Duterte refutes 'strongman' tag from TIME magazine

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Updated to include reactions from President Rodrigo Duterte.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 4) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte denied on Tuesday that he is a strongman, after he was featured as one on the cover of TIME magazine.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte denied on Friday that he is a strongman, after he was featured as one on the cover of TIME Magazine.

"Ako hindi man ako strongman [I am not a strongman]," Duterte said during a speech delivered to teachers at Davao City. " I have never sent anybody to jail for criticizing me. I said, for all I care, yung security guard, o police general, o NPA o si Sison, or a teacher, or a gardener, can criticize me and bullshit me to no end. I will take that. Pero kung foreigner ka [But if you're a foreigner], that is another thing," he added.

Duterte was featured as one of the 'strongmen' on the United States' weekly magazine, alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. A strongman is a political leader who rules by force of will and character or by military methods.

Duterte has been lambasted by local and international critics for his "bloody" anti-illegal drug campaign in the Philippines, which allegedly left up to 13,000 people dead. Government data show 4,075 drug suspects were killed in anti-drug operations since the start of Duterte's war on drugs in July 2016.

Duterte's most prominent critic, Senator Leila de Lima, "remained in detention on politically motivated drug charges," New York-based Human Rights Watch said in its annual report released earlier this year.

In turn, Duterte has criticized opposition lawmakers and representatives from the United Nations and European Union and disputed their claims of human rights violations in the country.

Related: Duterte 'insulted' with how world leaders raised human rights

TIME writer Ian Bremmer detailed the alarming rise in strongmen leaders, and why it should be a cause for concern.

"In every region of the world, changing times have boosted public demand for more muscular, assertive leadership. These tough-talking populists promise to protect 'us' from 'them,' it read. 

It added, "Depending on who's talking, 'them' can mean the corrupt elite or the grasping poor; foreigners or members of racial, ethnic or religious minorities. Or disloyal politicians, bureaucrats, bankers or judges. Or lying reporters. Out of this divide, a new archetype of leader has emerged. We're now in the strongman era."

President Duterte, who won the 2016 national elections through a landslide victory, has long been branded as a tough-talking leader known for his unrelenting war against illegal drugs.

TIME wrote, "In the Philippines, a rising tide of violent street crime helped elect Rodrigo Duterte, 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."

Malacañang in a statement Friday said regardless of TIME's slant, Filipinos appreciate Duterte's "strong" and "decisive" leadership.

"Filipinos have learned not to take (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," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said. 

Worrying rise

Bremmer wrote the most prominent strongman is Putin with his "image of Russian virility and swagger." But Asia also has its set of strongmen, among them, are China's Xi Jinping, Thailand Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha, and Duterte.

"These leaders have won followers by targeting 'them' ... But they have succeeded because they know something about 'us,' or the people they're speaking to. They understand the sense of threat — and they're willing to exploit it," TIME said.

Missing in the cover is U.S. President Donald Trump, but the cover story revolves around his presidency. 

"What is Trump's place in all this? The U.S. President has expressed sincere admiration for the likes of Putin, Xi, [Egypt President Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi, and Duterte.

Related: Duterte, Trump skip human rights issue in bilateral talks

The writer expressed concern over the rising number of leaders who rule with force.

"Perhaps the most worrying element of the strongman's rise is the message it sends," it wrote.

It adds, "Why emulate the U.S. or European political systems, with all the checks and balances that prevent even the most determined leaders from taking on chronic problems, when one determined leader can offer a credible shortcut to greater security and national pride? As long as that rings true, the greatest threat may be the strongmen yet to come."

The print edition of this American weekly news magazine will be released on May 14.