'Dictator' Duterte facing coup rumors in Philippines

Ayee Macaraig, Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 05 2016 01:15 PM | Updated as of May 05 2016 06:00 PM

Presidential candidate Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte answers questions from media during a press conference in Pasay City, 29 April 2016. Mike Alquinto/NPPA

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Anti-establishment Philippine politician Rodrigo Duterte's rollicking ride to presidential favouritism has triggered warnings of a coup should he win next week's election, with opponents branding him a dictator in the making.

The Philippines has endured a tumultuous democracy since millions of people took to the streets to overthrow dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, with a succession of leaders having to quell military unrest and one president ousted in another uprising.

Duterte is enjoying a double-digit lead over his rivals ahead of Monday's presidential election, but he has created enemies with vows to embrace communist rebels and threats to abolish Congress or create a revolutionary government that could rewrite the constitution.

"The moment he tries to declare a revolutionary government, that is also going to be the day he will be removed from office," Senator Antonio Trillanes, a former navy officer famous for leading failed military uprisings in 2003 and 2007, told AFP on Wednesday.

"This guy has no respect for democratic institutions."

Trillanes said some in the military were "strongly averse" to Duterte's long-standing ties with communists, and that the reaction "could be violent."

Communists in the Philippines are waging one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies, with tens of thousands killed since the rebellion began in 1969. Dozens still die each year as the communists retain support among the poor.

Duterte has ruled the major southern city of Davao, which was one of the communist hotspots, as mayor for most of the past two decades, ending violence there by forging close ties with the rebels.

He has vowed to offer communist leaders posts in his government.

WATCH: Duterte, Joma Sison chat online

He has also raised deep fears about the rule of law under his presidency, promising to kill tens of thousands of criminals and pardon himself for mass murder.

On some occasions while campaigning Duterte has boasted about wanting to set up a dictatorship, and praised Marcos, but other times said the opposite.

READ: Top Philippine candidate pushes 'kill criminals' message

- Dictatorship fears -

President Benigno Aquino, who is limited by the constitution to a single term of six years, has spoken out repeatedly in recent weeks about his concerns that Duterte could turn into a dictator.

"Now that we are free, people who act like dictators are the ones in the lead," Aquino said on Wednesday, as he warned the gains of democracy were in jeopardy.

READ: PNoy takes swipe at Duterte, Marcos

Senator Grace Poe, tied in second place with administration candidate Mar Roxas about 10 percentage points behind Duterte, on Thursday joined the growing chorus.

"His own words are a preview of what will happen to our country. If you visit a dictatorship like North Korea, everything looks well. But many are hungry and too terrified to complain," Poe told reporters.

Ashley Acedillo, another coup plotter-turned-lawmaker, told AFP that a "military intervention" was likely under a Duterte presidency.

"The armed forces will stand true to its constitutional duty to protect the people and the state," he said.

The ex-coup plotter's warnings are not bluster, according to Manila-based security analyst Rommel Banlaoi.

"We will face a Duterte government that is very unstable," Banlaoi told AFP.

Duterte has gained support across all sectors of society by fashioning himself as an anti-establishment politician who can achieve quick fixes to deep-rooted problems, such as crime and poverty, according to analysts.

He has promised to end crime within six months of his presidency by ordering security forces to go on a killing spree, as well as increasing the salaries of soldiers and troops.

He has been accused of running vigilante squads in Davao that have killed more than 1,000 suspected criminals. At times he has boasted about his involvement but on other occasions denied any links to the death squads.

On Thursday, Duterte gained the endorsement of the influential Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), a conservative Christian group believed to have more than a million voters that are required by their leader to vote as a bloc.

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