MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Rodrigo Duterte kept Filipinos guessing for months last year whether he would run for president. He repeatedly declared that he wouldn’t, then cited different reasons when he finally did. On the campaign trail, he flipped and flopped on a number of key pronouncements. That has made it difficult to discern when the brash Duterte, who spikes his speeches with sarcasm and hyperbole for added punch, is serious or, in his own words, is “just taking you for a ride.”
Some of the verbal U-turns made by the Philippines’ likely next president:
RUNNING OR NOT?
Last year, Duterte kept the entire country and his rivals at a loss over whether he would run for president, declaring initially in a June 21 TV interview that he was not closing the door on the prospect. “I will leave it open for God to decide,” he said. He turned around the next day, chiding reporters for not listening carefully and telling them what he actually said was that he was keeping his doorway open for women.
As an October deadline for signing up for the race approached, he rejected clamors for him to run by supporters, some of whom, including his daughter, shaved their heads to underscore their plea. Duterte said he didn’t harbor the ambition to be president.
The following month, however, he switched places with a fellow party member who had registered for the race, saying he decided to run out of dismay over a decision to allow a rival candidate to run despite protests that she was not a natural-born Filipino as the constitution requires. He would later say he ran because his southern region has been neglected by past presidents.
On the campaign trail, Duterte promised to end crime and corruption in three to six months, an impossible feat that nevertheless resonated with crime-weary Filipinos. “If I fail,” he dared, “kill me.”
Duterte eventually toned down the big promise, saying in a campaign rally that “I cannot really stop as in stop (crime). For as long as there is society, and there are men and women and children in society, there will always be crime.”
“Ending” then gave way to “suppressing” crime.
POPE GO HOME
In November, Duterte cursed Pope Francis for causing a traffic jam during a Manila visit that trapped Duterte for five hours. He told a crowd, “I wanted to call and tell him, ‘Pope, you son of a bitch, go home. Don’t visit here anymore.'”
Amid ensuing criticism, he backtracked and explained that he was cursing the mishandling of the traffic and not the pontiff. Still, he wrote a letter of apology to the Vatican.
After it became clear Duterte had won the presidency, his spokesman announced plans to visit the Vatican because “he really needs to explain to the pope and ask for forgiveness.”
Three days later, Duterte shot down the idea, saying he had canceled the planned Vatican trip. Duterte said he had already sent a letter of apology to the leader of the Catholic world, adding, “That’s enough.”
Duterte and his camp have adopted a gamut of options in dealing with China over contested territories in the South China Sea. Under his presidency, he said the Philippines will prod China to abide by the upcoming decision of an arbitration court that’s handling a Philippine lawsuit against Beijing. If China doesn’t budge, he says he’ll be open to one-on-one talks with Beijing. Another time, he said he leaned toward multilateral negotiations that would involve the United States and Japan and rival claimant governments to resolve the escalating conflicts.
But at a televised debate he revealed his most outlandish approach: He said he has thought about traveling to the disputed waters by Jet Ski and planting a Philippine flag on one of the new Chinese man-made islands, saying it’s up to the Chinese to shoot him and turn him into a national hero.
When one of Duterte’s harshest critics, Sen. Antonio Trillanes, alleged last month that Duterte had a secret bank account with his daughter with at least 211 million pesos ($4.5 million) that he failed to declare in 2014 as required by law, Duterte’s spokesman initially denied the account existed. Critics, however, proved it existed by depositing a token amount to get a receipt that showed the names of Duterte and his daughter, prompting Duterte to acknowledge he had the account.
He then suggested that the account had a smaller amount, but later backpedaled by saying at a news conference that he had “a little less than 211 million” pesos. Duterte said that amount wasn’t declared because he had already spent it by the deadline that requires officials to make public only their existing assets.
Although he has not fully disclosed details of the account and where the money came from, Duterte swore he wasn’t corrupt and cites the absence of any corruption case against him in his more than 22 years as mayor of the southern city of Davao.
In his most infamous campaign joke, Duterte said he had wished to be the first in line to rape a beautiful Australian missionary who was sexually abused and killed by inmates during a 1989 Davao jail riot. He later struggled to ease the backlash by saying his remark was slang for expressing his disgust, and refused to apologize.
With criticism growing during the campaign homestretch, his spokesman and political party issued an apology on his behalf in which Duterte apologized to the Filipino people and said, “I am a man of many flaws and contradictions.”
Duterte later disowned the apology and added that he never approved his own party’s statement. Moments later, he grudgingly suggested that the statement of apology was fine.