MANILA–“Relax, I am not the man portrayed by some,” said Philippines presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte as he tried to ease the misgivings about his candidacy with members of the country’s business elite on Wednesday.

The tough-talking mayor from southern Philippines laid down his plans for the country in an attempt to woo the support of members of the Makati Business Club (MBC), an organization whose members include senior executives from the largest and most dynamic corporations in the Philippines.

In a speech laced with inflammatory language, he vowed to stop corruption and criminality in the Philippines.

“I assure you, you will feel the difference in 3 to 6 months. I will do it in my first weeks of tenure if I make it to Malacañang,” Duterte said. Clad in a polo shirt, he was the most underdressed figure in an event that swarmed with men in suits.

His audience on Wednesday was different from the crowds from the masses who usually greet his campaign sorties.

Rodrigo Duterte
Rodrigo Duterte

Leads polls

Duterte continues to lead in surveys, knocking out former leader Senator Grace Poe despite the controversy that swirled around a recent “rape joke” he made about a prison escape attempt in which an Australian religious worker was assaulted and killed.

Some analyst say Duterte got a strong following from the masses because they can relate to what he is saying while others feel the need to have a disciplinarian president.

“I am presenting myself as a candidate for the presidency. You have seen me in public, how I behave and you have heard my blunders of words and you know, we have our faults. I have many in my life. But one thing I can assure you as I have done before, and which I am up to, I said, if you just listen to my curses and my, you know, bad words, look at my back, so you’ll see there the Filipino on bended knees, hungry and [I am] very mad at this country for doing nothing,” he said during last week’s presidential debate where he also assured he will not declare martial law the country.

Who is Duterte?

Born March 28, 1945 in Maasin, Southern Leyte, Duterte who is often called by his nicknames “Digong” or “Rody” is the son of a former governor of Davao and his mother, a school teacher.

He studied at St. Ana Elementary School in Davao, a public school and then spent his secondary education at the Holy Cross of Digos after he was expelled twice in the other school due to misconduct.

Duterte, himself admitted that he was an average student in school.

In carrying out his plans for the nation, he says he will copy some of the platforms of his contenders as well as the good projects of incumbent President Benigno Aquino III and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“Sanay naman akong mangopya. Grade 1, nagkokopya na po ako [I am used to copying from other people. Since grade school, I am already copying from my classmates],” Duterte said during the last presidential debate.

He said he has nothing to brag about when it comes to academic excellence.

But he said what he will brag about is his work.

“Wala akong recognition sa eskwela hanggang high school, 75 ang lahat. Okay lang yan. [I have no recognition in school. My grades were all 75%. But that’s okay.] Pero noong nag-abogado ako, medyo matino na ako. [But when I became a lawyer, I changed ways] and I have learned so much reason, but I will not dwell into so much about the niceties of life. If it is the interest of the nation, I will do it,” Duterte said.

He earned his college diploma at the Lyceum of the Philippines and later continued studying law at San Beda College. He passed the bar examination shortly after in 1972. From 1977 to 1986, he served as a government prosecutor.

Political career

After the 1986 People Power revolution, Duterte launched his career in politics as an appointed mayor or an officer-in-charge of his city. During his stint, he designated deputy mayors representing indigenous communities like the Lumads and the Moros.

Duterte in shades
Duterte in shades

He also served as a congressman, a mayor, vice mayor and again a mayor making his stint as local chief executive of his city for more than 20 years.

As of April 2016, Davao City ranked as the 47th safest city in the world according to the data from the crowd-sourcing survey site As of this writing, the city has a crime index of 26.66 and safety index of 73.34. Its ranking fell from being fifth last year with a crime index of 18.18 and a safety index of 81.82.

Duterte’s contender Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, the administration’s standard bearer in a speech last December said calling Davao City among the safest in the world is a “myth.” He asserted it was in fact the fourth city with the highest crime incidence in the Philippines.

Roxas, during his stint as Interior and Local Government Secretary even awarded Duterte’s city with a Seal of Good Local Governance in 2015.

But the Davao City Police Office (DCPO) debunked Roxas’ claim by stressing that out of the volume of 18,119 crimes cited by Roxas, only 6,548 (36 percent) were attributed to index crimes, or crimes against persons and properties.

Crimes against persons and properties include murder, theft, robbery, homicide that happens mostly at home or in places that are beyond the control of the police authorities.

The DCPO said that the remaining 11,571 (64%) were attributed to non-index crimes. These are “police-initiated operations that yielded positive results especially on anti-drugs and other special laws.”

“They are not showing the true facts on this issue,” the DCPO said.

In Davao City, Duterte has imposed a liquor ban from 1:00 am to 8:00 am, required commercial establishments to set up closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras, imposed strict speed limits on vehicles within the city, set curfew for teenagers and even prohibited swimsuits in beauty pageants.

The mayor was also seen around the city riding his motorcycle or driving cab at night in hopes of finding a robber to “kill him.”

Davao Death Squad and hidden wealth

Duterte poses with automatic weapon
Duterte poses with automatic weapon

Last year, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) conducted a case build-up on the Davao Death Squad (DDS), a vigilante group allegedly headed by Duterte which is responsible for thousands of extra-judicial killings in his area.

Former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the government already has a witness that can pin Duterte to the multiple deaths in his city. However, to date, the investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is still ongoing.

Incumbent Justice Secretary Emmanuel Caparas says a breakthrough in the case is still elusive. “We have a lead and then it will disappear and then it will surface again,” he said.

He was also being criticized by human rights groups for his alleged involvement in extra-judicial killings while a women’s group filed a case against him before the Commission on Human Rights.

His response: “go to hell.”

The mayor also dared his staunchest critic, De Lima to file a case against him. “If you have the goods on me, file a case,” he said before members of the MBC.

Duterte was also accused by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV of having more than P211-million assets which he did not declare in his statement of assets, liabilities and networth (SALN). Every government official and employee is required under the law to submit a SALN annually where they declare their properties, investments, bank accounts for scrutiny to determine if it is consistent with their salary as a public servant.

Trillanes, a presidential aspirant, added that Duterte has more hidden wealth.

Like Trillanes, another presidential contender, Roxas dared Duterte to sign a waiver so that his bank accounts can be examined to prove that the allegation is not true.

“I will not make it easy for you [referring to Trillanes]. You prove it. That is garbage,” Duterte said.

His camp said they expect more attacks as the election draws near and as he continues to lead in surveys.

If elected president

He said he will hire 3,000 more policemen to implement his anti-crime strategy.

Duterte also said he will double the salary of the police and military to start his bloody “war” against crime.

“I will use the military and the police to go out, to arrest them, to hunt them [criminals],” Duterte said.

“If they put up violent resistance, put lives of police at risk, I will simply say ‘patayin ninyo lahat para matapos ang problema [kill them all to end the problem],” he said before the country’s top businessmen on Wednesday.

The mayor also vowed to stop corruption to create a more propitious atmosphere for business.

“We have to give everyone the opportunity to do business … I will make this place peaceful for you,” Duterte said.

He also promised to continue public spending for infrastructure, increase funding for scholarships and teacher training, and improve mass transport.

“I am glad to share my government agenda to the business sector being a vital partner to development,” Duterte said. His speech exceeded its time allotment to such an extent that the MBC dispensed with the question and answer portion.

MBC President Ramon Del Rosario says a sense of uneasiness and uncertainty about Duterte persists because they haven’t had a chance to get to know him better.

“We really do not have the chance to get to know him. We do not know who his advisers are, it is in that sense that there is uneasiness and uncertainty. [But] that is not to say that we are predicting negative things about him. I think it is a wait-and-see attitude,” he told reporters after the event.

Lorenz Niel Santos is a Manila-based journalist.

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