Is The Philippines' New President Really 'Trump of the East?'

Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump may have a lot in common, but one is definitely worse.

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Complex Original

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Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte, mayor of Davao City, was elected President of the Philippines by a landslide on Monday. Now, the comparisons to Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump are pouring in. On the surface, it's easy to see why: Trump made waves calling Mexicans rapists, Duterte stirred controversy by making a joke about gang rape. Both have bragged about their penis sizes, and both have beef with the pope

But is Duterte really the "Trump of the East?"

The Jester

Duterte served as mayor to the city of Davao for more than 20 years. During his term, Australian church worker Jacqueline Hamill was gang raped and killed during a 1989 Davao City Jail riot. In a video published last month, Duterte said Hamill was so beautiful that he wishes he had "been first."

According to CNN Philippines, he said:

They raped the women, so the first assault because they retreated, they used the bodies as cover, one of those was the body of the Australian woman lay minister. Tsk, this is a problem. When they went out, they wrapped the body. I looked at the face, son of a b*tch she looks like a beautiful American celebrity. Son of a b*tch, what a waste. I thought, they raped her, they lined up to her. I was angry she was raped, yes that was one thing.  But she was so beautiful, I think the mayor should have been first. What a waste."

Duterte was immediately called out; the BBC reported that former president of the Philippines Benigno Aquino said his comments show an "utter lack of respect for women." But Duterte didn't back down. According to Time, he said he wasn't joking about Hamill's rape and murder, but merely expressing "utter rage." He added, "This is how men talk.”

His spokesperson defended Duterte's comment and other controversial campaign moments.

"That's part of the game. You know in Philippine elections you have to act like a comic, you have to find ways for you be in the headlines," Peter Lavina told The Associated Press. "The jester, the jokes. That's part of the game."

He added, "Well that is his style in Davao, in every election. That's why he can capture the crowd for two to three hours, because he has this penchant for storytelling, cracking jokes, and even laughing at his own self." 

This "I'll say/do what I want" appeal is evident in Trump's unstoppable campaign, also. Despite perpetuating false statistics and inciting violence, the billionaire maintained his lead throughout the presidential race, drawing "yuge" crowds that listened to his bizarre 95-minute rants.

The Punisher

When it comes to political experience, the two have noted differences. Duterte spent three decades in public service, from lawyer to prosecutor, then mayor to congressman, according to Time. His controversial campaign is tempered by his consistent history. 

Lavina told the AP that one thing Duterte doesn't joke about is eliminating crime, corruption, and poverty. He earned his nickname "The Punisher" by promising to butcher "all criminal suspects including drug lords, and dump their bodies into Manila Bay to fatten the fish." He doesn't deny that as mayor, he ordered extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals. According to the AP, when Duterte was accused of killing 700 people, he responded cheekily that the figure was closer to 1,700.

Despite these Trump-like hard lines, Duterte actually has relatively progressive politics. He's backed greater autonomy for marginalized Moro Muslims and advocated for gay marriage in the predominantly Catholic archipelago. His context, too, is more progressive than Trump's. The Philippines elected its first woman president in 1986 and recently elected its first out trans congressperson.

"He may be crass and foulmouthed, but the man has a heart of gold," 50-year-old Filipina Pamela Reyes told NBC. "His advocacy of women and kids are a testament of what he truly is." 

Trump, on the other hand, prides himself on lacking political experience and being an outsider, and relies on this point to court voters who distrust the American voting system.

Filipinos believe they know what they're getting with a Duterte presidency: a warts-and-all jester who will actually crack down on corruption. But do Americans know what a Trump presidency might look like?

The Trojan Horse?

Will Trump, like Duterte, be able to usher in an era of change while being an asshole who makes sexist jokes and beefs with the Pope?

The former reality star does have some surprisingly left-leaning stances. He's said that trans people should be able to use whichever bathroom they please, and supports Planned Parenthood despite being pro-life. He's as big an opponent of free trade as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is today, and has argued that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is "an attack on American businesses."

When Republican rivals accused Trump of flip-flopping, he retorted, "I’ve never seen a successful person who wasn’t flexible, who didn’t have a certain degree of flexibility."

But even if Trump is a foul-mouthed and orange Trojan Horse, the damage may already be too irreparable. The Southern Poverty Law Center's 2,000-teacher survey called "The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation's Schools​" found that more than one-third of educators saw an increase in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment among their students this election season. 

This is where Trump and Duterte are categorically incomparable: While some argue that Duterte's word vomit is a form of violence, Trump's words actually incite violence, fanning the flames of Islamophobia, hate crimes, and racism.

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