Rodrigo Duterte

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President Rodrigo Duterte

To read this article in Filipino, see Rodrigo Duterte.

Rodrigo Roa Duterte (born 28 March 1945 in Maasin, Leyte) is a lawyer and politician who is the 16th and current president of the Philippines, holding the office since 30 June 2016. He became president at the age of 71, making him the oldest Filipino to assume the presidency. Before becoming president, Duterte was mayor of Davao City for seven terms. He also served as vice mayor and congressman in the city. Duterte was on Reader's Digest list of the most trusted Filipino politicians in 2010.[1]

Duterte's political popularity among the general population has been attributed to his anti-crime stance, including his anti-drugs policy, which he has sustained through his presidency. However, he has faced protests and criticisms from numerous religious and human rights groups for his vocal support of extrajudicial killings of criminals and drug users, with Time magazine calling him "The Punisher."[2] His other policies include anti-corruption and "built, built, built," a massive infrastructure program with goals to encourage economic growth and reduce congestion in Metro Manila.

Early Life and Education

Rodrigo Duterte was born on 28 March 1945 in Maasin, Leyte to Vicente Duterte, a Cebuano lawyer who would become  governor of Davao (unified at the time), and Soledad Roa, a school teacher and civic leader from Cabadbaran, Agusan

He finished his primary education at the Sta. Ana Elementary School in Davao City in 1956 and secondary education at the Holy Cross Academy of Digos in Digos City, Davao del Sur. He obtained a bachelor of arts degree at the Lyceum of the Philippines University in Manila in 1968 and a law degree from San Beda College of Law in 1972. He is a member of Lex Talionis Fraternitas, a fraternity based in the San Beda College of Law and the Ateneo de Davao University. He passed the bar exam in 1972 and eventually worked as a special counsel at the City Prosecution Office in Davao.



After the 1986 People Power Revolution, Duterte was appointed officer-in-charge vice mayor.[3] Two years later, he ran for mayor and served until 1998. He designated deputy mayors that represented the Lumad and Moro peoples in the city government.

In 1998, he successfully ran for representative of the 1st district of Davao City. From 2001 to 2010, he again served as mayor of Davao.

Under Duterte's leadership, Davao won the National Literacy Hall of Fame Award for being a three-time first-place winner in the Highly Urbanized City category of the Outstanding Local Government Unit award. Crime figures reportedly went down during his term. From being a crime-infested area, the city transformed into a thriving business hub with a 24/7 emergency hotline (Central 911). In June 2015, Davao was the fifth safest city in the world, according to crowd-sourced global database website Numbeo.[4] However, the website has been cited for not using third-party checks and audits on the accuracy of the data it publishes, relying instead on what users say[5].

Mayor Duterte used Php 12 million from the city government funds to repair a drug rehabilitation and treatment center built by the Department of Social Welfare and Development in 1985, three years before he was first elected mayor.[6]  Duterte also visited remote New People's Army (NPA) camps to negotiate peace transaction efforts and advocate diplomacy.[7]

Duterte would drive around the city to ensure things were well taken care of. During night patrols, he would check the precinct houses to make sure the cops were not sleeping and check the detainees and know the crimes they committed. As a supporter of LGBT rights, he allowed gay candidates in his ticket. In 2009, he criticized the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) for kicking out Ang Ladlad, a gay rights group, from its party-list slate. When he was vice mayor, an anti-discrimination ordinance was passed in Davao City. Duterte served as vice mayor from 2010 to 2013. Among the notable ordinances enacted by the city government under Duterte were the following:

  • Firecracker ban
  • Liquor ban  from 10 pm to 8 am in public places
  • Anti-smoking ordinance
  • Family planning

Duterte had been offered the post of the secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) by presidents Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Benigno Simeon Aquino III but rejected all of them.[8] Duterte was Arroyo's anti-crime consultant in 2002.[9] Duterte had his own local show in Davao City called Gikan Sa Masa, Para Sa Masa (From the Masses, For the Masses) aired as a blocktimer on ABS-CBN Davao.

Duterte had declined several awards. He was nominated for the “World Mayor” award in 2014 by The City Mayors Foundation but refused it, saying, “I did it not for my own glory, but because that was what the people expected me to do.”[10] The said award is given every two years to outstanding leaders who served their communities well. He also refused to accept awards for Davao City, including the one given by the American Cancer Society and the 2010 Anti-Smoking Award in Singapore.

Presidential Campaign

Duterte was urged to run for the Philippine presidency many times but refused such offers on the grounds of a "flawed government system," old age and opposition from his family. He finally declared his intent to run for the nation's highest position on November 21, 2015. He formally filed his certificate of candidacy six days later, on November 27, 2015.

According to Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Spokesperson James Jimenez, Duterte's certificate was filed at the main office in Manila through a representative. He formally entered the race as a substitute of Martin Diño, an anti-corruption advocate. His bid was under the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan, or PDP-Laban.

Substitutions are allowed under the Section 19 of the COMELEC Resolution 9984[11], provided the substitute belongs to and is nominated by the candidate's party.


Apart from allegations of extrajudicial killings and mudslinging among other candidates in the general elections, Duterte's campaign also hit the proverbial fork in the road at times.

In November 2016, when he talking about his experience in Manila during Pope Francis’s visit in January 2015, Duterte said he was frustrated by the traffic congestion situation in the nation's capital. Maintaining a joking tone, he said, “Gusto kong tawagan, ‘Pope putang ina ka, umuwi ka na. ‘Wag ka nang magbisita dito.[12] (“Pope, you son of a bitch, go home. Don’t visit here anymore.”)

Hours after his remarks, he said that it was not intended to attack the pope. He also said that he would travel to the Vatican to ask for forgiveness but opted to write Pope Francis a letter instead. The Vatican replied, saying that the church head appreciated the sentiments.

While the slur barely affected Duterte's bid, a few months later, the campaign was put in jeopardy anew when he spoke about the hostage-taking incident that occurred at a prison in Davao in 1989 which invoved the rape of several of the hostages, including Austalian missionary Jacquelline Hammill.[13] Duterte said he was mad that the hostage takers raped the slain 36-year-old missionary and he, as mayor, should have been the first to rape her.[14]

The incident triggered an uproar in the country and around the globe. Duterte, on the other hand, defended his remarks, saying that it was simply “how men talk.” The presidential hopeful apologized to the public regarding the incident, stating he had “no intention of disrespecting the women and the victims of this horrible crime.”

Towards the end of the campaign period, in late April 2016, then vice presidential candidate Antonio Trillanes IV accused Duterte of having ill-gotten wealth, as well as transactions worth Php 2.4 billion in Duterte's bank accounts with the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI),[15] including balances amounting to Php 227.41 million (incorrectly claimed by Trillanes’s camp to be Php 211 million[16]) in 2014 alone which were not included in Duterte’s statements of assets, liabilities and net worth submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman in 2015. Trillanes dared Duterte to sign a Special Power of Attorney (SPA)[17] authorizing the bank to show the presidential candidate’s transaction history. Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s lawyer at the time, issued a signed SPA in early May 2016; however, Trillanes said the document did not specifically authorize the bank to reveal the bank accounts’ transaction history, only the misstated amount (Php 211 million).[18] On May 5, 2016, a political campaign ad paid for by Senator Trillanes that targeted Duterte drew flak among netizens.[19] The ad showed children reacting to Duterte's controversial remarks and acts. Two days later, Taguig RTC issued a 72-hour TRO that stopped TV stations from airing the ad.

Duterte’s presidential campaign emphasized crime eradication, with him vowing to end criminality, particularly the drug problem, within “three to six months” of assuming presidency.[20] He promised to kill tens of thousands of criminals and issue a shoot-to-kill order for organized crimes and those who would violently resist arrest.[21] Critics railed against these pronouncements, while his supporters continued to rally behind him, inspired by Duterte’s campaign slogan “Change is coming.”

During the last days of the campaign period, outgoing President Benigno Simeon Aquino III called for a united front against Duterte.[22] His trusted aspirant Mar Roxas asked his rivals to unite against the tough-talking mayor, whom he cited as a man of uncertainty, a specter of a dictatorship with no regard for honesty, integrity, transparency, responsibility, and even basic decency.[23]


Hours after the closing of the 2016 general elections, the partial and unofficial vote counts displayed both by the COMELEC and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) showed Duterte already gaining the upper hand of the race from the get-go. The results from COMELEC-GMA Transparency Server displayed Duterte amassing 15,970,018 votes—or covering 38.6% of the entire votes for the president.

Bagging 16,601,997 votes[24], Duterte assumed office as the 16th president of the Republic of the Philippines on June 30, 2016.


Sworn in at age 71 in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte became the oldest to be elected president of the Philippines.[25] He was also the first sitting local executive to be elected president, as well as the first Visayan from Mindanao and the second Cebuano to hold the position.

War on Drugs

Acting on his election promise regarding crime eradication, Duterte began his “war on drugs” as soon as he assumed the presidency. The Philippine National Police chief at the time, Ronald dela Rosa, said the campaign was aimed at "the neutralization of illegal drug personalities nationwide."[26]

In September 2016, Duterte likened himself to Adolf Hitler, saying “If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have...,” he said, pointing to himself. “Hitler massacred three million Jews ... there’s three million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”[27]

Also in September 2016, Duterte told cops and military officers involved in the drug war that he would protect them and would not allow any one of them to go to jail for what they would do in the campaign against drugs.[28]

On several occasions, Duterte also encouraged civilians to kill drug suspects.[29] Vigilante groups killing drug suspects have been reported since Duterte became president.

As of December 2018, 27,000 had been killed in Duterte’s war on drugs, according to the Commission on Human Rights.[30] In March 2019 the PNP said the death toll was at 29,000.

Local and international rights organizations have expressed concern about the killings, with Amnesty International calling it a “large-scale murdering enterprise.”[31]

On June 14, 2021, Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), said she had finished her preliminary examination on the Philippines and that she was seeking authorization from the court’s judges for a complete investigation into the crimes against humanity, torture, and other inhumane acts committed between November 2011 and March 2019 in the drug war.[32] The acts to be investigated include extrajudicial killings perpetrated by police in “anti-drug operations” after incitement from government officials, including the president.


DuterteNomics[33] is the term the Duterte administration has used to refer to its socioeconomic policies, including those covering tax reforms and infrastructure development. The following comprises the 10-point agenda of the Duterte administration, as presented by the president’s economics team in a forum in Davao in June 2016.

  1. Continue and maintain current macroeconomic policies, including fiscal, monetary, and trade policies.
  2. Institute progressive tax reform and more effective tax collection, indexing taxes to inflation.
  3. Increase competitiveness and the ease of doing business.
  4. Accelerate annual infrastructure spending to account for 5% of GDP, with Public-Private Partnerships playing a key role.
  5. Promote rural and value chain development toward increasing agricultural and rural enterprise productivity and rural tourism.
  6. Ensure security of land tenure to encourage investments, and address bottlenecks in land management and titling agencies.
  7. Invest in human capital development, including health and education systems, and match skills and training.
  8. Promote science, technology, and the creative arts to enhance innovation and creative capacity.
  9. Improve social protection programs, including the government's Conditional Cash Transfer program.
  10. Strengthen implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law.

Work Experience

  • President, Republic of the Philippines, 30 June 2016-Present
  • Mayor, Davao, 2013-2016
  • Vice Mayor, Davao, 2010-2013
  • Mayor, Davao, Davao, 2001-2010
  • Congressman, 1st District of Davao, 1998-2001
  • Mayor, Davao, Davao, 1992-1998
  • Vice Mayor (OIC), Davao, 1986-1988
  • Lecturer on Criminal Law, Criminal Evidence, and Criminal Procedure Police Academy, Regional Training Center XI
  • Member, Integrated Bar of the Philippines
  • Second Assistant City Prosecutor, City Prosecution Office, Davao City, 1983-1986
  • Third Assistant City Prosecutor, City Prosecution Office, Davao City, 1981-1983
  • Fourth Assistant City Prosecutor, City Prosecution Office, Davao City, 1979-1981
  • Special Counsel, City Prosecution Office, Davao City, 1977-1979


  • Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Member
  • Davao Lions International - Chinatown chapter, Member
  • Davao Practical Shooting Association, Member
  • On Any Sunday Riders, Member


Duterte was once married to Elizabeth Zimmerman, a flight attendant from Davao City who is of German-American descent. They have three children: Paolo, Sara, and Sebastian, who all ventured into politics. In 2000, Zimmerman and Duterte's 27-year marriage was annulled. In 2015, Zimmerman was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.

Duterte is currently living with his common-law wife, Cielito “Honeylet” Avanceña, with whom he has one daughter, Veronica.



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