'Dirty Harry' Duterte calls the shots

It is difficult to keep tabs on just how many times Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he personally killed someone.

It is just integral to the "Dirty Harry", take-no-prisoners mythos he has been cultivating to bolster his political capital. His aides say most of it is just bluster or "hyperbole".

But even when foreign governments and human rights activists call him out, Mr Duterte does not recoil. He, in fact, doubles down.

Last week, he told a group of businessmen that when he was mayor of the southern city of Davao, he would roam the streets on his motorcycle "looking for trouble".

"I was really looking for a confrontation, so I could kill," he said.

Two senators said his admission was grounds for impeachment.

"That is a betrayal of public trust, and that constitutes high crime… That is grounds for impeachment," said Senator Leila de Lima, Mr Duterte's long-time critic.

President Rodrigo Duterte's official visit to Singapore

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    Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte poses for selfies with Filipinos living in Singapore after an orchid naming ceremony at Singapore Botanic Gardens.

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    Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte arrives for an orchid naming ceremony at Singapore Botanic Gardens.

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    The Dendrobium Rodrigo Roa Duterte, a hybrid orchid named after Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, at an orchid naming ceremony at Singapore Botanic Gardens.

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    ilippines President Rodrigo Duterte poses with the Dendrobium Rodrigo Roa Duterte, a hybrid orchid named after him, during an orchid naming ceremony at Singapore Botanic Gardens.

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    Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte looks at the Dendrobium Rodrigo Roa Duterte, a hybrid orchid named after him.

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    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong receiving His Excellency Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of The Republic Of The Philippines on 16 December 2016.

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    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and His Excellency Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of The Republic Of The Philippines at lunch hosted by PM Lee on 16 December 2016.

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    Group photo at lunch hosted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for His Excellency Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of The Republic Of The Philippines on 16 December 2016.

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    Mr Bernard Carpio, 40, took time off from work and came here with his wife and two children to show his support for President Duterte.

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    Event volunteers taking a group picture with a standee of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

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    Members of the Filipino community arriving at Singapore Expo.

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    State visit to Singapore by President of the Republic of Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Venue: Istana.

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    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is in Singapore for a two-day visit.

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    Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left) with Singapore President Tony Tan at the welcome ceremony held for the former at the Istana.

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    State visit to Singapore by President of the Republic of Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Venue: Istana.

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    State visit to Singapore by President of the Republic of Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Venue: Istana.

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    State visit to Singapore by President of the Republic of Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Venue: Istana.

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    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) meets with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte at the Istana on 15 December 2016. Mr Duterte is on a two-day state visit to Singapore.

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    State visit to Singapore by President of the Republic of Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Venue: Istana.

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    The Philippine President is on a 2-day visit to Singapore.

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    Mr Duterte's visit to Singapore is his first since he took office in June.

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    Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte inspects an honour guard with Singapore's President Tony Tan at the Istana in Singapore on December 15, 2016.

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    Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte prepares to inspect an honour guard with Singapore's President Tony Tan at the Istana on December 15, 2016.

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    Mr Duterte inspects an honour guard in a welcome ceremony for him at the Istana.

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    After the welcome ceremony, Dr Tan will host a State Banquet in honour of his Philippine counterpart.

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    On Dec 16, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will host Mr Duterte to lunch.

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    During his visit, the Philippine President will also meet Singapore business leaders and have an orchid named in his honour at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

But did the Philippines' mercurial leader wince? No.

He instead later recounted, while on a state visit in Singapore, that he had in fact emptied an entire magazine of an M16 assault rifle on three men who abducted a woman in 1988.

"I don't really know how many bullets from my gun went inside their bodies, but it happened," he said.

On Monday, he retold that story, which he first recounted last year.

on SPH Brightcove

President Duterte meets the Filipino community in Singapore

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    President Rodrigo Duterte addressed almost 7,000 Filipinos who gathered at the Singapore Expo.

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    President Rodrigo Duterte was greeted with loud cheers when he met members of the Filipino community.

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    President Rodrigo Duterte addressed almost 7,000 Filipinos who gathered at the Singapore Expo.

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    President Rodrigo Duterte defended his brutal war against drugs.

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    President Rodrigo Duterte addressed almost 7,000 Filipinos who gathered at the Singapore Expo.

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    President Rodrigo Duterte addressed almost 7,000 Filipinos who gathered at the Singapore Expo.

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    President Rodrigo Duterte addressed almost 7,000 Filipinos who gathered at the Singapore Expo.

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Read also: I burned the flag of Singapore: 10 of Philippine's Duterte's most undiplomatic remarks

When he was running for president early this year, he would regale his supporters with tales of death and mayhem.

He recalled a prison riot in Davao in 1989. Inmates had taken an Australian missionary hostage. They later raped and killed her.

Mr Duterte said he was so angry he grabbed his Uzi submachine gun and stormed into the prison.

"I emptied one magazine clip. There was a firefight, and then every one of them was dead," he said.

When asked during the election campaign if he would own up to killing 700 criminal suspects, he replied: "No, they got it wrong. It was 1,700." These killings had been attributed to "death squads" purportedly under his sway when he was Davao mayor.

Read also: 'Barbaric' Duterte wants daily executions in Philippines

In an interview with Esquire magazine last year, he said the first time he killed a man was at 17.

"There was a tumultuous fight (on) the beach. We were young men, and we went to this beach. We were drinking. Suddenly there was this… I may have stabbed somebody to death. Something like that," he said.

So, why this air of nonchalance over killing? One reason is accountability, or the lack of it.

Except for an illiterate assassin who, in a testimony before the Senate, said he witnessed Mr Duterte unloading two magazines of an Uzi submachine gun on a government agent, no one has lodged a case formally accusing Mr Duterte of murder.

Not even the threat of impeachment unsettles him. He has even dared his critics: "Go ahead. Impeach me. I don't need this job."

In any case, almost no one in Congress, where Mr Duterte enjoys a "supermajority", is taking calls for his impeachment seriously.

Meanwhile, a majority of Filipinos are cheering him on, reserving their loudest applause for when he quotes his favourite refrain: "Do not destroy my country, or I will kill you."

Never mind that four in five of them worry that they, or someone they know, may end up dead in some alley, their heads wrapped in packing tape, mistaken for a drug addict.

In a speech on Monday, Mr Duterte said he believes there will be a time of reckoning, even for him. "I believe in karma. I'm 72, and I'm paying for all the bad things that I committed in the past... I know somehow that I am repaying my debts to God for doing something, sometimes the wrong thing," he said.

That may include killing. But he has always said that whatever he has done, he did so to save his country.

rdancel@sph.com.sg

Read also: Philippines defends Duterte killings as UN seeks probe
10 ways President Duterte plans to change the Philippines


This article was first published on Dec 22, 2016.
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