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Three years into his presidency, Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte's promise of a systemic transformation has come to look more like a personal vendetta. (Nikkei cover photo illustration/Source photos by Reuters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The Big Story

Crony capital: How Duterte embraced the oligarchs

President Rodrigo Duterte promised to destroy the Philippines' elite. Instead, he chose his own

AURORA ALMENDRAL, Contributing writer | Philippines

MANILA/DAVAO, Philippines -- The day Rodrigo Duterte became president, Roberto Ongpin was one of the Philippines' richest men. Ongpin had survived -- and prospered -- under six presidential administrations by trading favors and greasing friendships with politicians. He had a full arsenal of luxuries at his disposal, including a billionaire's island dotted with villas, serviced by butlers and accessible by a fleet of private jets, and an exclusive club at the center of the capital's business district, where the whiskey was poured each day at precisely 5 p.m. and far into the night.

During his populist campaign for president in 2015 and 2016, Duterte took aim at the corruption and excesses of wealth-hoarding ruling families like Ongpin's. He called them "a cancer on society," and "illustrious idiots" who flew around in private planes while the Filipino people suffered.

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