Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday vowed to stick to the law in fighting crime and corruption in the country, to dispel fears that his unorthodox methods verge on the illegal.
The 71-year-old leader urged the public to join him to help rebuild trust in the government and ensure that Filipinos have better, safer and healthier lives.
“I know that there are those who do not approve of my method in fighting criminality,” he said in a speech after being sworn in as the new president of the country of more than 100 million people.
“They say that my methods are unorthodox and verge on the illegal,” he added.
Duterte, formerly a state prosecutor and mayor of the southern city of Davao, said he has seen how crime, especially illegal drugs, and corruption have destroyed lives and pushed people further into poverty.
He urged Congress, the Commission on Human Rights and other critics to assess his campaign from the perspective of those who were victimised by crime and corruption, and to allow him to do his job.
“As a lawyer and former prosecutor, I know the limits of the power and authority of the president. I know what is legal and what is not. My adherence to due process and the rule of law is uncompromising.”
“You mind your work. I will mind mine,” he added.
Duterte, the first president to come from the conflict-hit southern region of Mindanao, held a cabinet meeting after his oath-taking and ordered government agencies to cut red tape in services to the public.
“I don’t want to see any Filipino lining up when dealing with government agencies,” he said, adding that government officials should not be given special treatment.
He announced plans to open a 24/7 hotline for the public to submit complaints to him directly. “They can report to me any complaint and there will be a manager who will redirect the complaints to the appropriate offices.”
Duterte, who won the elections in May with over 39 per cent of the votes, was the second president after late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 to take his oath within the sprawling compound of the Malacanang Palace.
The event was closed to the public, a break from tradition where presidential inaugurations are usually witnessed by tens of thousands of Filipinos. His aides said the smaller affair was aimed at cutting costs.
Outside Malacanang, more than 2,000 activists and supporters gathered holding banners and calling for land reform, higher wages and other issues.
Leaders of activist groups were later invited by Duterte inside Malacanang for talks, officials said.
Duterte captured the public’s support despite his foul language and boorish style, often peppering his speeches with expletives that shocked the international community.
He has promised to end the domination of “Imperial Manila,” the traditional centre of power in the Philippines, by shifting to a federal form of government from the current presidential system.
Duterte has also vowed to reimpose the death penalty, kill all criminals and implement an aggressive family planning programme that could see him clashing with the influential church in the predominantly Catholic country.