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LETTER FROM THE PHILIPPINES Dutertespeak: Putang ina really means I firmly

NOVEMBER 21, 2016 ISSUE believe you are mistaken.

WHEN A POPULIST DEMAGOGUE TAKES POWER


Since Rodrigo Duterte was elected President of the Duterte thinks out loud, in long, rambling monologues,
Philippines, in May, more than three thousand people laced with inscrutable jokes and wild exaggeration. His
have been killed in a vicious drug war. manner is central to his populist image, but it inevitably
leads to misunderstanding, even among Filipino
By Adrian Chen journalists. Ernie Abella, Dutertes spokesman, recently
President Rodrigo Duterte said that, if he was elected, it will pleaded with the Presidential press corps to use its
be bloody. His drug war has killed thousands.Illustration creative imagination when interpreting Dutertes
by Diego Patio comments.
In May, Rodrigo Duterte, the provincial mayor who had
just been elected President of the Philippines after
promising to rid the country of crime and drugs by killing On September 7th, the second day of the ASEAN summit,
thousands of criminals, vowed to stop swearing. He told Duterte and Obama met briefly for the first time. Obama
reporters, Dont fuck with me. He called political later described their encounter: It was not a long
figures gay. When a reporter asked about his health, he interaction, and what I indicated to him is that my team
replied, How is your wifes vagina? Is it smelly? Or not should be meeting with his and determine how we can
smelly? Give me a report. In an overwhelmingly move forward on a whole range of issues. Duterte
Catholic country, he swore at the Pope. At first, he presented a starker version: I told him in a holding
defended his language as a gesture of radical populism. I room, President Obama, Im President Duterte. I never
am testing the lite in this country, he said. Because we made that statement. Check it out. According to
are fundamentally a feudal country. But, the day after Duterte, Obama was dismissive, and replied, My men
the election, he appeared with a popular televangelist will talk to you.
and said, I need to control my mouth. He compared his
forthcoming transformation to that of a caterpillar
changing into a butterfly. If you are the President of the
The next day, Duterte showed ASEAN delegates, including
country, you need to be prim and proper, he said. His
Obama, photographs of Muslims who had been killed by
inaugural speech, in June, was obscenity-free.
U.S. soldiers in the Philippines in the early twentieth
century. This is human rights, Duterte recalled telling
the delegates. Do not tell me this is water under the
The resolution didnt last. Dutertes war on drugs has bridge. A human-rights violation, whether committed by
resulted in the deaths of more than three thousand Moses or Abraham, is still a violation of human rights.
people, drawing condemnation from human-rights
groups and Western governments. In early September,
before the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian
What began as a reaction to a personal slight has led to a
Nations, in Laos, a journalist asked Duterte what he
dramatic shift in foreign relations. Duterte has
would say if President Barack Obama raised the issue of
increasingly, if fitfully, signalled his intention to distance
human rights. You know, the Philippines is not a vassal
himself from the United States, the Philippines closest
state, he replied. We have long ceased to be a colony of
ally, in favor of China, which previous governments have
the United States. Alternating between English and
viewed warily. In September, he called for the withdrawal
Tagalog, and pounding on the lectern, Duterte, it was
of a contingent of U.S. military advisers and for the end
widely reported, said of Obama, Son of a whore, Ill
of annual joint combat exercises between the two
curse you at that forum.
nations. (Last week, he approved limited exercises.)
During a state visit to Beijing in October, he announced a
separation from the United States. America has lost
Duterte does not, as he has put it, give a shit about now, he told a group of Chinese businessmen. Ive
human rights, which he sees as a Western obsession that realigned myself in your ideological flow. And maybe I
keeps the Philippines from taking the action necessary to will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that
clean up the country. He is also hypersensitive to there are three of us against the world: China,
criticism. Dutertes weakness is, really, hes a tough Philippines, and Russia.
guy, Greco Belgica, a Filipino politician and an ally of
Dutertes, said. You do not talk down to a tough guy.
Hell snap.
As Erwin Romulo, a former editor of Esquire Philippines,
told me, There are no slow news days anymore in the
Philippines.
The day after insulting Obama, Duterte released a
statement expressing regret that his comment came
across as a personal attack on the U.S. President. In his
Your X-rays are kind of depressing, so heres Susan
outburst, Duterte had used the Tagalog phrase putang
and me in front of the Eiffel Tower.
ina, which means, literally, your mother is a whore. But
it is also used to communicate frustration, as in son of a
Duterte has an eighty-six-per-cent approval rating in the
bitch. Its just an expression, Salvador Panelo,
Philippines, but his break with America has proved
Dutertes chief legal counsel, explained to the press. I
controversial. Opinion surveys regularly find the
dont think it was directed to President Obama. A
Philippines to be among the most pro-American
columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer provided
countries. The language of instruction in schools is
foreign journalists with a satirical guide to
English, and basketball is a national obsession. Around
four million Filipinos live and work in the U.S., and the country, and its islands served as an important staging
country is one of the Philippines most important trading ground in the Pacific Theatre. In 1946, the country was
partners. American interests have typically made up a granted formal independence. Soon after, the U.S.
large proportion of foreign investment in the Philippines. secured a treaty that allowed it to maintain a permanent
In the Manila Standard, the widely respected former military presence, and thousands of troops were
President Fidel Ramos compared Duterte to the captain stationed at two huge bases throughout the Cold War.
of a sinking ship. Even many on the Philippine left, who Nationalists and leftists protested against the bases,
decry U.S. influence, worry that Duterte may be trading which they saw as symbols of Americas colonial legacy.
one imperial master for another. In 1991, amid rising anger at a new base treaty, the
Senate declined to renew the lease. But, in 2014,
Dutertes pivot to China is a rebuke to the Obama President Benigno Aquino III, Dutertes pro-American
Administrations foreign-policy shift away from the predecessor, signed an agreement allowing U.S. troops to
Middle East and toward Asia. But a senior State return on a temporary basis.
Department official said that he thought the talk of a
complete realignment with China was largely bluster. Duterte is the first President to come from the island of
The issue is not so much what he saysthe issue is what Mindanao, which has a particularly fraught history with
he does, the official said. He pointed out that the U.S. the U.S. military. Mindanao, the biggest of the southern
and the Philippines are so deeply entwined that it would islands, is home to the countrys large Muslim minority;
take longer than one Presidential term to unravel their for more than three hundred years, while the Spanish
ties. That said, if hes absolutely determined, he could conquered the north and converted its people to
do a lot of damage to the U.S.-Philippine relationship. Catholicism, the Muslim tribes in the southern islands
resisted. When the U.S. instituted a civilian colonial
Since the overthrow of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, in authority over the Philippines, Mindanao was put under
1986, the Philippines has been a democracy, if an often military rule and subjected to a campaign of pacification
dysfunctional one. Dutertes actions challenge the liberal which resulted in many thousands of deaths. To people
Western values that are enshrined in the Philippine in Manila, Mindanao is known for guerrilla fighters and
constitution. Although he styles himself a revolutionary, rampaging kidnap-for-ransom gangs. It is also home to
Duterte seems uncertain about what kind of order will the New Peoples Armythe armed wing of the
replace the one he aims to overthrow, or whether he will Communist Partyand an assortment of Muslim rebel
be around to see it. He often intimates that he may not groups, including Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist organization
live to finish his term, whether because of overwork and that recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of
agehe is seventy-oneor something more sinister. Iraq and Syria. In the past fifty years, tens of thousands
Will I survive the six years? he asked recently. Id of people have been killed and millions have been
make a prediction: maybe not. displaced in Mindanaos overlapping conflicts.

The Philippines has had an up-and-down love affair For twenty-one years, Duterte was the mayor of Davao, a
with the Americans, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano told city of two million in Mindanao, and he often brings up
me when we met in Manila, in September. Cayetano had abuses from the colonial era in his anti-American rants.
been Dutertes running mate, but Presidents and Vice- But he has said that a more recent incident was
Presidents are elected separately in the Philippines, and responsible for what he calls his hatred of America. In
he lost. We met in an office belonging to his wife, the 2002, not long after U.S. special forces launched an
mayor of Taguig City, thirty minutes southeast of Manila, operation against Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao, Michael
among the glittering high-rises of the financial district Meiring, an American treasure hunter, was staying in a
known as Bonifacio Global City. hotel in Davao when a cache of dynamite stored in his
room exploded. There were rumors in Davao that
In 1898, after winning the Spanish-American War, the Meiring was a C.I.A. agent. In Dutertes telling, two F.B.I.
United States took possession of the Philippines. agents took Meiring from his hospital room and
President William McKinley assured Filipinos that repatriated him before he could be questioned by local
Americas aim was benevolent assimilation, but the authorities. Duterte was furious at what he saw as an
U.S. Army proceeded to crush a burgeoning infringement of his authority as mayor. He said he
independence movement. Under Theodore Roosevelt, demanded that the U.S. Ambassador at the time, Francis
the U.S. established a legislature in Manila with the aim Ricciardone, conduct an investigation, and he has fumed
of schooling Filipinos in the ways of representative about the lack of answers ever since. (In an e-mail,
democracy. But, with American acquiescence, the Ricciardone told me that he did not recall discussing the
legislature was monopolized by a small group of lite case with Duterte, but he called the allegations
landowners, bolstering the power of an oligarchy that preposterous.)
continues to dominate political life. Cayetano explained Hes pulled out the H.R. file! This is it, folksthe Atomic
that Duterte spoke harshly of the United States because Performance Review!
of its checkered past in the region. We embraced and
loved the Americans, but, at the same time, rather than Since then, Duterte has repeatedly expressed his
freeing, they colonized us, he said. This mix brought displeasure with the U.S. military presence in Mindanao.
out strong, passionate feelings of both love and hate for In 2007, he refused to let the U.S. and the Philippines
our former colonizers. hold joint military exercises in Davao, saying that such
drills would be a magnet for terrorists. Because of their
The U.S. military presence has been the most divisive arrogance and pretended superiority, the Americans
issue. During the Second World War, the Japanese invaded Iraq to kill Saddam Hussein but ended up
military occupied the Philippines for more than three destroying the country, he said. We dont want that to
years. In October, 1944, U.S. forces returned to the happen to us. In 2013, he denied requests to launch
American drone flights from Davao. I do not want it, he martial law, citing Communist and Muslim insurgencies.
said. I do not want trouble and killings. Marcoss closest advisers, who were known as the Rolex
12, for the wristwatches that he supposedly gave them,
Duterte comes from a provincial political dynasty. His rounded up and tortured the regimes political rivals.
father, Vicente, was related to Ramon Durano, a
notorious warlord in the central province of Cebu. In the Vicente Duterte was briefly a member of Marcoss
late nineteen-forties, Vicente served as mayor of Danao cabinetDuterte has said that his father was a supporter
City. Rodrigo Duterte was born in 1945, the second of until the endwhile Soledad was a leading anti-Marcos
five children. After the Second World War, Filipinos protester in Davao. Duterte, at least initially, took after
flocked to sparsely populated areas of Mindanao, seeking his mother. At the Lyceum of the Philippines University,
economic opportunity. In 1950, the Duterte family in Manila, Duterte studied under Jos Maria Sison, the
moved to Davao, a frontier town of plantations and now exiled founder of the Communist Party of the
indigenous tribes that was settled by American military Philippines. Sison saw U.S. imperialism and the
veterans. Property disputes were common, and Duterte Philippines feudal state as inextricably linked: in
says that his familys first home was demolished because exchange for maintaining access to military bases during
it was built on someone elses land. But the familys the Vietnam War, the U.S. allowed Marcos to continue to
hardship was short-lived. In 1959, Vicente became oppress the Philippines. Duterte joined Sisons
governor of the province of Davao, and today the nationalist youth organization, Kabataang Makabayan,
Dutertes are the dominant political force in the region. and he still occasionally speaks fondly of Sison. Soon
Dutertes daughter, Sara, is the mayor of Davao City, and after Duterte was elected President, Sison released a
his eldest son, Paolo, is vice-mayor. His younger brother, recording of a Skype call in which an unusually
Benjamin, has served as a city councilman. deferential Duterte chats with him about ongoing peace
talks with the New Peoples Army.
At a caf in a Davao City mall, I met Dutertes younger
sister, Jocellyn, who works as a real-estate agent. A Duterte attended law school in Manila. According to a
slender, elegant woman in her sixties with short-cropped story he recounted with glee on the campaign trail, while
hair, she was accompanied by two male assistants. Her he was a law student he shot a bullying classmate in the
composed manner bore little resemblance to her leg. The classmate sustained only a minor wound, and,
brothers theatrical truculence. She spoke deliberately, thanks to the intervention of sympathetic professors,
referring to Duterte as the Mayor or the President. Duterte was allowed to graduate. Despite his leftist
tendencies, he took a job as a prosecutor in Davao. The
Jocellyn described a childhood dominated by her fathers Marcos regime had jailed tens of thousands of prisoners,
political career. Starting at 8 A.M., the house would fill and one of Dutertes tasks was prosecuting political
with locals seeking jobs or favors. Youre always in the subversives. According to Luz Ilagan, a former
public eye, she said. You hardly had any freedom. congresswoman from Davao, Duterte was able to help
dissidents without compromising his position in the
Rodrigo Duterte was fascinated by his familys government. Ilagans husband, Laurente Ilagan, was one
bodyguards. He was always in the company of of three human-rights attorneys in Davao who were
policemen, military men, Jocellyn said. As a teen-ager, arrested in the nineteen-eighties. Duterte made sure that
he was fond of motorcycles, girls, and guns, interests that he wasnt abused, and they later became friends.The
distracted him from his studies. It took him seven years best he could do was to take custody of the activists, to
to finish high school. insure that they would be physically safe, Ilagan told
me.
According to Jocellyn, Duterte was peculiarly sensitive.
He could look at a dead body or a gunshot victim, but I still think what unites us is crisper and more
when he sees his own blood he faints, she said. She refreshing than what divides us.
recalled one day when he was playing with a gun and his
finger got caught in the slide. We were all looking at it, On August 21, 1983, after three years in exile in the
and it looked all right, she said. We saw him getting United States, the opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr.,
paler by the minute. Jocellyn told me that when Duterte was shot dead after he landed at the Manila airport. The
feels threatened he lashes out. assassination galvanized the anti-Marcos forces,
culminating in the People Power revolution of February,
Dutertes mother, Soledad, a teacher and a well-known 1986. Disaffected military leaders staged a coup, and
social activist, was a strict disciplinarian who often hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded
punished Rodrigo by making him kneel on the ground the EDSA highway around Manila to demand that Marcos
and pray for hours at a time. When she got fed up with resign. Finally, Ronald Reagan, who had long seen
his staying out late, she locked him out of the house. He Marcos as a valuable ally in the fight against
started sleeping in a shed. Communism, withdrew his support. Marcos fled the
Philippines for Hawaii, leaving the Presidency to
In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos, a young provincial senator, Corazon Aquino, the widow of Benigno.
won the Presidency of the Philippines with the pledge
This nation can be great again. Marcos appeared to The new government asked Soledad Duterte to be vice-
have the will necessary to reduce the influence of the mayor of Davao, and she recommended her son instead.
colonial lite. He was viewed as a technocrat, but he In 1988, Duterte ran for mayor. According to Carlos
merely replaced the old oligarchy with his own friends Zarate, a reporter for a local paper at the time, Duterte
and relatives, including his glamorous wife, Imelda. Over was the chosen candidate of Marcos loyalists who had
time, his family amassed a fortune of up to ten billion been deposed during the revolution. That was a very
dollars. In 1972, during his second term, Marcos declared peculiar situation, Zarate said. He was the candidate of
some pro-Marcos guys but he was also close to the left. businessman recounted with admiration the time he
Duterte campaigned on a law-and-order platform and tried to talk his way out of a ticket for smoking. The
won. police officer told him he had to fine him, because he did
not want to make the Mayor mad.
Davao was one of the most violent cities in the
Philippines. It was there that Communist rebels, after In 1996, in a press conference, Duterte announced a
years of waging war in the countryside, first crackdown on petty crime. According to a journalist
experimented with urban warfare. The New Peoples named Editha Caduaya, soon afterward, seven alleged
Army was firmly entrenched in the slums, where it drew criminalsdrug dealers and purse snatcherswere killed
support from a population fed up with corrupt police and in one day. Some of the bodies were dumped, along with
an abusive military. N.P.A. sparrow squads a cardboard sign that read Solugon Sa Katawhan
assassinated police officers and government officials; in (Servant of the People). Between 1998 and 2009,
turn, a government-backed vigilante group known as Human Rights Watch reported a total of eight hundred
Alsa Masa, or Masses Arise, murdered Communists. and fourteen killings, mostly of teen-agers, street kids
Criminal gangs kidnapped prominent members of the who were small-time drug dealers or petty thieves. The
business community, targeting them for ransom. The killings were attributed to a shadowy vigilante group
Bankerohan Bridge, over the Davao River, became called the Davao Death Squad. According to a report by
known as a dumping place for bodies. If a victim had Human Rights Watch, the D.D.S. often worked in a style
been dispatched with a single bullet, journalists would known in the Philippines as riding in tandem: two men
attribute the killing to N.P.A. assassins. on a motorcycle ride up to a target, shoot him with a
Duterte took over the kidnapping investigations, working handgun, and speed off. D.D.S. members told H.R.W.
closely with REACT, a network of businessmen. They that they worked off a list given to them by police officers
developed a rudimentary tracking system: when a and were paid between five thousand and fifty thousand
kidnapper used a pay phone to make a ransom pesos ($104 to $1,041) per target. One member said that
call, REACT members were alerted by C.B. radio. They the police had established a bidding process to choose
would sound their car horns in distinctive patterns, among various cells of hit men. If several cells want the
according to which neighborhood they were stationed in, job, they would discuss which cell can do it better, he
and, based on the honking in the background, said.
investigators could get a rough idea of where the
kidnappers were calling from. After Duterte solved a For a death squad, the D.D.S. has a surprisingly good
couple of high-profile cases, the number of kidnappings reputation. The killings had the support or backing of
decreased. the middle classes, a journalist in Davao told me. They
said that it makes the city safe. Another resident said,
In Davao, Duterte, known as Digong, is more popular The general sense is, if you dont do anything bad, you
than ever. When I visited in September, a few months dont have anything to fear. Its become like the
after the election, civic groups, nurses, and local bogeyman that you tell the kids about. In 2012, a local
politicians had hung congratulatory banners from the television channel polled its viewers on their preferred
concrete buildings that line the major streets. A response to a crime wave that was sweeping the city;
barbecued-chicken restaurant was offering a discount in sixty-seven per cent suggested reviving the D.D.S.
honor of Dutertes election. His house, a modest two-
story green building, has become a tourist attraction; a Duterte has frequently spoken approvingly of the killings
cardboard cutout of the President stood in the driveway, and intimated that he had a hand in the D.D.S. When
and, a few houses down the block, a teen-age boy sold Caduaya asked him about his role, he told her, I am a
Duterte key chains and mugs to tourists. lawyer and I will not do the extra-judicial thing, but I will
clean the city for my people to live in peace. Caduaya
Residents of Davao credit Duterte with bringing told me, We know he is there, but you cannot see him.
prosperity to their city. A self-described socialist, Duterte A 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks
nonetheless championed pro-business policies and reported that Duterte had all but admitted his role in
employed market-oriented officials in the city the D.D.S. to the Commission on Human Rights. When
government. His administration lured investors with tax the commissions regional director pleaded with Duterte
breaks and incentives. There was a seventy-two-hour to stop the killings, he reportedly responded, Im not
deadline on the processing of business permits, after done yet.
which any delay would have to be explained to Duterte. A
board made up of government officials and business It is difficult to find a resident of Davao who is willing to
leaders aggressively courted investors in Manila and speak out against the death squads. One day I visited
abroad, resulting in a growing outsourcing industry and Clarita Alia, a sixty-two-year-old vegetable vender, who
the construction of high-rise condominiums and malls. became a strident critic of Duterte after her four teen-age
In 2014, Davaos economy grew 9.4 per cent, a rate sons were killed within six years. She lives in a one-room
higher than that of any other region. As President, shack on a narrow street in Bankerohan, the site of the
Duterte has promised to implement the Davao model largest market in Davao. An ancient television sat on a
nationwide. plastic barrel, and bedding and clothes were stacked
along one wall. Alia sat cross-legged on a wooden bed
Today Davao has a central 911 system, and new police frame with no mattress; next to her, her daughter played
vehicles can be seen whipping around the city. The with her three-year-old granddaughter. When I asked
absurdly low speed limit of about twenty miles per hour Alia what she thought of Duterte, she said, He is a
is strictly enforced, as is a public smoking ban. Residents demon.
see these small disciplinary measures as indicative of the Speaking in Bisaya, the regional language, she explained
strength of Dutertes political will. One local that her trouble began in July, 2001, when police came to
her home to arrest her eighteen-year-old-son, Richard, hugely popular movie star Fernando Poe, Jr.; another
for an alleged rape. They had no warrant, so she sent favorite, Manuel (Mar) Roxas II, the grandson of former
them away. One of the officers told her that if she didnt President Manuel Roxas, was a member of Benigno
allow them to arrest Richard all of her sons would be Aquino IIIs cabinet.
killed. On July 17th, Richard was stabbed to death. Less
than three months later, her son Christopher was also Duterte focussed on illegal drugs, an issue that has never
stabbed to death. Bobby was killed in 2002, Fernando in registered among voters major concerns. The usual top
2007. I have heartaches even now, she told me, starting three problems would be health, education, housing,
to cry. Every interview, I keep crying. If they were still Cayetano told me. But the Philippines close proximity to
alive, they could help me make a living. China has made it a lucrative market for drug smugglers.
Methamphetamine, known as shabu, is widely abused,
The Alia boys were troublesome street kids, typical especially in the slums, where pedicab drivers and day
targets of the D.D.S. The police told Alia that her sons laborers use the drug in order to work longer hours.
had been killed in gang wars, but they never produced Cayetano said, He was bullheaded in telling people our
suspects. I asked Alia who she believed was responsible. problem is drugs. Were nearly a narco-state, and our
Who but Digong? she replied. police are afraid. Our judges, fiscalsprosecutorsare
either afraid or on the take. Congressmen are in it,
Before Richard was killed, he sought help from mayors are in it. The idea that drug traffickers have
Tambayan, a nongovernmental organization that penetrated the government did not seem outlandish to
provides aid to Davaos street children. As more children many Filipinos, who have seen two Presidents in the past
turned up dead, Tambayan began to agitate for Duterte fifteen years enmeshed in racketeering scandals
to stop the killings. The group organized mothers who involving illegal gambling syndicates.
had lost children to the killings and staged a protest
outside city hall. In 2002, Tambayan invited Duterte to a Duterte speaks of drug use as an existential threat, a
forum of twenty mothers, but he didnt show up. Duterte contamination that will destroy the country unless
does not hide his disdain for victims of the D.D.S. Im radical action is taken. They are the living walking
more interested in solving crimes against innocent dead, he said of shabu users. They are of no use to
people, he told a reporter from the Washington Post, in society anymore. Duterte sees drug use as a symptom of
2003. Im not at all interested in the killings of a governments ineffectiveness, but his animus suggests a
criminals, especially people involved with drugs. personal vendetta. Duterte, who has four children by two
women, was asked at a Presidential debate what he
Alia had written a letter that she intended to read to would do if he caught his children using drugs. None of
Duterte at the forum. She keeps it in a plastic folder my children are into illegal drugs, he responded. But
along with news clippings of her interviews. She handed my order is, even if it is a member of my family, kill him.
me the creased and yellowed paper, which read, If a The WikiLeaks cable reported that the regional director
child has committed a crime, it is not necessary that his of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights had
life should be lost. They dont deserve to die, because claimed that one of Dutertes sons had a history of drug
they can change. . . . Where is the justice? Is it only for abuse. The Mayor channeled his anger over his sons
the rich? drug use not just against drug pushers, but also drug
users, eventually leading him to embrace vigilante
Alia tries to persuade other mothers to speak up. Some killings as a means to reduce crime, the report read.
are afraid, she said; others seem resigned to the fact that After one of Dutertes political opponents raised the
this was the fate of children who stepped out of line in allegation of drug abuse, Dutertes eldest son, Paolo, took
Dutertes Davao. There are mothers who approach me a drug test and publicized his clean result.
who also cry, but then fall silent, she said. I asked
them, What if your child is innocent? And they just fall Dutertes campaign had a rocky start. In a speech
silent. announcing his candidacy, he rambled on for more than
an hour, offering an account of personally killing
In 2013, a grassroots movement on social media arose, kidnappers and setting their car on fire, pledging to kill
urging Duterte to run for President. He responded with a up to a hundred thousand criminals when elected, and
performance of agonized indecision. One day he would boasting of his womanizing. If I can love a hundred
lament that he was too old for the long hours required of million and one, I can love four women at the same
a President and too poor to fund the campaign; the next time, he said.
day he would muse about the dire actions he would take
if elected. If ever I get to file my certificate of candidacy Dutertes language confirmed his image as a political
for President, I am telling the Filipino people not to vote outsider. It was something people could relate to, Pia
for me, because it will be bloody, he said in a TV Ranada, a reporter at the news Web site Rappler, told
interview in August, 2015. me. She said that Duterte came across as the father who
would protect you but also the masa leader, the populist
In November, 2015, shortly before the start of the leader who will look after your interests, who cares for
Presidential campaign, at a birthday party for a law- you because hes one of you.
school classmate, Duterte announced that he was
running. He became a replacement candidate for P.D.P.- On the campaign trail, Duterte typically wore a plaid
Laban, a nearly moribund party that was founded in the shirt and jeans. On the rare occasions when he wore
nineteen-eighties to oppose Marcos. Duterte had neither a barong, a formal embroidered shirt, he rolled up the
the family name nor the party machinery that is typically sleeves. He spoke not in the English-Tagalog mixture of
needed to compete in a Presidential election. The early the capital but in a creole of English, Tagalog, and Bisaya
front-runner, Senator Grace Poe, is the daughter of the known as Davao Tagalog. At the beginning of the
campaign, he ushered Ranada and another journalist a regime that claims to be after good governance,
into his house in Davao and showed off the participatory democracy, but really it doesnt deliver the
traditional tab, or water dipper, that he used to bathe. goods, Curato said.
His one extravagance was a large collection of shoes,
which he joked was the only thing that he had in In June, Duterte held a victory party at the Davao City
common with Imelda Marcos. Crocodile Park. In a speech in front of two hundred
thousand supporters, he received the loudest applause
This was not quite true. Duterte took from the Marcos when he addressed drug dealers. You sons of bitches,
years an ability to play both sides of a messy conflict. he said. I will really kill you.
Marcos, who died in 1989, in Honolulu, is still
surprisingly popular in the Philippines; most of his During Dutertes first hundred days in office, the drug
loyalists never lost faith, and many younger Filipinos war was carried out with a distinctly Filipino mixture of
look back at the charismatic leader with a kind of high drama, mass spectacle, and enigmatic violence. In
secondhand nostalgia. During the campaign, Duterte early August, in a speech at a naval base, Duterte read
courted Marcos loyalists assiduously, making it a priority out a list of more than a hundred and fifty politicians and
to rebury Marcos in the national Heroes Cemetery. He police officers who he alleged were involved in the illegal
reportedly considered Marcoss son, a fifty-nine-year-old drug trade, the first of a number of narcolists that he
senator named Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos, Jr., as a released in the following months. It was a tactic from his
running mate, and he praised the elder Marcos, saying days as mayor, when he went on his weekly television
that he would have been the Philippines best President, show, Gikan Sa Masa, Para Sa Masa, and read lists of
if he did not become a dictator. names of alleged criminals and drug dealers, many of
whom ended up as victims of the D.D.S.
Nicole Curato, a sociologist at the University of Canberra,
was doing field work in the slums of Tacloban, a In Dutertes first three months as President, the
provincial capital in the central Philippines, and saw the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which has been monitoring
excitement inspired by Dutertes candidacy. It was a the killings, listed more than fourteen hundred drug
very do-it-yourself campaign, she said. To attract users killed by police and vigilantes. Front pages were
crowds to rallies, politicians typically rely on a strategy filled with photos of the bloodstained victims, bound and
known as hakot, in which poor Filipinos are given a free gagged with duct tape, who had been shot in the head or
meal, a couple of hundred pesos, and a campaign shirt, garrotted; cardboard signs around their necks served as a
and are bused from the slums to the city plaza, where warning to others. In the slums of the big cities, police
they cheer for the chosen candidate. But Curato said that carried out Operation Tokhang, or knock and plead,
Dutertes supporters borrowed money to get to the plaza visiting the homes of people who were suspected of
themselves. Duterte is perpetually late, which meant that involvement with drugs and urging them to turn
supporters might be kept waiting in the sweltering heat themselves in. Government reports boasted that seven
for as long as seven hours. Yet it seemed not to bother hundred thousand drug personalities surrendered in
them. People were really crazy about him, Ranada told the first two months in mass ceremonies in malls, city
me. Its the only word for it. plazas, and auditoriums. An administration official told
me that the Guinness Book of World Records expressed
Duterte relied on an army of volunteers to publicize his interest in certifying it as the biggest mass surrender of
campaign on social media. The Philippines has among criminals in history.
the highest rates of social-media use in the world, in
large part because millions of Filipinos employed abroad From Davao, Duterte brought with him Ronald (the
use it to keep in touch with their families. Overseas Rock) dela Rosa, who had served as the citys police
workers were a crucial segment of Dutertes supporters. chief, and made him head of the Philippine National
Since they were spread out all over the world, they could Police. The federal police are notorious for corruption,
post pro-Duterte messages on Facebook at all hours. One and Duterte has promised to clean up the force, calling
of Dutertes most rabid supporters was a pop star and sex out ninja cops who resell drugs confiscated in busts.
blogger named Mocha Uson, the leader of a girl group But he dismissed those killed by police as drug-crazed
called the Mocha Girls. When Duterte was accused of maniacs who had resisted arrest, and claimed that
sexism, she posted on Facebook an account of how, when murders attributed to the vigilantes were the result of
the Mocha Girls came to Davao, he was always a gang wars. In August, Dela Rosa announced that the
gentleman, unlike most mayors, who tried to arrange campaign had already cut the crime rate in half. The
liaisons with them. killings have done little to diminish Dutertes popularity.
Its part of this narrative that killing has been
Duterte won in a landslide, earning six million more normalized, Curato, the sociologist, told me. Before, its
votes than Mar Roxas. Many people saw his victory as a the state that turns a blind eye on it, and now a broader
protest against the political lites continuing inability to society is also willing to just turn a blind eye on the
address the countrys problems. Dutertes predecessor, culture of violence. Extrajudicial killing is common
the reformist Benigno Aquino III, had some success enough that theres a slang term for it: salvaging,
addressing corruption and introduced some economic which, according to the writer Jose F. Lacuna, derives
reforms, but Filipinos saw little change in their lives: from the Tagalog salbahe, meaning wild or savage.
they still endured hellish commutes on crumbling roads;
they continued to be victimized by crime, corrupt police, Not long after Duterte took office, the Philippine
and a broken justice system; and about a quarter of them Commission on Human Rights started a task force to
still lived in poverty. If these were the fruits of liberal investigate the extrajudicial killings. Chito Gascon, the
democracy, many thought, perhaps it was time to try head of the C.H.R., has warned Duterte that he risks
something new. Its a repudiation of the past six years of prosecution by the International Criminal Court if he
fails to halt them. In September, I met with the leader of Diokno said. My fear is that, at some point, it will
the task force, Gwen Pimentel-Gana, at her office. Above collapse. If that happens, what will replace it?
her desk hangs a portrait of her father, Aquilino
Pimentel, Jr., a Senator who was imprisoned by the In August, the Senate launched a probe into the killings.
Marcos regime. The first witness was a woman named Harra Kazuo, the
wife of a man who was arrested for shabu possession and
Pimentel-Gana told me that in the first sixty days of the killed while detained at a police station. She appeared
Duterte administration the commission opened more before the Senate with her face hidden behind large
than two hundred investigations into extrajudicial sunglasses, her hair wrapped in a colorful scarf. Police
killings, slightly less than half as many as were opened claimed that her husband attempted to grab an officers
during the entire six years of the Aquino administration. gun, but investigators found that he had been beaten so
We now will have to tell the government, she said, in badly by police that he could not have posed a threat.
your fight against crime or in your fight against drugs, do Kazuo alleged that police officers had previously extorted
not forget that lives of people are sacred. money from her husband. One investigator for the
Commission on Human Rights told me that he believed
When I asked her whether Dutertes rhetoric was most of the police killings in the days after Dutertes
encouraging the killings, she was equivocal: Its so election were done to conceal crimes committed by the
difficult sometimes to try to interpret what hes saying, cops themselves. It will cover up their bad purpose, and
because one time he says, Im not for human rights. The they might get promoted, he said.
next time he says, All those who are abusing their
authority will be punished. I asked her about the On September 12th, a packed audience in the small
difference between her tone and that of Human Rights Senate chamber heard a remarkable story. Edgar
Watch, which has declared the drug war a human-rights Matobato, an unassuming man with a mop of salt-and-
calamity. She replied brusquely. I will talk like a pepper hair, claimed to have been a member of the
Filipino, O.K.? she said. An ordinary workerhe goes Davao Death Squad. For more than an hour he calmly
home every night and, for the first time, when he passes narrated a gruesome tale that sounded like the treatment
through the narrow streets of his home in a shanty or for a Quentin Tarantino film. He said that the squad had
what, he does not see any more drunkards or people as many as five hundred members, and that Duterte was
smoking on the streets or children running around and intimately involved in its operation. According to
being just left there, abandoned. He sees clean streets, Matobato, Duterte had ordered the killings of a local
peaceful at night. What would you say? radio host; the romantic rival of his son Paolo; and his
sister Jocellyns alleged lover, a dance instructor. (When
Yet an overwhelming number of those killed in Dutertes I asked Jocellyn about Matobatos testimony, she seemed
drug war have been poor. When asked recently about particularly offended by the suggestion that she had been
criticism from anti-poverty groups, Duterte explained romantically involved with her dance instructor. Are you
that poor people are easier targets. Rich people do drugs kidding? she said, scowling. Ive been dancing for
on private jets, and I cannot afford the fighter planes, twenty years. Ive never involved myself in such a way,
he said. Jose Manuel Diokno, a human-rights lawyer, emotionally or in any way, with any dance instructor.)
told me, Those who have a name or have some influence Matobato said that he had personally killed fifty people,
or hold some position who are implicated in the drug either kidnapping a victim before garrotting him in a van
trade are given an investigation, theyre given due or shooting him in the street. The D.D.S. would then
process. But poorer people whose names appear on the chop the victim into pieces and bury him in a quarry
list are just simply killed. Diokno is the dean of the law owned by one of Dutertes political allies. Matobato said
school at De La Salle University, in Manila, and the head that he had witnessed Duterte empty two magazines
of the Free Legal Assistance Group, founded by his father from an Uzi into an agent from the National Bureau of
during the Marcos era to provide legal assistance to Investigations. (Duterte has said he does not know
victims of martial law; his father was an opposition Matobato, and referred to his testimony as perjury.)
senator who was imprisoned for two years without
charge. The hearings were led by Senator Leila De Lima, a
former Secretary of Justice with a reputation for
We spoke on the forty-fourth anniversary of the doggedness. In 2009, as chair of the Commission on
declaration of martial law. Diokno was preparing to lead Human Rights, she opened a high-profile investigation
a candlelight vigil that evening. He said of that period, A into links between Duterte and the D.D.S. It was the first
small segment of the population were branded as serious inquiry by Philippine authorities into the D.D.S.
Communists. They were depicted as people who are De Lima is an imposing woman, with cropped hair and
godless, who have no regard for human life. The square glasses. She strode into her Senate office nearly
reasoning then was, since they are like that, then they are three hours past our scheduled interview time, after
not human. He continued, Instead of being branded a denouncing Dutertes latest outrage to a scrum of
Communist today, youre branded a drug user or a drug reporters in the hall, and then disappeared for twenty
addict or a drug pusher. minutes behind the privacy screen around her desk, like
a stage actor collecting herself after a performance.
Diokno pointed to the impunity afforded the Marcoses
and their cronies, who have never faced charges. In many Based on what I saw, what I heard, and what we have
cases, they have returned to positions of influence. The researched on the phenomenon of killings in Davao, I
more the authorities encourage themselves and other have no doubt in my mind that there existed such a death
people to take the law into their own hands, then the squad, De Lima told me. It had the acquiescence, at the
more our system is going to become weaker and weaker, very least, of the city government, particularly then
Mayor Duterte. De Lima and Duterte have publicly
feuded ever since. I lambasted him in public, lectured bombings. In 2004, the group bombed a ferry near
him on human rights, she said. I think he has not Manila, killing a hundred and sixteen people, the worst
forgotten that. terrorist attack in the history of the Philippines. In
August, Duterte ordered the military to destroy Abu
In August, Duterte held a press conference in which he Sayyaf.
accused De Lima of accepting campaign donations from
prisoners in exchange for turning a blind eye to drug Even as Duterte takes a ruthless approach to drug
dealing at New Bilibid, the Philippines largest prison. He dealers and petty criminals, he has shown sympathy to
alleged that De Lima was having an affair with her driver, various rebel groups that have been in a violent struggle
who acted as the bagman. Dutertes allies in the House against the state for more than fifty years. As mayor of
launched their own investigation into De Lima. Drug Davao, he posed for snapshots with commanders in
lords were taken from New Bilibid and brought to the Communist guerrilla camps and urged local businesses
chamber to describe how they had lived like kings in to pay the so-called revolutionary taxes that the
prisonwith prostitutes, karaoke, Jacuzzis. Much was Communists demanded in the areas they controlled. He
made of a purported sex tape featuring De Lima and her considers Nur Misuari, the leader of the Moro National
driver, and some congressmen threatened to play the Liberation Front, a rebel group fighting for an
tape at the hearing. Duterte claimed to have watched the independent Muslim nation, a friend. In 2013, after
tape. Every time I view the video, I lose my appetite, he Misuari was accused of orchestrating a siege of the town
joked at a press conference. De Lima denied the of Zamboanga, leaving a dozen residents dead, the
allegations about the sex tape, and told me, The entire government issued a warrant for his arrest. Duterte gave
government machinery is going after me, making my life Misuaris wife sanctuary in Davao. The M.N.L.F. has
so difficult now, and hoping that I will just surrender in repaid him by keeping its fighters out of Davao. Ruben
defeat. Dutertes supporters on social media have Bangayan, a wealthy businessman and a longtime
followed his example, viciously attacking De Lima and supporter of Dutertes, said that Duterte told the rebels,
other critics. Nearly every journalist I spoke with If you want to come to Davao, you are welcome, but no
mentioned a newly oppressive atmosphere online, in guns. Bangayan framed Dutertes actions as sage
which people have begun to restrain their opinions for pragmatism. He built on good relationships with those
fear of provoking an angry mob. groups for the selfish purpose of peace in Davao, he
said. You had to do that.
As I travelled around Manila, it seemed that every taxi-
driver on the congested roads had the radio tuned to the The day that Sekkingstad was released, I was in Davao
hearings in the House and the Senate; televisions in with Ruben Bangayan and his brother Eddie.
every bar were playing them, too. When the hearings Sekkingstad had been married to their late cousin, and
occurred simultaneously, one news channel showed them after he was kidnapped Eddie asked Duterte, who was
in split-screen. But the public fascination centered more still the mayor, for help. He said, I will try, Eddie told
on the political showdown between De Lima and Duterte me. He always helps when it comes to kidnappings.
than on Matobatos revelations. Filipinos are wary of Eddie had rented the private jet that was, at that
assigning credibility to information presented at Senate moment, preparing to fly Sekkingstad to Davao.
hearings, where anything can be entered into the public
record without even the modest protections of the Eddie explained that Abu Sayyaf had turned Sekkingstad
Philippines liberal libel laws. over to the M.N.L.F.; like Abu Sayyaf, the M.N.L.F. has
its stronghold on the island of Jolo, off the southwestern
The historian Alfred McCoy has described the Philippine coast of Mindanao. Duterte later revealed that Nur
Senate as a collection of basketball players, television Misuari had been crucial to the negotiations over
personalities, movie stars, and failed coup plotters. One Sekkingstad.
member of the Justice Committee investigating the
extrajudicial killings was Antonio Trillanes IV, who has The weather in Jolo turned stormy that evening, and they
led two coup attempts. Another, Panfilo Lacson, who could not fly Sekkingstad out. I joined the Bangayans the
headed an lite Manila police squad in the nineties, was next afternoon when they went to meet him. In order to
accused of massacring eleven unarmed bank robbers. avoid the media, the plan was to fly Sekkingstad to a
Senator Manny Pacquiao, the boxing star and Duterte beach resort in the city and clean him up before bringing
ally, led an effort to depose De Lima as leader of the him to the press conference. We made our way down a
Senate hearings. Her replacement was Senator Richard narrow road lined with thatch-roofed bamboo-and-
Gordon, who recently suggested giving Duterte the power concrete shanties, and pulled into the parking lot of the
to suspend habeas corpus. After the Matobato hearing, a Seagull White Sands Beach Resort. Beyond a beach
journalist texted me, What you witnessed was another where families were playing volleyball, a concrete pier
installment of our national telenovela. jutted into the sea. The Norwegian Ambassador, Erik
Frner, and his entourage were waiting on a helipad at
On September 17th, a few weeks after the ASEAN summit, the end of the pier. A black helicopter approached,
Dutertes administration secured the release of Kjartan circled three times, and touched down, sending up a
Sekkingstad, a Norwegian who had been kidnapped by spray of seawater. The door opened, and Sekkingstad
the Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf the previous fall. stepped out, supported by Jess Dureza, an adviser of
Abu Sayyaf fighters had stormed a beach resort on an Dutertes who had led the negotiations. Sekkingstad had
island near Davao and bundled Sekkingstad and three a huge beard and long scraggly hair that whipped in the
other men into a speedboat. Two of the men, Robert Hall wind from the helicopter blades. He wore an ill-fitting
and John Ridsdel, both Canadians, were beheaded. Abu camouflage jacket with a bright-red M.N.L.F. patch. The
Sayyaf, which has only about four hundred fighters, has jacket revealed his emaciated forearms. Sekkingstad
conducted a series of kidnappings, beheadings, and hugged the Ambassador and the Bangayans, and we
hustled back to the beach, through the throng of families, Dureza took the podium, Duterte stood awkwardly in
who were now recording the scene on their cell phones. front of him until an aide instructed him to sit next to
They burst into applause. Sekkingstad.

I asked Dureza, who wore mirrored Oakley sunglasses Mr. President, may I then therefore present to you
and a black flight vest over a Jaguar racing shirt, how Kjartan Sekkingstad, who is now a free man, Dureza
hed been able to free Sekkingstad. Magic, magic, he said. Duterte took the podium. He spoke in a low, halting
said, with a laugh. I can negotiate with anyone except monotone, as if he had something else on his mind.
my own wife! (It was later reported that Sekkingstad First of all, I would like to thank the effortsthe efforts
had been ransomed for more than six hundred thousand beyond human patienceof Secretary Dureza and, of
dollars.) course, Nur Misuari, Duterte said. He went on, I was
just, you know, up there directing the traffic of where and
The Norwegians and Sekkingstad went off into the hotel. how to go about the job. He put his hand to his face,
A few minutes later, Sekkingstad emerged, his gaunt face stroking his chin with his thumb, which heightened his
clean-shaven and his hair roughly shorn, his body air of disinterest. He often makes this gesture while
swimming in the shirt and slacks that the Bangayans had speaking; after a comedy show parodied the tic, he
provided. explained that he does it to soothe a nerve that was
damaged in a motorcycle accident.
The Filipinos and the Norwegians huddled together to
plan the rest of the evening. The Norwegians claimed He trailed off, then turned to a subject that he clearly
that Sekkingstad had asked to be flown immediately found more engaging. The problem is, he said, raising
from Manila to Norway, where his family was waiting, his voice and his eyebrows, is it safe in Mindanao?
while the Filipinos insisted that he wanted to stay in
Davao. As the Norwegians looked on, Duterte held forth on the
chaos that he saw engulfing his country: We are racked
I sat at a nearby table, straining to make out the with so many problemskidnapping in the south,
conversation. Dureza said, It is very important that we terrorism, drugs. He said that drug money had
brief him for intelligence. He argued that the Bangayans corrupted even the smallest unit of local government, the
deserved to spend some time with Sekkingstad before he barangay. The barangay captains connive or coperate
was whisked away. He lived with them, and, I tell you, or extend assistance to terrorists and drugs, he said.
the Bangayans did a lot to bring him out, Dureza said. A And that will be the start of our perdition and our
Norwegian security officer continued to press his case, agony.
and Dureza started to shout, pounding his fist on the
table. Why are you telling him that you need to take him He had a new narcolist, which he had checked twice for
out of Davao tonight? he said. You are still on accuracy. During the campaign, Duterte had promised to
Philippines territory! end crime and drug abuse in three to six months, but
now he threw up his hands as he pleaded for more time.
The argument lasted only a few minutes. Soon Dureza Maybe another six months, he said. I didnt have any
was laughing and shaking Frners hand. It was settled: idea that there were hundreds of thousands of people
Sekkingstad would fly to Manila directly after meeting already in the drug business.
with Duterte, who was in Davao, where he spends almost
every weekend. He turned to Sekkingstad and assured him that his
captors would be held accountable. I assure you, he
The press conference was scheduled for 7 P.M. at the said. When the time comes, I will inform you. I will just
nearby Matina Enclaves, a luxury condominium inform you that we have been able to catch up with
development owned by one of Dutertes supporters. them. His casual tone belied a menacing subtext.
Forty journalists, photographers, and TV cameramen
waited in a small meeting room with a podium. Duterte Your travails in life are over, until such time that we get
was more punctual than usual: at 8:22 P.M., his arrival the one true justice. He paused, then said, We will give
was announced with a song, Duterte for Real Reform, them that, if that is what they want.
by the Filipino folk star Freddie Aguilar. Aguilar had
written the song for Dutertes campaign, and a recording
is played before most of his public appearances. (Sample Adrian Chen joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in
lyrics: Look around you / Crime is rampant / Rape, 2016.
drugs, and stealing / Should be stopped.) Duterte was
accompanied by a number of security guards, who have This article appears in other versions of the November 21,
adopted the Presidents plaid shirt as their uniform. As 2016, issue, with the headline The Tough Guy.
the Norwegians and the Bangayans took their seats,
Duterte chatted with a couple of journalists. When