DAVAO CITY -- "I am not really a strongman.”

This was the response of President Rodrigo R. Duterte on the latest issue of Time Magazine, which featured him alongside world leaders Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the cover photo with the title, “Rise of the Strongman”.

Speaking before more than 6,000 elementary school principals at the SMX Convention Center here Friday evening for the 37th Principals Training and Development Program and National Board Conference, Duterte said he is just fulfilling his campaign promise to eradicate illegal drugs and corruption in government.

He emphasized that he has never sent his critics to jail for criticizing him because it is their right.

"You use your freedom of expression. I have never sent anybody to jail for talking or bad-mouthing me," the President said.

"For all I care, the security guard, police, general, NPA (New People’s Army) or (Joma) Sison, or a teacher or a gardener can criticize me and b**s**t me to no end. You know why? Because you are my employers and I am an employee," he added.

Duterte said any activist group can shout all they want against him and his policies, noting that he is even encouraging them to exercise their freedom of expression.

"But if you are a foreigner, that is another thing," he said.

The Chief Executive said he would send to jail any foreigner who interferes in political activities in the country, even members of religious groups.

Earlier, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said regardless of slant, the President has demonstrated strong and decisive leadership.

"A quality appreciated by Filipinos as evidenced by the Chief Executive’s high satisfaction, approval, trust and performance ratings," Roque said.

Filipinos, he said, have learned not to take Duterte literally with his colorful language but they have taken seriously the issues the President has espoused, such as the war on drugs and crime.

"The drug problem is not only a Philippine concern. It is a global burden and the Philippines’ war on drugs has been acknowledged by countries and leaders, including Indonesia, China, President Donald Trump and police leaders from other Southeast Asian countries," Roque said.

He said the President’s brand of justice strictly adheres to the rule of law where the dismantling of the drug apparatus ensures the proper investigation of all drug-related killings. (PNA)