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Philippine Presidential Candidate Accused Of Using Death Squads


A presidential candidate in the Philippines is being compared to Donald Trump. He's a mayor who talks big, has a lot of swagger and also leads in polling before Monday's general election. Michael Sullivan has more from Manila.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Rodrigo Duterte is a crime-busting prosecutor turned mayor, whose nicknames include The Punisher and Duterte Harry - a tough guy whose campaign vans crawl the streets, playing a signature Clint Eastwood tough-guy tune.


SULLIVAN: He's also got a mouth and no filter. He cursed out the Pope earlier this year for causing traffic jams during the pontiff's visit to Manila. He brags about his love of Viagra. And he's a man who recently joked about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary by inmates at a prison here in the late-1980s.


RODRIGO DUTERTE: (Speaking foreign language).

SULLIVAN: "What a waste," the 71-year-old told the crowd at his campaign event. "She was so young, so beautiful," he said. "The mayor should have been first." The remark drew swift and intense condemnation abroad and at home. But his poll numbers, they didn't budge.

EDITHA CADUAYA: Yeah, he talks a lot of [expletive] and garbage. But once he says things, he will stand to it. He walks his talk.

SULLIVAN: Editha Caduaya is a longtime journalist in Davao City where Duterte's brutal campaign against crime and corruption has made the city one of the safest and most economically vibrant in the country. But critics say it's come at a high cost - extrajudicial killings by the so-called Davao death squads, responsible for the deaths of hundreds, maybe more.

CARLOS CONDE: There's no doubt in my mind that Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is responsible for these killings.

SULLIVAN: Carlos Conde is a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Manila, which produced an exhaustive report on the killings, including interviews with witnesses and survivors. He says Duterte doesn't run from these allegations, he embraces them.

CONDE: Based on his public statements, he admits as much.

SULLIVAN: In a recent television interview, the host pressed Duterte about the 700 allegedly killed under his watch. Seven hundred, Duterte replied, they miscalculated - 1700. Yet despite all of this, Duterte's law and order message resonates with many voters nationwide.


SULLIVAN: Most of those enjoying a bowl of soup at this streetside stall in Manila say they'll vote for Duterte. Twenty-eight-year-old Jan Corpuz is an unemployed father of four.

JAN CORPUZ: He knows what to do - just a simple trick and kill all the alligators and snake.

SULLIVAN: Kill all the alligators and snakes.


SULLIVAN: Like in Davao City?

CORPUZ: I think so, yes. I think the Filipino people need a leader that bends the rules a little.

SULLIVAN: And there's another law and order candidate who's leading in a separate race to become vice president - Ferdinand Marcos Junior, known here as Bongbong, son of the late dictator who ruled the country for more than 20 years.

RICHARD HEYDARIAN: The Philippines, without a question, is caught in the midst of a new zeitgeist. And this new zeitgeist is grievance politics.

SULLIVAN: Crime, corruption, bad roads, not enough jobs - all of it, says Richard Heydarian of De La Salle University in Manila, have created a level of frustration not seen in decades.

HEYDARIAN: People are now looking for outside-the-box candidates who effectively offer a single-minded, strong-willed decisive form of leadership. And both Bongbong Marcos and Mayor Duterte of Davao have promised, in the view of a lot of people in the electorate, that kind of decisive leadership.

SULLIVAN: Come Monday, they may get it. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Manila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.