“Duterte has made a mockery of rule of law in his country,” said Drew Sullivan, editor for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and one of the nine judges who made the selection from nominations submitted by journalists and the public.
“While he is not your typical corrupt leader, he has empowered corruption in an innovative way. His death squads have allegedly focused on criminals but, in fact, are less discriminating. He has empowered a bully-run system of survival of the fiercest. In the end, the Philippines are more corrupt, more cruel, and less democratic.”
Duterte beat out two African strongmen for the title. South African President Jacob Zuma and recently ousted Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe were runners-up.
The global panel of nine corruption-fighting journalists, scholars and activists chose Duterte on the strength of his brutal war on drugs.
Blunt, swaggering and profane, Duterte has vigorously implemented his pledge to use any tactic necessary to stop drug use. “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews,” he declared in a disturbing comparison last year. “There are 3 million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”
Philippine officials put the real number of drug users at 1.8 million, but Duterte has overseen the killing of more than 7,000 and possibly as many as 12,000. The statistics are hard to pin down because Duterte’s National Police suppress all critical reports. And police are spared from any accountability or legal consequences for a campaign that has left bodies in the streets.
The African runners-up created division, hostility, and resentment by undermining the rule of law, said Khadija Sharife, a lawyer and editor on the judging panel. Zuma and Mugabe, she said, took advantage of public respect for them as heroes of struggles for national independence to twist and bypass the law.
“Zuma deserved his high showing for implementing systemic corruption in the South African government through his group of cronies,” said Sullivan. “Corruption has ruined much of the goodwill of the ANC.”
Duterte was a runner-up in 2016, when Nicolas Maduro was chosen as Person of the Year. Maduro’s presidency in Venezuela has beggared his oil-rich nation, set murder and crime rates soaring, and has been notable for mismanagement and oppression. Previous Persons of the Year include Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014, and, in 2013, the Romanian Parliament.
The Romanian winners made corruption news again at the end of 2017 for considering measures to decriminalize abuse-of-office offenses that cause less than $237,100 harm; lowering sentences for taking bribes; and decriminalizing trading official favors for sex. These measures would end the legal woes for at least two top politicians. Since 2006, some 72 Romanian members of parliament have faced charges of graft and greed.
OCCRP is a not-for-profit consortium of regional investigative centers and for-profit independent media stretching from Europe to Central Asia, Latin America and Africa. It works to advance public understanding of how organized crime and corruption affect lives. OCCRP pushes for deeper coverage of global corruption via investigative stories with the support of the Open Society Foundations, USAID, European governments, and other major international donors. It has offices in Sarajevo, Bucharest, and Tbilisi.
2016 Winner: President of Venezuela
2015 Winner: Prime Minister of Montenegro
2014 Winner: President of Russia
2013 Winner: Romanian Parliament
2012 Winner: President of Azerbaijan