MANILA -- Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is gaining momentum in the Philippines' presidential race with incendiary rhetoric often compared with Donald Trump's in the U.S. elections, tapping into deep discontent over the country's persistent inequality and the criminality that comes with it.
Duterte made his presence felt at a public debate on March 20 in Cebu City, in the country's central area. He invited a fellow candidate, Sen. Grace Poe, to sing with him while they waited for the delayed event to begin, drawing laughter from the audience.
His humor has helped his image as a man of the people. He climbed to second place with 24% support in a March opinion poll by Pulse Asia, just four points behind front-runner Poe.
Duterte is said to have used death squads to clamp down on crime in Davao, a city in the southern island of Mindanao where he has long served as mayor. He has said in the past that he will kill criminals within the confines of the law, and that his presidency would be "bloody."
"In this country, there is trouble everywhere. There is corruption, criminality and flooding of drugs," he said in the March debate. He argued that no progress can occur unless these issues were addressed, and pledged to stamp out corruption within six months of taking office.
His extreme positions and measures have led to comparisons with real estate mogul Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner in the U.S. presidential race, as well as to the character Dirty Harry from the Clint Eastwood film.
The mayor's popularity stems from the Philippines' long struggle with problems such as inequality, corruption and crime.
"I want him to eradicate crime and create a disciplined society," said a 20-something office worker in Manila. But Duterte's controversial measures, such as fighting crime by killing criminals, has drawn criticism from private citizens and nongovernmental organizations.
The other candidates in the race are former Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, who has been endorsed by current President Benigno Aquino, and Vice President Jejomar Binay. All four are locked in a tight battle with about 20% support each ahead of the vote in May.