MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday disputed TIME Magazine’s branding of him as a “strongman,” saying he respects democratic freedoms.
“Sa TIME Magazine, isa daw ako sa mga strongman. ‘Di man ako strongman,” Duterte said in a speech during the 37th Principals Training and Development Program and National Board Conference in Davao City.
(In TIME Magazine, I was portrayed as a strongman. I am not a strongman.)
The President said he wonders why he was branded as a strongman when “I have never sent anyone to jail for criticizing me.”
“You can criticize me or bulls**t me to no end… You are my employer, I’m an employee. I’m just a government worker,” he said.
Duterte said Filipinos continue to enjoy their freedom of expression.
But he reiterated he would not let a foreigner criticize him in his own country, as he defended the government’s decision to expel Australian missionary nun Patricia Fox.
In a tweet, United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, a vocal critic of the government's drug war, questioned the magazine and said "there is nothing 'strong' about men abusing their power, silencing dissent."
In his previous speeches, Duterte had insisted he was no dictator, even as critics said the country’s democratic institutions have suffered and the freedoms enjoyed by the public eroded since he became President.
At times, however, he would justify his heavy-handed leadership, saying this was needed to put the country in order.
TIME: DUTERTE LIKE A ‘MOB BOSS’
The TIME cover story, titled “The 'Strongmen Era' Is Here. Here’s What It Means for You” and written by Ian Bremmer, also features Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It describes Duterte as "a former mayor who talked more like a mob boss than a President, on his promises to wipe out the drug trade with his own brand of justice."
Reacting to the feature story, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Filipinos have come to appreciate Duterte’s brand of leadership.
“Regardless of slant, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has demonstrated strong and decisive leadership – a quality appreciated by Filipinos as evidenced by the Chief Executive’s high satisfaction, approval, trust and performance ratings,” Roque said in a statement.
Duterte has attracted global attention for his harsh language and sheer bravado, something he is not apologetic for.
Palace officials often take the task of tempering the President’s message, especially when the matter involved is diplomatic in nature.
“Filipinos have learned not to take PRRD (Duterte) literally with his colorful language, but they have surely taken seriously the issues the President has espoused, such as the war on drugs and crime.”
Duterte has received domestic and international criticism for his war on drugs, which has resulted in about 4,000 deaths based on official police data. The President and his senior officials have been saying the drug war is necessary in eradicating criminality and protecting the youth.
“The drug problem is not only a Philippine concern. It is a global burden and the Philippines’ war on drugs has been acknowledged by countries and leaders, including Indonesia, China, [United States] President Donald Trump and police leaders from other Southeast Asian countries,” Roque said.
“The President’s brand of justice strictly adheres to the rule of law where the dismantling of the drug apparatus ensures the proper investigation of all drug-related killings," he added.