What can a tyrant teach us about Trump?

  • Video
  • Image

Rodrigo Duterte, who became president of the Philippines in June, has already made a number of controversial moves, from waging a violent war on drug and crime and publicly accusing individuals of aiding druglords to threatening to leave the United Nations. Photo: EPA

Tough talking pollies … Donald Trump, left, and Rodrigo Duterte.

RODRIGO Duterte: He’s the tough-talking Philippines presidency campaigner who promised a ‘bloodbath’ among drug dealers and petty criminals. Since being elected in May, he’s proven true to his word.

So what does this tell us about the other big-mouthed bullyboy of international politics, Donald Trump?

One is now in power. The other, as yet, is not.

Duterte’s popular ‘war’ against drugs has already racked up a staggering death toll: More than 2000 people have reportedly been killed since he took office in May. That’s a rate of up to 20 per day.

Philippines police chief Director-General Ronald dela Rosa insisted at a Senate hearing last week that there was no formal policy to kill drug users and pushers. He said about 1100 of the deaths were being investigated as they had not been part of his force’s operations. The rest were.

“We are not butchers,” he said.

Rodrigo Duterte kisses his national flag as he addresses his supporters during the Philippines election campaign.

Rodrigo Duterte kisses his national flag as he addresses his supporters during the Philippines election campaign.Source:AFP

Instead, it’s angry citizens taking the law into their own hands. Or settling grudges.

Duterte, nicknamed “the Punisher”, has repeatedly stated that he’s fine with that.

The fact is, the devil-may-care president has done this before.

He’s simply upscaling policies enacted earlier as a mayor now that he’s serving his single six-year term as Philippines president.

And he’s showing no qualms about disparaging anyone who contradicts his views on criminality, corruption and incompetence, be they the Pope, human rights activists — or chief ally, the United States.

But are the similarities between the tough-talking duo overstated?

Duterte himself has expressed displeasure at such comparison.

“Trump is a bigot,” he stated. “I am not.”


President Duterte was voted to power on a tide of public discontent directed at decades of high crime rates and government bungling.

He’s done what he said.

He’s banned smoking in public places. There’s a 9pm curfew on karaoke and a 10pm curfew for minors. No alcohol can be consumed after 1am.

But mostly the flamboyant president promised to wipe out the drugs trade by any means necessary, warning traffickers and petty criminals they faced being gunned down if they did not repent.

This is now happening.

The Philippines’ Senate cross-examined Duterte’s police chief dela Rosa last week. He justified the soaring death toll by claiming an overall fall in the crime rate. Some 700,000 drug users and peddlers had already turned themselves in to avoid summary execution, he said.

However he conceded the homicide rate had increased.

US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has been accused of inciting violence amid growing clashes between his supporters and protesters.

Duterte’s hard line tactics have not been entirely popular among judiciary, military and government figures.

So Duterte has now turned his tough talk against them.

He has warned legislators not to interfere with his tough-on-crime campaign, warning they themselves could be killed if they impeded his efforts.

As for the legal implications? Duterte says he will simply apply a presidential pardon to himself.

But Duterte and Trump are not the only tough-talking crusaders on the world stage says Flinders University Associate Professor in International Relations Michael Barr.

“The rise of both men, and also people like Marine Le Pen and others in Europe, are signs of a political crisis in democracies across the world,” he says.

“It is not restricted to America and Asia. Australia and Africa are suffering their fair shares of it as well.”


Both swear a lot. Both are politically incorrect. Both try to present themselves as men of the people. But the similarities only go so far.

Duterte’s 22 years as mayor of Davo City is full of ‘disappearing’ petty criminals and the poor, as well as allegations of corruption.

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s has a history of being a reality TV host, outspoken social and political commentary and managing his inherited real estate empire.

This is fundamentally different, says Flinders University lecturer in Politics and Public Policy Dr Rodrigo Praino.

“While Duterte and Trump share a bombastic and out of control rhetoric style, Duterte’s words have been backed with actions from the very beginning of his presidential bid,” he says. “Trump’s words are, at least for the moment, only words. The scary parallel, however, is that both sets of words have met a large number of voters happy to hear them in both countries.”

Blustering popularism is one thing. Murder is another.

Trump has triumphantly declared he would build a great wall and create a ‘deportation force’ to expel millions of illegal Mexican ‘rapists’.

Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump is hungry for power.

Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump is hungry for power.Source:AFP

“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me — and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

Pit that against Duterte who earlier this year boasted on television that he had killed in the past: “Yes, of course. I must admit I have killed … Three months early on I killed about … three people.”

Trump’s misogyny has repeatedly gotten him into the public eye in recent months, with statements like: “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful piece of ass,” and “I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

Pit that against Duterte stating that he should have been ‘first in line’ to gang-rape Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill who was murdered in his city of Davao in 1989.

“I looked at her face, son of a bitch, she looks like a beautiful actor in America. Son of a bitch, what a waste,” Duterte said.

“What came to mind was, they raped her, they lined up on her there. I was angry because she was raped, that’s one thing. But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste.”


Politicians need to attract attention. They need to present solutions to complex problems as being simple.

Where some kiss babies or lead donkeys through public places, others talk tough.

Some are perpetual fence-sitters, rarely revealing their mind. Others project certainty — even where there is none.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

“Campaign promises are made and broken at every single electoral cycle,” Dr Praino says.

Human rights advocates hold placards condemning extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

Human rights advocates hold placards condemning extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.Source:AFP

The truth is that we don’t know to what extent president Trump would actually try to implement the things that candidate Trump has been talking about.

“What exactly is a ‘great wall’? What does he mean when he says that ‘Mexico will pay for it’? What is a ‘deportation force’?

“It is surprising to what extent a president Trump could actually implement these things in order to fulfil his campaign promises, without actually implementing them the way we are thinking about them right now.”

But we now know what society under a man like Duterte looks like.

What will the US — and the world — be like with Trump in the White House?

“In the cases Trump and Duterte, people are not voting for hope over experience, but for desperation over hope — and even edging towards ugly nastiness over desperation,” Barr says.