Duterte, 'the punisher', sworn in as
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[June 30, 2016]
By Neil Jerome Morales and Manuel Mogato
MANILA (Reuters) - Rodrigo Duterte was
sworn in as the Philippines' 16th president on Thursday, capping the
unlikely journey of a provincial city mayor whose brash
man-of-the-people style and pledges to crush crime swamped establishment
rivals in last month's election.
After making his pledge at the presidential palace in Manila, with
one hand on the Bible, Duterte delivered a speech in which he
promised a "relentless" and "sustained" fight against corruption,
criminality and illegal drugs.
However, he said these ills were only symptoms of a disease cutting
into the moral fiber of society.
"I see the erosion of the people's trust in our country's leaders,
the erosion of faith in our judicial system, the erosion of
confidence in the capacity of our public servants to make the
people's lives better, safer and healthier," he said.
Duterte tapped into voters' disgust with the Philippines' political
elite and the failure of successive governments to tackle poverty
and inequality, drawing comparisons with Donald Trump and the rise
of assertive populists across the globe.
But his defiance of convention has raised concern that economic
growth in the Philippines, the fastest of Southeast Asia's five main
economies under his predecessor, could be at risk on his watch.
The political shake-up also adds to uncertainty about Manila's
position in a sometimes-bitter dispute with China over sovereignty
in the South China Sea, a key global trade route.
China's official Xinhua news agency said President Xi Jinping sent a
congratulatory message to Duterte, saying he was "willing to work
with Duterte to push for improvement of relations between the two
Duterte's new defense minister told Reuters this week that crushing
Islamist militants in the south of the country would take precedence
over South China Sea disputes.
Duterte's election campaign focused almost entirely on the scourges
of crime, drug abuse and corruption, and voters were not deterred by
repeated warnings from "the Punisher", in profanity-peppered
speeches, to have offenders killed.
In his maiden speech, the president conceded that many believe his
methods "are unorthodox and verge on the illegal". However, the
71-year-old former prosecutor said he knew right from wrong and
would abide by the rule of law.
Duterte was mayor for 22 years of the southern city of Davao, where,
according to human rights groups, death squads have killed at least
1,400 people since 1998, most of them drug-pushers, addicts, petty
criminals and street children.
He denies any involvement in vigilante killings.
NO BANQUET, CHAMPAGNE
In keeping with his unsophisticated manner, the presidential
inauguration ceremony was far less elaborate than is customary.
There was a traditional 21-gun salute at Malacanang Palace, a
graceful white mansion originally built by Spanish colonialists in
the 18th century.
But aides said there was no sumptuous banquet or champagne, just a
meal for 627 guests showcasing the country's culinary heritage,
including coconut pith spring rolls, a cheese made from carabao milk
and durian tartlets.
Duterte is not known for his sartorial elegance: he usually sports a
short-sleeved casual shirt, never wears socks and told Reuters on
the hustings that he wouldn't be seen in a tie. On Thursday, he wore
a formal 'barong' shirt but TV presenters commented that he appeared
to be wearing slip-on loafers.
[to top of second column]
President Rodrigo Duterte takes his oath before Supreme Court
Justice Bienvenido Reyes as his daughter Veronica holds the bible,
during his inauguration as President of the Philippines at the
Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines June 30, 2016. Presidential
Palace/Handout via Reuters
Indeed, there is little about Duterte that is conventionally
Aides say he wants to travel in a pick-up truck instead of the
president's bullet-proof Mercedes. And it is still not clear if he
will keep a promise to spurn the luxury of the palace and commute
daily from Davao, which is two hours from Manila by air.
Few media organizations were invited to the inauguration, the upshot
of a furor Duterte unleashed recently when he suggested that corrupt
journalists were legitimate targets for assassination.
His incendiary rhetoric and advocacy of extrajudicial killings to
stamp out crime have alarmed many who hear echoes of an
authoritarian past under the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
In the weeks since Duterte's election victory there has been a jump
in the number of suspected drug dealers shot dead by police and
anonymous vigilantes, a sign, critics say, that a spiral of violence
has already begun.
But this appears to have only augmented his popularity.
Thousands of people belonging to a left-wing activist group marched
to an area near the palace, not to protest as they usually do, but
to cheer for Duterte.
"Change is indeed coming," said Sevilla Sayco, a 61-year-old rice
farmer from a province north of the capital.
"We are happy because the previous administration paid us no
attention. But Duterte is pro-poor," she said while shopping for
shirts with Duterte's image on them, among piles of other Duterte
merchandise from nail clippers to pens and keychains.
Duterte later invited the leftists into the palace and spoke to them
about ideas he had to distribute millions of hectares of public land
to farmers and release political prisoners.
He has promised to spread wealth more evenly in a country where over
a quarter of the 100 million people are poor.
He gave few details on Thursday of his economic policies but has
said he will pursue his predecessor's infrastructure and fiscal
efficiency drives to lift growth to at least 7 percent.
(Additional reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz, and Ben Blanchard in
Beijing; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
and Clarence Fernandez)
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