Rodrigo Duterte. Source: YouTube
Rodrigo Duterte, the frontrunner for next month’s Philippine presidential election, has promised to ride into the South China Sea on a jet ski and plant the national flag on the Spratly Islands, where Beijing is building a military bastion.
Duterte, who is often referred to as the Philippines’ Donald Trump, said: “I’ll go down, riding a jet ski, carrying a Filipino flag … and then I would say, ‘This is ours, and do what you want with me,’” Duterte said in a mixture of English and Tagalog. “I would stake that claim, and if they want to [kill me], you know, I have the ambition of being the hero too.”
The peso slumped 1.6 per cent this month, which is seen as a reaction to his lead in the polls while the Philippine bond risk has climbed from near an eight-month low and foreigners have pulled US$41 million from stocks this month.
The Philippines claims sovereignty over the Spratlys and some of the Paracel Islands but Beijing says it has “indisputable sovereignty”, building artificial islands on reefs and installing weaponry. Philippine fishing boats have been forced out of the waters.
To reclaim the disputed islands Duterte might need US and Australian backing but he has put relations with both in jeopardy.
Duterte joked about an Australian missionary who was gang raped and murdered during a 1989 prison riot, saying she was “so beautiful” that he “should have been first”. The US and Australian ambassadors both condemned the remarks from the man well placed to become president in the May 9 election. Duterte promptly threatened to give the US and Australia “a shit”, telling the envoys to “shut your mouth”. “If I become president, go ahead and sever [diplomatic ties],” he announced.
Duterte told women’s groups who objected to “go to hell” and responded to criticism by saying “that is who I am”. He has also staunchly refuted an apology put out by his team.
He is leading polls with 33 per cent of respondents supporting him, according to SWS, up from 27 per cent in March, before he made the rape “joke”.
Duterte’s was Davao mayor for 22 years. The southern city of 1.5 million was known for its crime and communist militants before his tenure. “The top three issues are one, poverty and jobs; two, peace and crime, especially drugs; and three, corruption and government services. … Duterte appeals to the frustration and despair of ordinary people on government actions regarding their lives,” said Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in the Philippines.