No fanfare as Philippines’ Duterte prepares to take office

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MANILA There will be no fancy ‘vin d’honneur’ at Rodrigo Duterte’s inauguration as president of the Philippines on Thursday, just simple fare at a low-key event. Then he will get straight down to the business of crushing crime, drugs and lawlessness.

Only state media will be allowed to attend the ceremony at the Malacanang Palace in Manila, the upshot of a furor Duterte unleashed recently when he suggested that corrupt journalists were legitimate targets for assassination.

“It’s going to be totally different. It’s not going to be champagne bottles popping and cheese,” incoming Communications Minister Martin Andanar told Reuters on the eve of the ceremony.

Indeed, there is little about 71-year-old Duterte that is conventionally presidential.

Andanar said that instead of being driven around in the president’s limousine, a bullet-proof Mercedes, Duterte wants to travel in a pick-up truck.

It is still not clear, Duterte’s aides say, if he will keep a promise to spurn the luxury of the palace and commute daily from his hometown in the south of the country, which is two hours each way by air.

But it was precisely this man-of-the-people style that won him last month’s presidential election.

His brash defiance of the political elite, which drew comparisons with Donald Trump, tapped into popular disgust with an establishment that failed to tackle poverty and inequality despite years of robust economic growth.

His election campaign focused almost entirely on the scourges of murder, rape, drug abuse and corruption, and voters were not deterred by his repeated warnings, in profanity-peppered speeches, to have offenders killed.

Duterte was mayor for 22 years of the far-south 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.

Duterte denies any involvement in the vigilante killings.


But his incendiary rhetoric and advocacy of extrajudicial killings to stamp out crime and drugs have alarmed many who hear echoes of the Southeast Asian country’s authoritarian past.

In the few weeks since his landslide election victory there has been a jump in the number of suspected drug dealers shot dead by police and anonymous vigilantes across the country, a sign, critics say, that a spiral of violence has already begun.

“Duterte tapped into a raw nerve in Philippines society about crimes being committed and no one being held responsible,” said Chito Gascon, head of the Commission on Human Rights. “Now you have this momentum for action but the cure could be worse than the disease.”

As well as taming crime, voters will be looking to Duterte to fix the country’s infrastructure, create jobs and lift more than a quarter of the 100 million population out of poverty.

Duterte says he wants to spread wealth more evenly.

But he has also said he will continue his predecessor’s economic policies, which focused on infrastructure and fiscal efficiency, to push growth up to 7-8 percent, and analysts say they are encouraged that he plans to delegate this to experienced hands.

When he is sworn in as the Philippines’ 16th president for a six-year term at midday on Thursday, Duterte will wear a simple shirt made from pineapple fiber by a Davao fashion house.

Duterte is not know for his sartorial elegance: he usually sports a short-sleeved casual shirt, never wears socks and told Reuters on the campaign trail that he wouldn’t be seen in a tie.

There will be no sumptuous banquet, Andanar said, but there will be several homely dishes that showcase the country’s culinary heritage, including coconut pith spring rolls, a white cheese made from unskimmed carabao’s milk and durian tartlets.

For drinks, guests will have a choice between a pine-mango cooler and the juice of a local orange called dalandan.

The country’s new vice-president, Leni Robredo, will be sworn in at a separate but simultaneous ceremony.

Ferdinand Marcos, son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, on Wednesday filed a case in the Supreme Court claiming that he lost his bid for the vice-presidency because of election fraud.

(Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Mike Collett-White)



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