Duterte to be sworn in as Philippine president, launch crime war

Cecil Morella, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jun 30 2016 08:26 AM

Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a conference with businessmen in Davao city, southern Philippines June 21, 2016. Lean Daval Jr., Reuters

MANILA - Authoritarian firebrand Rodrigo Duterte takes office as Philippine president Thursday, promising a ruthless and deeply controversial war on crime as the chief focus of his six-year term.

His anti-crime program includes plans to reintroduce the death penalty, issuing shoot-to-kill orders to the security services and offering them bounties for the bodies of drug dealers. He has also told ordinary Filipinos to kill suspected criminals.

A lawyer who cut his teeth as long-time mayor of the major southern city of Davao, Duterte, 71, has said another central element of his law-and-order platform is to impose night curfews for minors and ban alcohol sales after midnight.

Defying convention, Duterte will take his oath at midday (0400 GMT) before a small and select guest list inside Malacanang palace, instead of in public before a large crowd and journalists like previous Filipino leaders.

The foul-mouthed politician's style is a sharp departure from that of the laid-back Benigno Aquino III, the outgoing leader of the Southeast Asian nation of 102 million people.

Duterte won last month's presidential elections in a landslide after an inflammatory campaign in which he promised that tens of thousands of criminals would die, their bodies clogging up Manila Bay where he plans to dump them.

His campaign also relentlessly highlighted the alleged failures of Aquino, who delivered the highest rates of economic growth in decades but failed to stem worsening traffic gridlocks, high crime and widespread poverty endured by many Filipinos.

Even before his term began, Duterte had tiffs with the envoys of key allies the United States and Australia over his statement about the an Australian missionary who was sexually assaulted and shot dead in a prison riot.

After being elected, his controversial comments that some of the scores of Filipino journalists murdered over the past 30 years had deserved to die earned a rare rebuke from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

READ: UN chief's statement on Duterte, extrajudicial killings

Duterte has been accused of links to vigilante death squads in Davao which rights groups say have killed more than 1,000 people. Such groups are concerned that extrajudicial killings could spread across the Philippines under Duterte.

With Duterte's encouragement, police have already killed dozens of suspected criminals since the May 9 election. The incoming mayor of Cebu, the Philippines' second-biggest city, has also paid out Duterte-style bounties to police for killing drug suspects.

Behind the fireworks of his rhetoric and the war on crime, Duterte has promised a raft of other far-reaching reforms.

Chief among those is to change the centralized government to a federal system in which newly created states would have a large degree of autonomy. Those states would also be able to keep most of their revenues.

But doing so will require rewriting the Constitution.

Duterte has also said he can end decades-old Muslim and communist rebellions, which have claimed tens of thousands of lives. Peace talks with the communists are set to start this month. He expects federalism will appease Muslim rebels, who want autonomy.