Is Rodrigo Duerte really the 'Trump of the Philippines'?

If polls are accurate, Rodrigo Duterte is poised to win the Philippines' presidential election Monday, and with his rhetorical attacks on the ruling elite and vulgar speeches, the mayor has been compared to Donald Trump. 

Erik De Castro/Reuters
Presidential candidate Rodrigo 'Digong' Duterte talks to the media before casting his vote at a polling precinct for national elections at Daniel Aguinaldo National High School in Davao city in southern Philippines, May 9, 2016.

Filipinos will elect their 16th president Monday, and the front-runner Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City, has been called the "Trump of the East." 

Famed for making jokes about rape, swearing offensively at rallies, and endorsing a death squad, Mr. Duerte has run a mostly single-issue campaign focused on crime and drugs.

"Duterte is completely out of the system, he's out of the box," political science Prof. Richard Heydarian of De La Salle Univesity in Manila, tells NBC News. And when Duterte is discussing social problems, "there is a gap between the rhetoric and reality but it's working, it's creating panic among a lot of people and rallying them behind Duterte."

Duterte's opponents include Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Sen. Grace Poe, Sen. Miriam Santiago and current Vice President Jejomar Binay. Senator Poe and Secretary Roxas are Duerte's most likely challengers, but before the polls opened Monday they were trailing the frontrunner by 11 points. 

"The election campaign exposed widespread disgust with the ruling elite for failing to tackle poverty and inequality, despite one of Asia's highest rates of economic growth under [President Benigno Aquino], an average of 6 percent a year," explains Reuters. "Tapping into that sentiment, Duterte emerged as the front runner in April by brazenly defying political tradition, much as the US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has done." 

While physical violence is no stranger to Trump rallies, unrest during Duerte's campaign has been fatal: police in the Philippines have reported 15 deaths and more than 4,000 arrests due to elections-related violence. And also like Donald Trump's campaign, Duerte has successfully tapped into a discontented constituency by promising radical ideas. Whereas Mr. Trump has promised to build a Mexican-funded wall along the countries' border, Duterte has promised to plant a Philippine flag on China's new man-made islands in the South China Sea. 

"If we have to go extreme, why not?" Manila voter Jordan Manalo asks Reuters. "I want someone new, someone who would go beyond the usual."

And also similar to Trump's campaign, political-elite rivals such as Senator Poe and Secretary Roxas have unsuccessfully tried to steer voters away from Duerte, comparing the mayor to a dictator and Adolf Hitler. 

Nicknamed "The Punisher," the 71-year-old mayor has said if elected president, he will kill five criminals every week. During Duerte's 22 years as mayor, extrajudicial death squads have reportedly killed 1,000 people and the mayor himself has admitted to killing "about three people." 

"Number one, there's no discipline," Len Pryde, a retired warehouse supervisor, tells the Los Angeles Times. "We need a good leader, with an iron arm."

John Oliver, host of the HBO show "Last Week Tonight," addressed Duterte's campaign Sunday, also making the comparison between the Philippine frontrunner and Trump. Oliver's 21-minute rant on Trump in March went viral, prompting the nationwide campaign #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain. 

"And yet incredibly, incredibly, this man is leading in the polls by 11 points, so he's probably going to get elected president tomorrow, which isn't just terrifying for the Philippines, because it means that in just a year's time, we could be treated to this as an official state visit," says Oliver, pointing to an edited photo of Trump and Duterte shaking hands in the Oval Office.

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