Current vice mayor of Davao City, Philippines Rodrigo Duterte is noted for transforming the city from the murder capital of the nation to what tourism organizations there now call "the most peaceful city in Southeast Asia". He's been suspected of being involved with the vigilante outfit Davao Death Squad and has been criticized by human rights groups for tolerating extrajudicial killings of alleged criminals.
Depending on who you ask, Rodrigo Duterte is either a model crime fighter or a mass murderer. In his decade or so as mayor of Davou City, the Philipines' third largest city, he took what was a city with warzone violence to one without much crime at all. Duterte's now ceded power to his daughter but he remains Vice Mayor. And he did make the city peaceful. Up for debate are his methods.
Overall, the Philippines are a hard place to live despite its fine mid-Pacific setting: 7000 beautiful islands of beach, jungle, volcano’s and mountains where most of the nation's 90 million live in poverty. Colonized by the Spanish until Uncle Sam invaded early last century, the country has never emerged from client-state status. American corporations have a run of the place. There's every American chain, from Wendy's to Outback Steakhouse, but the vast majority of Filipinos live on less than $2 a day. There's few major industries, save manufacturing and shipping, where the Philippines has earned the title of Global Ship Manning Capital.
And down south, where Davou City is, on the island of Mindanao, there's all sorts of trouble. The waters between Mindanao and Papua New Guinea, called the Sulu Sea, are the second most pirated in the world, after Somalia. Davou City is the southern-most port of Mindanao, and, with it's large shipping industry, is a haven for smuggling of drugs, weapons, bootlegs, humans, you name it.
Oh, and then there's Jihadis. Mindanao Island is the main base for Moro Islamic Liberation Front, al-Qaeda linked terrorists who have struck Davou City in the past. This is one the places where US military is fighting it's global war on terror. 600 Special Operations troops are fighting alongside Filipinos in Operation Enduring Freedom Philippines, often in the jungles around Davou City. Not that anyone's paying attention, but yes; America is at war on Duterte's doorstep.
So, yeah, Duterte was mayor of a tough city. You could say what he did was like NYPD's Bill Bratton during the Giuliani years, if Bratton's main tactic was extrajudicial killing. See, Duterte got his revenge on criminals by saying they were a "legitimate target of assassinations." Around this time a right wing militia called the Davou Death Squad popped up and started killing criminals. It got so bad that between 2005-2008 720 people were disappeared. So as the murder rate declined, more people went missing at the hands of the state. Duterte was operating in such a corrupt environment that deniability was always there.
This insane version of cleaning up the streets is common practice in other "democratic" places like India, Brazil, Iraq and Pakistan. Like those countries, international human rights groups have been calling for proper investigations for years. "You Can Die Anytime," an uplifting 2009 report by Human Rights Watch, is but one example of the international community asking Filipino President Gloria Arroyo to investigate.
But the President Arroyo doesn't care. She hailed his "tough on crime" approach in 2003 and later appointed Duterte to a cabinet level position on crime. Forcing HRW's chief Kenneth Roth to say: "Arroyo has been taking security advice from someone who openly advocates murder to bring peace and prosperity."
And there's no way the media could ever do a proper expose. After all this is the country where 30 journalists were killed in a single politically motivated massacre in 2009--the largest mass killing of reporters ever. This, too, was the supposed work of another Filipino Mayor.