Rodrigo Duterte, known as Asia's Donald Trump, leads race for Philippines presidency

Asia's own Donald Trump may become the Philippines' next president
Asia's own Donald Trump may become the Philippines' next president

The Philippines, one of Asia's fastest-growing economies, has its own version of Donald Trump running for president, and he could emerge victorious when the country votes on May 9.

Meet Rodrigo Duterte, the mayor of Davao — one of the country's richest cities in terms of local incomes — and presidential candidate of the center-left PDP-Laban political party. After a 22-year mayoral career, he announced his presidential campaign in November.

Since then, his controversial views and soaring popularity have led international media to note the striking similarities to the campaign being run by U.S. presidential hopeful Trump.

Both appear to lack a "public relations filter," with each candidate boasting a long string of politically incorrect comments. But while Trump's most inflammatory comments deal with immigration, particularly his proposal to create a "deportation force" and build a wall to keep Mexicans from illegally entering America, Duterte's focus is crime.

During an address on Wednesday to the Makati Business Club, which includes some of the Philippines' top executives, the 71-year-old mayor proclaimed a "bloody war" against criminals, pledging to protect officers from human rights and corruption watchdogs while the police cracks down on gangs, Reuters reported.

"I will use the military and the police to go out and arrest them [criminals], hunt for them and if they offer a violent resistance ...I will simply say, kill them all so we can finish this problem," he was quoted as saying.

Duterte has previously publicly admitted to shooting dead three alleged kidnappers in 1988, according to multiple reports, based on a December interview with radio station DZMM.

"I say let's kill five criminals every week, so they will be eliminated," he said in December. The prospect of encouraging extrajudicial killings as a crime-fighting solution provoked a massive backlash from human rights groups.

He has also acknowledged links with Davao's infamous "Death Squads," a vigilante group responsible for killing alleged criminals. Local police and government officials have long been involved with the squad, according to Human Rights Watch.

Philippine presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte (L) gestures to the crowd during a campaign motorcade on April 27, 2016 in Manila. The brash, tough-talking mayor of Davao on the southern island of Mindanao has been the surprise pre-election poll favorite pulling away from his rivals despite controversies. Duterte has shocked the political establishment with his unorthdox style of campaigning and his profanity-laced campaign speeches.
Dondi Tawatao | Getty Images

"Am I the death squad? True. That is true," Duterte said on television last May. He added that if he became president, he would execute 100,000 criminals and throw their corpses into Manila Bay.

Statements like this have earned Duterte the nicknames of "The Punisher" and "Duterte Harry," a play on the 1971 Clint Eastwood film "Dirty Harry."

Both Trump and Duterte have also made controversial remarks about women.

During a presidential debate on April 12, Duterte joked about an Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill, who was working in a Davao prison when she was raped by several inmates and killed in 1989.

"Why did I get angry — because she was raped? Yes, that's part of the reason, but also because she was so beautiful and the mayor should have been first, Duterte said, according to the Associated Press.

Widespread condemnation followed. A spokesperson for President Benigno Aquino said the comments depicted Duterte's "lack of fitness for the presidency," while Australia's ambassador to the Philippines, Amanda Gorely, tweeted that "rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialized."

But Duterte defended his statement, saying "this is how men talk." The self-proclaimed Lothario also frequently jokes about his libido.

"If I can love 100 million and one [Filipinos], I can love four women at the same time," he said in December, referring to the country's 2015 population of 101 million. But unlike other politicians, Duterte said he doesn't use public funds to indulge his extracurricular activities. "I do not let them live in posh condominium units…they just stay in boarding houses worth 1,500 pesos [$40] a month."

Cielito "Honeylet" Avancena, his common-law wife, has remained silent on the matter.

Curtis S. Chin, Asia Fellow at the Milken Institute and former U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, believes Duterte and Trump both share the ability to polarize opinion.

Presidential Candidate Rodrigo Duterte with college students during a campaign sortie in Dagupan, Pangasinan. Duterte curses the pope's mother and jokes about his own infidelities, but many voters in the Philippines want to elect him president so he can begin an unprecedented war on crime.
NOEL CELIS | AFP | Getty Images

"Both Duterte and Trump have attracted and repelled potential voters with straight talk and rhetoric that has bordered on, if not been, outright offensive," he said in an email interview.

But citizens appeared to have warmed towards the brashness of both candidates, giving them a lead in polls.

A Pulse Asia survey conducted from April 12-17 showed Duterte leading the presidential race with 34 percent of the vote, compared to 22 percent for his closest rival, Senator Grace Poe, who is running as an independent. Following behind was current Vice President Jejomar Binay of the United Nationalist Alliance party, with 19 percent, and Manuel "Mar" Araneta Roxas II with 18 percent.

"Duterte's campaign has tapped into public frustration with ineffective public services, which voters believe are failing to resolve peace and order issues, widespread illegal drug distribution and addiction, worsening traffic, corruption, etc. These issues have resonated with many voters more than big macro, policy commitments," Jun Trinidad, a Citi economist, said in a recent note.

But given that there had been no overwhelming surge of support for any particular candidate, a close race with a near-split outcome was likely in the Philippines, Trinidad warned.

For Trump, who won presidential primaries in all five U.S. states that voted on Tuesday and declared himself the Republican "presumptive nominee," strategists widely attribute his success to the millions of disaffected white working-class voters who relate to his protectionist policies.

"In the views of many Filipinos and Americans alike, their presidential choices seem to be 'no change' or the change they don't want," Chin summed up.

—Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.