Friends and colleagues of the Philippine president discuss what drives him
JUN ENDO, Nikkei staff writer
MANILA -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte capitalized on his tough guy image to vault himself into the presidency in June 2016. So far, his sky-high 80% approval rating has remained unscathed by his frequent outbursts or a hard-line approach to drug crime.
It is estimated that more than 6,200 people have been killed over the last six months in connection with Duterte's high-profile drug war. Many of those suspected of involvement in the narcotics trade have been killed by vigilante groups. The United Nations and others have blasted the crackdown as an extrajudicial killing spree.
But people who know Duterte from his days in the city of Davao, in the southern Philippines, are quick to defend him, saying his actions stem from a profound sense of justice that does not allow him to overlook the deeds of influence peddlers and criminals.
Businessman Samuel Uy, who has known the 71-year-old president since high school and provided crucial financial backing for his campaign, recalled that Duterte had developed a reputation as hard-nosed some 30 years ago.
Around 1980, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos placed the Philippines under martial law under the pretext of wiping out communist rebels. A crackdown on anti-government activists by the military and police followed. The New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, had killed a number of police officers and soldiers at the time. Criminal prosecutors feared chasing eye to both abuses committed by the military and police, and killings by NPA for fear of revenge.
That was when Duterte, a prosecutor in Davao in his 30s, made his name as an anti-corruption crusader, taking it upon himself to oppose graft. Despite the danger to his life, Duterte brought charges against many NPA members, as well as corrupt army and police officers, regardless of their rank. Duterte scrutinized the procedures of the military, releasing suspects when he concluded that the military had fabricated evidence against suspected communists.
Uy, 63, said Duterte always acted in a fair and determined manner toward everyone, winning him the trust of communists, soldiers and police alike. Such was the loyalty he inspired that police officers offered to serve as his bodyguards without compensation.
Antonina Escovilla, a 76-year-old retired judge who used to work with Duterte at the prosecutors' office in Davao City said Duterte was reserved but friendly to his subordinates and clerks. She praised Duterte's strong moral sense.
In one case, Duterte handled a man charged of being a communist rebel, Leoncio Evasco, would would later become the then mayor's chief-of-staff. Evasco was among the political prisoners who were freed.