Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City. (Photo by Rob Reyes)
A Jesuit priest is backing the presidential bid of a controversial Philippine mayor who recently came under fire for spewing expletives directed at Pope Francis.
Father Emeterio Barcelon S.J., former professor at the Asian Institute of Developmental Studies, said Rodrigo Duterte could solve the conflict in the southern region of Mindanao.
"His main agenda is peace and order," said the priest, who is also former president of the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Davao University.
"If Duterte gets elected as president, the Mindanao problem will be solved. And Mindanao will carry the whole nation to the prosperity that it deserves," Barcelon said.
Duterte is known for his friendly relations with leaders of the rebel groups Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the Maoist New People's Army.
The mayor of Davao City drew the wrath of Catholic bishops in December after he cursed Pope Francis in a speech on national television.
Duterte, known as "Dirty Harry" for his tough stance on crime, drew flak after using offensive language to criticize Pope Francis for causing a traffic jam in Metro Manila during his visit to the Philippines in January last year.
The mayor has expressed solidarity with the pontiff who pointed out that illegal drugs resulted in corruption and violence in Mexico.
Duterte hailed the pope for "his courageous stand in addressing narcopolitics in Latin America."
"As a Catholic, I am proud that Pope Francis has taken the courage to name the issue and face down narcopolitics," Duterte said.
He said the Philippines is already going the way of some of the countries the Pope visited, like Mexico where the drug trade has been dictating the outcome of elections and where drug lord-friendly politicians win.
"It angers me," he said. "The illegal drug trade is destroying a generation of Filipinos," adding that eight out of 10 families face drug-related problems.
Duterte has blasted the government for failing to solve the problem of criminality, including the proliferation of illegal drugs.
If elected in the election due in May, he said he would address these problems within six months.
Duterte has been criticized for his hardline approach to tackling the drug problem in his city. Outspoken about his threats to kill criminals, including drug dealers, he has been blamed for incidents of extrajudicial killings in Davao.