Philippines' 'Dirty Harry' mayor launches presidential bid

Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a ceremony proclaiming him as a presidential candidate in Manila on Nov 30, 2015.
Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a ceremony proclaiming him as a presidential candidate in Manila on Nov 30, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (AFP) - A feared Philippine mayor nicknamed "Dirty Harry" for his ruthless anti-crime stance announced on Monday (Nov 30) he would run for president next year, after boasting of killing criminals and even cursing the pope for worsening traffic.

In a rambling, obscenity-filled speech, Davao mayor Rodrigo Duterte said he would take a zero-tolerance approach to crime and admitted personally killing criminals.

"It's true, I don't deny that," he said.

Duterte bragged about killing a group of kidnappers and then burning their bodies during his time as mayor, but did not provide details.

"I really finished them. This was a good killing," he told a cheering crowd.

The combative mayor even lashed out at Pope Francis, blaming him for causing traffic jams in the capital of the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation when he visited in January.

"Pope, you son of a ---, why don't you go home," he said.

In a report earlier this year, Human Rights Watch said Duterte's so-called "Davao Death Squad" had killed more than 1,000 people during his tenure as mayor of the city on the southern island of Mindanao.

"It's bad enough that the government has failed to end impunity for these killings or investigate Duterte and similar mayors - it's doubly upsetting that he is exploiting this politically," HRW's Philippine representative Carlos Conde said in a statement.

Duterte has served as mayor on and off since he was first elected in 1998.

He is one of several candidates vying to succeed Benigno Aquino whose single six-year term ends next year.

Only three are regarded as genuine contenders - the ruling Liberal Party's Mar Roxas, opposition leader Jejomar Binay and independent Grace Poe.

The Philippines has long been saddled with a "culture of impunity" where powerful figures feel they can kill people without fear of punishment.