Rodrigo Duterte: What to know about the controversial Philippines president

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, an anti-establishment crusader and a ruthless fighter for the war on drugs shows parallels between himself and President Trump, both for their brash rhetoric and embrace of populism.

Early life

The son of a former governor of Davao Province in the southern Philippines, Duterte, despite coming from privilege, ran with a rough and tumble crowd, often getting into fights and brawls throughout his teenage years.

By the age of 15, he was carrying a gun and known as a street brawler, according to his brother Emmanuel Duterte.

Duterte told a reporter in 2018 that the first time he may have killed someone was during a drunken beach brawl at age 17. “Maybe I stabbed somebody to death,” he said of the incident.

“Violence in the house, violence in the school and violence in the neighborhood,” Duterte's brother said. “That is why he is always angry. Because if you have pain when you are young, you are angry all the time.”

Duterte was regularly whipped by his mother, who reportedly once wore out a horsewhip from the frequent beatings, his brother said.

Throughout parochial school, he was caned by Jesuit priests, and as a freshman at the Ateneo de Davao High School, he was fondled by an American priest, he revealed in 2015.

The priest, whom Duterte identified as Rev. Mark Falvey, moved to California and died in 1975. The Jesuit order agreed in 2007 to pay $16 million to nine people Falvey molested when they were children attending a Hollywood church.

Political career

Duterte rose to political prominence in 1988, when he carved out a place for himself as the strong-arm mayor of Davao. In his more than 30 years since becoming mayor, he has never lost an election.

Duterte spent 20 years as mayor of his city and earned himself the nickname of "the death squad mayor" as rumors swirled that he regularly employed teams of hitmen to allegedly target and kill suspected drug dealers and addicts.

Despite being a fierce anti-drug crusader, Duterte himself struggled with drug abuse. Ten years after taking office, he filed for an annulment of his marriage, and a psychological assessment of Duterte concluded that he had “narcissistic personality disorder” and a “pervasive tendency to demean, humiliate others and violate their rights.”

Duterte has proudly touted his transformation of Davao from the country's murder capital to one of its safest cities in the country.

Despite being a brutal mayor, Duterte is also known for his softer side and has been described as being one to take out a wad of cash from his pockets and give it to someone in need.

Duterte became president of the Philippines in May 2016. He garnered more than 16.6 million votes in the election, 6.6 million more than his closest opponent, Manuel Roxas, according to the Associated Press.

His policy agenda ramped up the war on drugs even further, employing brutal and deadly tactics including police raids.

As president, Duterte continued his repressive war on drugs killing over 5,526 people throughout his tenure, many who are from impoverished urban areas, and all through police operations from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2019, according to the Philippine National Police.

The death toll does not include the thousands more unidentified gunmen have killed in cases that the police do not seriously investigate, pushing the death toll to as high as 27,000 according to estimates by domestic human rights groups.

Duterte's police forces have committed thousands of extrajudicial killings spreading from the capital region of metro Manila, into other cities and provinces, by raining homes and apprehending alleged drug dealers and users. Instead of being taken into custody, those arrested have died at the hands of police claiming self-defense.

Duterte has not been shy about his anti-drugs crusade, openly saying “I would be happy to slaughter them," in reference to drug dealers.

“I might go down in the history as the butcher,” he said in January 2017.

Relationship with the U.S.

The Philippines notified the United States on Tuesday it would end a major security pact allowing American forces to train in the country – a pivotal move under Duterte, who continues to warm to China while distancing itself from the U.S., who was the nation’s former colonial ruler.

The 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) allows American forces, along with U.S. military ships and aircraft, to rotate through Philippine military bases for roughly 300 joint exercises annually with Filipino troops.

The decision by the Philippine government comes as Duterte's relationship with the United States has grown contentious after the American government denied Senator Ronald dela Rosa, one of Duterte’s biggest champions for his violent war on drugs, a U.S. visa.

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