Crime-Busting Mayor Soars Into Lead of Philippine President Race

  • Rodrigo Duterte overtakes rivals in latest opinion poll
  • Mayor has vowed to order execution of nation's drug addicts

Rodrigo Duterte, a crime-busting mayor and self-confessed womanizer, has rocketed ahead of established rivals in the latest opinion poll on the Philippines’ presidential race.

The 70-year-old, who only filed his candidacy last month, took a 38 percent share in the poll by Social Weather Stations. Senator Grace Poe and Vice President Jejomar Binay, the front-runners in previous surveys, each got 21 percent, according to the survey conducted Nov. 26-28.

The mayor of Davao City on the southern island of Mindanao has become a national figure through his hard line on crime. He’s said drug addicts should be executed, despite capital punishment being outlawed in the Philippines. He’s trying to enter the race for the May 2016 election by replacing a registered contender from the Philippine Democratic Party-People’s Power or PDP-Laban party.

Duterte will face a real test once official campaigning begins in February, when the public will demand to know who he really is, said Prospero de Vera, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines. “On his statements about executing criminals, how will he do this without a law on capital punishment?”

Former Murder Capital

Duterte has served more than two decades as mayor of Davao, which was known as the nation’s murder capital during the rule of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Under Duterte, Davao has become one of the country’s safest and more prosperous cities. That peace and order came at a cost, according to Human Rights Watch, which has accused him of giving tacit support to extra judicial killings of more than 1,000 suspected criminals since the late 1990s. Duterte calls the allegations “a myth.”

“I will not allow our children to be devoured by drugs,” Duterte told supporters in Manila last month. “I will order the military and police to kill all drug addicts in the Philippines.”

“I had a wife, a second wife and two girlfriends,” Duterte told his supporters. “You want me to become president? You need to know who I am.”

Other contenders include Mar Roxas, President Benigno Aquino’s preferred successor, and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a former judge who’s making a third bid for the presidency.

The commissioned poll, which mentioned Duterte’s name as a possible substitute candidate, asked 1,200 voters nationwide who they would cast a ballot for if the election were held today. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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