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New Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte faces major challenges

The new president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, whose campaign rhetoric won him comparisons to Donald Trump, took a victory lap Tuesday — to his mother’s grave. Sobbing, he begged for help. He’ll need it. A third of his people live in poverty and his victory comes as the U.S. looks to deepen its ties with Manila to counter Chinese ambitions in the region. Hari Sreenivasan reports.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The man who will next lead the Philippines was lauded as a no-nonsense tough guy and derided as a looming dictator throughout a fiery election campaign.

    Today, it became clear, after his two closest rivals conceded, that, whatever the labels, Rodrigo Duterte will soon be called Mr. President. With China flexing its muscles in the South China Sea, the United States is looking to deepen its security relationship with Manila, while Duterte has said his priorities are to lift up the large numbers of Filipinos in poverty and crack down on crime.

    Rodrigo Duterte is known for his tough talk and bombastic style, but he was decidedly more humble on a pre-dawn trip today to his parents' tomb in Manila. Social media video showed him sobbing as he said, "Help me, mom. I'm just a nobody."

    That may once have been true, but Monday's election has now catapulted Duterte to president-elect. He won about 40 percent of the vote, pledging to eliminate poverty, corruption and crime. The outcome delighted supporters in Davao City, where he's long been mayor.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    I am happy and feel privileged. The mayor prevailed.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Duterte's path to the presidency was anything but conventional, featuring crude sex jokes, which included making light of the rape and murder of an Australian woman, and incendiary rhetoric, especially about criminals.

  • PRESIDENT-ELECT RODRIGO DUTERTE, Philippines:

    All of you who are into drugs, you sons of (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

    (LAUGHTER)

  • PRESIDENT-ELECT RODRIGO DUTERTE:

    I will really kill you. I have no patience for that. I have no middle ground there. Either you kill me, or I will kill you idiots.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    That kind of talk has led some to draw comparisons to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in the U.S.

    Karen Lema is a Manila correspondent for Reuters, who spoke with us via Google Hangouts.

  • KAREN LEMA, Reuters:

    I think it's probably because of their unconventional ways, their unorthodox ways. Here, people tend to look at those that are in the political establishment as weak, inefficient and corrupt. And, again, Duterte I think has successfully differentiated himself from the pack. And that's where his appeal lie.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Duterte inherits a Philippine economy that grew an average of 6.2 percent over the past six years. But with nearly a third of the population still below the poverty line, voters said they were ready for change.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    We need someone who can make the prices of goods go down, so that for us who are poor, we can make a better living.

  • WOMAN (through interpreter):

    I hope, whoever becomes the president, they will help the homeless, provide work for our husbands and run the Philippines well.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Today, a Duterte spokesman laid out plans to federalize the government.

    Karen Lema says it's a bid to help neglected regions far removed from the country's power center.

  • KAREN LEMA:

    He want to devolve functions away from Central Manila to the provinces. He wanted to empower these provinces and make sure that the wealth is more evenly distributed. And, like he said, he wants to benefit what he calls the — those who have been left behind.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    On foreign policy, Duterte has said he'd talk to China about its expanding claims and military activity in the South China Sea. But, if nothing changed, he said he'd sail to one of Beijing's new artificial islands and plant the Philippine flag.

    Today, China's Foreign Ministry voiced hope for progress with the new leader.

  • LU KANG, Spokesman, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through interpreter):

    China and the Philippines have a traditional friendship. We indeed hope that the new government of the Philippines would meet China halfway, taking concrete measures to properly deal with the disputes.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Duterte has also expressed wariness about closer security ties with the U.S., but, yesterday, he called for talks to include the U.S., Japan and Australia.

  • PRESIDENT-ELECT RODRIGO DUTERTE:

    I do not think that anybody now is interested in getting to war. And so we are allied with America. We will agree to a multilateral participation, if there is one coming.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In Washington, a White House spokesman said today — quote — "We look forward to strengthening and deepening ties with the Philippines."

    But, policy questions aside, Duterte's hard-line approach has sparked concerns that he could be a dictator in the making in a country with an authoritarian past.

    In 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines, and ruled unchallenged for years. He was ousted in 1986 by Corazon Aquino, the widow of a fierce Marcos critic, and she became president.

    Now her son Benigno Aquino is leaving office after serving the single six-year term allowed under the country's constitution. He opposed Duterte and instead backed former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. Aquino also campaigned against Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who trailed by a narrow margin in the vice presidential race.

    In a statement today, Aquino said, "Our people have spoken and their verdict is accepted and respected."

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