or firing workers after five months to avoid making them permanent staff, Duterte said: “You choose: Stop contractualisation or I will kill you. I am the president.” Duterte’s office means he is immune from any legal suit.

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Apparently seeing the shock register on the faces of the audience, Duterte added: “Ah, that’s just hyperbole.”

Taking a cue from the president, his new customs commissioner, ex-marine officer Nicanor Faeldon, told the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry last month what he would do with corrupt customs personnel who were costing the bureau 300 million pesos in taxes daily. “If I cannot touch them legally,” he said, “I will have to start shooting them one by one.”

Duterte was the first local politician to make killings a key campaign platform.

During his campaign sorties, the 71-year-old veteran politician repeatedly promised, to ecstatic standing-room-only crowds, that the fish in Manila Bay would grow fat from feeding on criminal corpses.

Although he told his former law school classmates after getting elected that he didn’t mind retiring with “the reputation of Idi Amin” – who was accused of murdering up to half a million people in Uganda – Duterte bristled when an international human rights group warned his “drug war” could turn into genocide. “Genocide is when you kill people for no reason at all,” he fumed.

He became furious when Agnes Callamard, UN rapporteur on summary executions, criticised last week Duterte’s bounty offer for “dead or alive” drug dealers and his shoot-to-kill order against politicians involved.

“My order is shoot to kill,” Duterte said. “I don’t care about human rights. Believe me. I don’t give a s**t about what they will say.”

Callamard said: “Directives of this nature are irresponsible in the extreme and amount to incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law.”

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Apparently Duterte did care about what the UN thought.

Two days later, during a 3am press conference, he blasted the UN and threatened to pull the country from it and form a new group that might include China. Anyway, he said, the UN was useless. It had not ended wars and “had not done any good for the Philippines”.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay had to give an assurance that the pull-out would not happen. Yasay excused the president’s outburst saying: “The president was tired, disappointed, hungry when he made the statement.” Duterte then contradicted Yasay by saying he was just joking.

Duterte reserved his special venom for Senator Leila de Lima who had insisted on conducting a probe into extrajudicial killings this week and who had linked him to “Davao Death Squads” in 2009.

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Duterte branded De Lima “immoral” for having an affair with her driver-bodyguard, whom he claimed was her conduit for pay-offs from jailed drug traffickers while she was still secretary of justice. On August 24, Duterte gleefully told reporters that De Lima – a legally separated woman – had found a new lover. Duterte named him even though he said this man was not involved in drug dealing.

De Lima admitted that she and her former driver-bodyguard were once close but strongly denied any drug links.

There is a case for believing the administration has been intent all along on death as a policy. The government has made no provision for accommodating the flood of drug addicts who, terrified by Duterte’s threats, have turned themselves in. Some sources say as many as half a million have already surrendered. Rather than be put in rehabilitation centres the addicts who surrendered were ordered to go back home, after their names and addresses were noted.

The murderers seem to have been using these names and addresses as a death list. Many of the victims so far had earlier surrendered.

Duterte, his aides and supporters look at the growing body count and don’t see a massacre. They see progress. DUIs are simply collateral damage in the attainment of a good thing, which is to eradicate crime, give every Filipino a comfortable and safe life and bring economic progress to the nation.

This week, as a Senate probe on “extrajudicial killings” got underway and the police finally gave official statistics on the kill rate, Duterte said: “We are 104 million [population], you [care] about – how many? – 1,600 being killed. You’re not even sure how many died in police encounters, how many committed suicide, how many were killed out of anger by others?”

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His rage was understandable. He had promised to transform the nation into a booming Davao City, a pocket of peace in the country’s troubled south, where foreign investors flocked. Few residents there questioned Duterte’s extreme approach while he was mayor for more than 21 years.

Ernesto Pernia, former lead economist at the Asian Development Bank and now Duterte’s economic planning secretary, called the killings “a necessary evil” on the path to development.

Pernia blamed the media for giving foreign investors a biased, negative view of the administration’s war on drugs.

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He said: “The problem is the only ones interviewed by media are those ... whose husband or child has been killed...we should also try to get the view of others who approve of what’s happening and see it as really, see it as you know, maybe a necessary evil that has to happen in the pursuit of greater good.”

He further said: “It’s better that there are no killings. And also, we have to realise that our justice system is dysfunctional. I think that should also be made known ... the Supreme Court should know that. They have to shape up before we can really, you know, follow due process.”

Just how dysfunctional the country’s justice system is, President Duterte knows all too intimately. During his press conference on August 21, he disclosed that while he worked as a city prosecutor in Davao City, “we planted evidence”.

Duterte is an unabashed admirer of the country’s late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, whom he calls “the best president ever” despite massive human rights violations during Marcos’ 14-year dictatorship.

Duterte’s father Vicente worked for Marcos right inside Malacanang Palace after a stint as governor of Davao province.

But he died a broken man when he was accused in court of wrongdoing.

Duterte has said in various interviews that his father’s sudden death caused him to straighten out his own life. He has admitted being a problem child who was twice expelled from school and often punished by his mother because he got into various scrapes and fights.

Jesus Dureza, his former classmate, recalled that Duterte had been expelled from the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Davao for throwing paper aeroplanes and for smearing a priest’s cassock with ink.

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Dureza, now the presidential peace adviser, fondly calls Duterte “the Punisher”. He told of how Duterte once confronted a street hoodlum who was staging rumbles just outside their all boys’ school.

“We climbed over the barbed wire fence of the school in the dead of night and he looked all over for the guy whom he found in a bar. He simply went over to the guy, told him to stop it and punched him. Then we ran away while the gang pursued us,” Dureza told This Week in Asia.

“We had nothing to do with the rumble. We did not even know the guy. He [Duterte] simply punched him. He had the mindset of a punisher even when he was that young,” Dureza recalled.

It was only in December last year that Duterte disclosed why he was a troubled youth. He said, when he was 14 or 15, an American priest had sexually abused him. “It was a case of fondling – you know what – which he did during confession, that’s how we lost our innocence… It happened during our generation, two years ahead of us and two years following us.”

“It was a sort of sexual awakening for each of us,” said Duterte, whose endless womanising had ended his 15-year marriage to Elizabeth Zimmerman.

Court records of the “declaration of nullity” of their marriage, due to Duterte’s psychological incapacity, cited a psychologist’s report saying that Duterte suffered from “Antisocial Narcissistic Personality Disorder”.

The report claimed that Duterte had the “inability for loyalty and commitment, gross indifference to others’ needs and feelings, heightened by a lack of capacity for remorse and guilt.”

The report also described Duterte as “a highly impulsive individual who has difficulty controlling his urges and emotions. He is unable to reflect on the consequences of his actions.”

Duterte himself has said he is “bipolar”.

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A psychology professor – who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity for fear of what might befall him if he spoke out – said he had not seen a copy of the psychological report.

But he said that based on Duterte’s actions, such as threatening to pull out of the UN, Duterte “has elements of immaturity, when he gets frustrated he is easily provoked. He has poor impulse control”.

“He also has a very large ego, so much so that you cannot cross him, you cannot imply he might be wrong,” he added.

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Such traits are possibly affecting presidential decisions, the psychologist added.

“For instance, his anger against drugs: how well thought-out are his ideas? He acts on his ideas without thinking through the consequences.”

The psychologist said that one positive effect of such traits was “the boldness of his actions and some of them seem to be right. What is worrisome is, they don’t seem to come from deep reflection”.

How does one deal with such a personality? The psychologist has this advice: “I think he would respond to flattery.”