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Philippines President-Elect: I Won’t Live in Presidential Palace Because It Is Haunted

Populist firebrand Rodrigo Duterte is ready to assume the presidency of the Philippines in June, preparing an array of zero-tolerance laws against crime, including bans on public smoking and late-night drinking. What he will not be preparing for is a move into the presidential palace, he says, because he has been there and it is haunted.

In a wide-ranging interview with a variety of media published at the regional outlet Rappler, Duterte noted that he was working on the logistics to do away with many of the Filipino president’s traditional luxuries. Duterte, from the more working class southern island of Mindanao, says he is selling the “obscene” presidential yacht and converting the president’s fleet of aircraft into emergency vehicles. (“I will travel using commercial aircraft.”)

While his downsizing of presidential luxuries in other areas is meant as a sign that he will spend less of the nation’s resources pampering himself, his refusal to live in the Malacañang Palace is of a more personal nature.

“There are many ghosts there,” he told reporters Sunday night:

When I was working for [President Gloria] Arroyo as consultant for law and order, she once called me around 2 am. I was brought to a sala (sitting area) with paintings of the presidents, while I waited for her to dress up. The presidents were in different poses, but they were all looking in front. The wind blew orsiguro malakas ang aircon (or maybe the aircon was on full blast). Nang tumingin ako, nakatingin sila sa akin lahat (When I looked again, they were all looking at me). Put—ng ina. Lalabas ako dito. (Son of a bitch, I’m out of here). Nabuang na ni (It’s crazy).

While the Philippine election authorities have yet to officially certify Duterte’s win, he is widely accepted as the president-elect and is expected to assume the presidency in June. He won the May elections after two decades as mayor of Davao City, one of Mindanao’s largest metropolitan areas, where he developed a reputation for giving the police free reign to combat criminals and significantly reduced the danger of petty crimes and drug smuggling in the city. His critics say he embraced the use of police brutality to fight crime, while Duterte himself has promised that his presidency will be a “bloody” one for criminals.

His first legal moves will not be violent ones, however, according to statements he gave reporters on Saturday. Instead, he will be looking to pass laws limiting the hours in which businesses can sell alcohol nationwide and banning smoking in public. “Why should we drink until 2 a.m.? Is this a drinking contest?” he told reporters, according to the Philippine Star. He says he hopes to work with Congress to limit drinking hours to 2 a.m. and impose a curfew on minors being out after dark nationwide, in addition to the smoking ban. He called these the “very fundamentals of society.” While not specifying why he believes the government should limit drinking hours, he did explain the logic on banning public smoking. “Look, if you’re not an idiot, you know that when you smoke in enclosed restaurants or offices, you pass off cancer to others,” he argued. “It’s not fair for you to distribute cancer.”

Duterte also seeks to impose a three-child law to combat the nation’s overpopulation problems and encourage government promotion of birth control, which has put him at odds with the Catholic Church. Nearly 90 percent of the Philippines identify as Catholic, though this has not deterred Duterte’s criticism of the Church. “I only want three children for every family. … I’m a Christian, but I’m a realist so we have to do something with our overpopulation,” he told reporters over the weekend. “I will defy the opinion or the belief of the Church.”

In more general criticism of the Church, Duterte called Catholic leaders “sons of bitches” Saturday and accused the Church of rampant corruption.

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