For Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, it was another year of sledges, threats and ‘rape jokes’
The Philippine president came to office in 2016 with a reputation for vulgar quips – it’s fair to say he burnished that reputation further in 2017
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has become notorious for his zero-tolerance approach to narcotics, overseeing a brutal crackdown that has delivered a mounting death toll. However, he has also become infamous for his bellicose, sometimes bizarre public statements.
This year proved that Duterte’s unpredictable rhetoric was by no means confined to the campaign trail. Quite the opposite, Duterte’s second year in office has brought with it a whole new string of insults, threats and off-colour remarks.
Whether he’s intimidating his politics foes or taking aim at the Philippines’ allies, giving police the green light to kill drug users or making “rape jokes” to boost soldiers’ morale, Duterte spent 2017 veering between the bizarre and the downright disturbing.
Watch: Duterte sings to Trump
When Islamist militants abducted and beheaded two Vietnamese sailors in the southern region of Mindanao, Duterte’s reaction was furious. “I will eat your liver if you want me to. Give me salt and vinegar and I will eat it in front of you,” Duterte said. “I eat everything. I am not picky. I eat even what cannot be swallowed.”
Duterte has followed through on his campaign promise to crack down on drugs, leading a brutal purge that has claimed thousands of lives. And when his son, Paolo, was accused of drug-trafficking, the president was equally unforgiving. “I said before my order was: ‘If I have children who are into drugs, kill them so people will not have anything to say’,” Duterte said.
While attending an Apec summit in Vietnam, Duterte offered a rambling defence of his war on drugs, insisting he had killed personally someone while still a teenager. “At the age of 16, I already killed someone,” he said. “A real person, a rumble, a stabbing. I was just 16 years old. It was just over a look. How much more now that I am president?”
The Communist Party of the Philippines has been waging an insurgency since 1968 and peace talks have been conducted on and off. Duterte, though, appears to be running out of patience. “You tell the guys there in the Netherlands: I am no longer available for any official talk. Let’s just go to war,” Duterte said, referring to rebel leaders living in European exile.
Duterte withdrew police from the front lines of his crackdown on drugs after a series of rights abuses were exposed. In their place, Duterte insisted he would be willing to kill criminals himself. “Those who rape children, who rape women, those sons of … if you don’t want the police, I am here now,” he said. “I will shoot them. That’s true. If nobody would dare it, I will pull the trigger.”
Duterte’s crackdown on drugs has drawn criticism from abroad and the president responded angrily to suggestions the Philippines could be ejected from the United Nations. “We will be excluded in the UN? You son of a bitch. Go ahead. You are interfering in our affairs because we are poor,” he said. “You bull****. We are past the colonisation stage. Don’t f*** with us.”
Despite mounting concern about the toll exacted by Duterte’s war on drugs, the president has repeatedly endorsed violent measures taken by police. “Your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting … [if] he resists, and it is a violent one … you are free to kill the idiots, that is my order to you,” Duterte said.
Anxiety has been building in Asia – and around the world – over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Duterte did not mince his words. “This Kim Jong-un, a fool … he is playing with dangerous toys, that fool,” Duterte said. “That chubby face that looks kind. That son of a bitch. If he commits a mistake, the Far East will become an arid land. It must be stopped, this nuclear war.”
In one of the deadliest operations of the war, police reported killing 32 people in raids on suspected drug traffickers in Bulacan province, which neighbours Manila. “The ones who died recently in Bulacan, 32, in a massive raid, that was good,” Duterte said. “If we could kill another 32 every day, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”
During his annual State of the Union address, Duterte offered a strident defence of his war on drugs. “There is a jungle out there, there are beasts out there preying on the innocent, the helpless,” he said. “In the Philippines, it is really an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. You took a life, you must pay it to die. That is the only way to get even.”
Angered by attacks on government forces by communists, Duterte threatened to bomb schools run by indigenous populations known as Lumads, who he claimed were supporting the rebels. “Get out of there, I’m telling the Lumads now. I’ll have those bombed, including your structures,” Duterte said. “I will use the armed forces, the Philippine air force. I’ll really have those bombed.”
The US has long been one of the Philippines’ most vital allies but Duterte’s views on the relationship have been typically volatile and unpredictable. “I’ve seen America and it’s lousy,” he said in July. “It would be good for the US Congress to start with their own investigation of their own violations with so many civilians killed in the prosecution of the wars in the Middle East.”
Duterte’s casual remarks about rape have raised eyebrows before and he courted further controversy when addressed diplomats in Davao. “What I don’t like are kids [being raped],” he said. “You can mess with, maybe Miss Universe. Maybe I will even congratulate you for having the balls to rape somebody when you know you are going to die.”
The Philippine president invoked martial law to fight the Islamist insurgency in Marawi and warned his political foes he would jail them f they objected. “It’s not dependent on the whim of the Supreme Court,” he said. “Should I believe them? When I see the situation is still chaotic and you ask me to lift it? I will arrest you and put you behind bars.”
In June, Duterte went a week without being seen in public, prompting speculation he was in ill health. However, when asked if he had any surgery or blood transfusion during his absence, Duterte joked that he had a “circumcision”. Duterte suffers chronic back pain from a spinal injury suffered in a motorcycle accident and some observers suggest he is dependent on powerful painkillers.
While Philippine soldiers were battling the insurgents in Marawi, Duterte visited a military base to reiterate his support for the troops. “For this martial law and the consequences of martial law and the ramifications of martial law, I and I alone would be responsible. Just do your work. I will handle the rest,” he said. “I will be imprisoned for you. If you rape three [women], I will say that I did it.”
Duterte has taken shifting positions on China’s actions in the South China Sea. But in April he ordered the Philippine military for occupy and fortify their islands in disputed territory. “It looks like everybody is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are still vacant,” he said. “At least, let us get what is ours now and make a strong point there that it is ours.”
Duterte weighed in to defend one of his political allies who committed adultery. “This is a world of hypocrisy,” he told the House of Representatives. “Who among you here does not have a mistress? There are so many women and you [have] so short a time in this world. My God!” Duterte has previously boasted about having mistresses and using Viagra to have sex with them.
The Catholic Church in the Philippines has led the backlash against Duterte’s drug war but the president has made them scant regard, even suggesting the clergy should sample addictive crystal methamphetamine, or shabu, before commenting. “The [critical] priests should take shabu to understand,” he said. “I recommend one or two of the bishops take it also.”
During celebrations of Women’s Day in April, Duterte took aim at the European Union after some leaders criticised his crackdown on drugs. “Come here and we will talk because I want to slap you,” Duterte said. He also scoffed at the bloc for recommending the Philippines build “clinics around like in other countries, and give shabu, cocaine and heroin like in Holland”.
Abu Sayyaf militants have menaced the Philippines by seizing hostages and then demanding ransoms. Duterte, though, said he instructed the navy and the coastguard that “if there are kidnappers and they’re trying to escape, bomb them all”. His advice to potential victims? “So, really, don’t allow yourselves to be kidnapped.”