MANILA, Philippines – Rodrigo Duterte, the bombastic mayor of a major southern city, was heralded Tuesday as president-elect of the Philippines after an incendiary campaign that projected him alternatively as an emancipator and a looming dictator.
“Our people have spoken and their verdict is accepted and respected,” outgoing President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesman, Sonny Coloma, said in a statement. “The path of good governance … is already established as all presidential candidates spoke out against corruption.”
Former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who was running second behind Duterte in the unofficial vote count following Monday’s election, conceded defeat. “Digong, I wish you success,” Roxas said at a news conference, using Duterte’s nickname. “Your victory is the victory of our people and our country.”
Duterte’s harshest critic also conceded that the mayor, known for his off-color sexual remarks and pledges to kill criminal suspects, had emerged the unquestioned winner.
“I will not be the party pooper at this time of a festive mood,” Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who has filed a plunder complaint against Duterte, told The Associated Press. “I will step back, listen to his policy pronouncements. This time we don’t expect a stand-up comedy act but a president who will address the nation.”
Duterte, 71, has not spoken publicly since casting his vote Monday, and remained at his home in Davao, on the southern main island of Mindanao.
Results from a semi-official count gave Duterte an unassailable lead, thrusting him into national politics for the first time after 22 years as mayor of Davao and a government prosecutor before that. In those two jobs, Duterte gained recognition by going after criminals, although he was accused of carrying out hundreds of extrajudicial killings.
That earned him the nickname “Duterte Harry,” a reference to the Clint Eastwood movie character with little regard for rules. He has also been compared to Donald Trump, the U.S. Republican presumptive presidential nominee, for his propensity for inflammable statements.
In the election for vice president, who is separately elected in the Philippines, the son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was trailing by a narrow margin behind Rep. Leni Robredo, who is backed by Aquino.
During the three-month campaign, Duterte made audacious promises to eradicate crime and corruption within six months. His explosive outbursts and curses against the inequality and social ills that bedevil the Filipino everyman resonated among different class levels of the people that his big political rivals clearly underestimated until he began to take a strong lead in opinion polls in the final weeks of the campaign.
He captured domestic and international attention with speeches peppered with obscene jokes about sex and rape and anecdotes about his Viagra-fueled sexual escapades, and with undiplomatic remarks about Australia, the United States and China, all key players in the country’s politics.
U.S. officials parried questions Tuesday about whether they had concerns about Duterte’s record.
“Washington respects the choice of the Philippines’ people. We will gladly work with the leader they’ve selected,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. looked forward to “strengthening and deepening” ties with the Philippines, which he hailed as a “vibrant democracy” that helps the U.S. on maritime security. He commended the Philippines on its smooth election.
Duterte has not articulated an overall foreign policy, but has described himself as a socialist wary of the U.S.-Philippine security alliance. He has worried members of the armed forces by saying that communist rebels could play a role in his government.
When the Australian and American ambassadors criticized a joke he made about wanting to be the first to have raped an Australian missionary who was gang-raped and killed by inmates in a 1989 jail riot, he told them to shut up.
He said he would talk with China about territorial disputes in the South China Sea but if nothing happened, he would sail to an artificial island newly created by China and plant the Philippine flag there. China, he said, could shoot him and turn him into a national hero.
He has also threatened to form one-man rule if legislators in Congress oppose him.
But his campaign manager, Peter Lavina, told the Associated Press that the brash image, the obscene jokes and the outlandish promises were a strategy to attract voters.
“That’s part of the game. You know in Philippine elections you have to act like a comic, you have to find ways for you be in the headlines,” Lavina said.
Duterte displayed his softer side early Wednesday when he visited his parents’ tomb in a Davao cemetery to pay homage to them. He stood in front of the tomb with his right hand on it and wept.
“Help me Mom,” he said in the local Bisaya dialect as he sobbed quietly. “I’m just a nobody.”
President Aquino went public against Duterte late in the campaign, saying the mayor may endanger the country’s hard-fought democracy and squander economic gains of the last six years, when the Philippine economy grew at an average of 6.2 percent, one of the best rates in Asia.
Aquino, whose parents were democracy champions who helped topple the senior Marcos, also campaigned against Marcos Jr., who has never clearly apologized for economic plunder and widespread human rights abuses under his father. Filipinos have been hypersensitive to potential threats to democracy since they ousted the elder Marcos.
On Monday, Duterte was asked to comment on his image as an advocate of mass-murder of crime suspects. He replied without elaborating, “I’m sure that there will be a resurrection one of these days.”
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