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Four Things You Didn’t Know About the New Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

4 minute read

The Philippines’ presidential election has received international media attention, in large part because of the outspoken, occasionally outlandish remarks of its victor, Rodrigo Duterte. The 71-year-old Duterte, who made his political name as the militantly anticrime mayor of Davao City, has joked about rape, insulted the Pope and flippantly discussed his sex life while on the campaign trail, and yet voters in the Philippines — a conservative and Catholic country — overwhelmingly supported him at the polls. Many say there’s more to him than meets the eye:

1. He stands in support of LGBT rights. Though he sometimes publicly throws around pejorative terms like queer, Duterte has also firmly condemned discrimination against the LGBT community in the Philippines. He has said that as President, he would consider legalizing same-sex marriage and supports allowing LGBT people to serve in the military. In an appearance on a Philippine talk show last summer, he said that he’d have no issue with his son if he came out as gay, and said that “everyone deserves to be happy.”

2. Women’s rights too. He happily admits to being a womanizer, makes jokes about participating in gang rapes and says Viagra changed his life, but he’s also earned the support of several prominent women’s-rights activists, who say his actions speak louder than his words. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that during his time as mayor of Davao City, Duterte codified a system that aimed to improve opportunities for women in government. The program received praise from the Philippine federal administration, which enacted a similar code at the national level.

“I’ve known him for many years and have been so impressed by the women-centered programs they had in Davao,” Philippine Senator Pia Cayetano, who is one of the country’s most prominent female political figures and a vocal defender of women’s rights, told TIME on Wednesday. “I’ve told him that he needs to improve his language drastically, because it distracts people from the work he’s done.”

Cayetano said that Duterte took his hallmark hands-on approach to women’s issues, assembling lawyers to assist women in domestic-violence cases and personally paying the legal fees himself. She recalled being “pleasantly surprised” to learn that a beauty pageant did away with its swimsuit competition after Duterte said he wanted to better emphasize the “talents of women, rather than the objectification of them.”

3. He’s known for some peculiar (but perhaps successful) political tactics. Duterte’s tough-on-crime legacy is a truism at this point, but many might know the unorthodox strategies he used to clean Davao City of crime and corruption. A TIME profile of Duterte written in 2002 — a year into his second stint as the city’s mayor — noted that he “made a policy of doling out groceries to cops as a way of curbing their temptation to elicit bribes.” He also had a reputation of taking justice into his own hands, beating up cops who were drunk on the job and whipping pickpockets at the city hall.

4. He could help ease mounting regional tensions. In recent years, Asia’s biggest geopolitical story has been the South China Sea, where China has brazenly constructed holdings in waters claimed by its smaller neighbors — including the Philippines. Current Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has refused to negotiate directly with Beijing, but Duterte has indicated that he’d take a conciliatory stance in matters concerning the superpower. He has mentioned the possibility of joint ventures. Most significantly, he has criticized the U.S. — the Philippines’ former colonizer and today its closest and most significant ally — for not better handling the territorial dispute in the South China Sea.


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