Rodrigo Duterte says he's tired, old, wants to cede power early

MANILA, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday sought to dispel concerns he will cling to power and become a dictator, saying he wants to achieve his goal of introducing federalism so that he can finish his term early.

The former city mayor has long advocated federalism to tackle a yawning wealth gap, empower regional governments and recognize the country's diverse makeup.

A 19-member panel created by Duterte a month ago and composed of constitutional law experts and headed by a retired Supreme Court judge has proposed a federal model similar to the United States.

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Everything you didn't know about Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte
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Everything you didn't know about Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte

Duterte was born on March 28, 1945 in Maasin, Southern Leyte, Philippines.

(PHILIPPINES-DAVAO/MODEL REUTERS/Renato Lumawag)

Duterte became the mayor of Davao City in 1988, where he earned the nickname “The Punisher.” He served as mayor for 20 years, non-consecutively.

(PHILIPPINES-DAVAO/MODEL REUTERS/Renato Lumawag)

Duterte comes from a family of politicians. His father, Vicente Duterte, was the governor of unified Davao and a member of President Ferdinand Marcos' cabinet. His daughter, Sara Duterte, is currently the mayor of Davao City.

(REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

Rodrigo Duterte was elected the 16th president of the Philippines in May 2016.

(REUTERS/Czar Dancel)

Duterte once compared himself to Adolf Hitler, saying he would kill millions of drug addicts.

(REUTERS/Ezra Acayan)

Duterte has led a violent anti-drug crackdown, and more than 7,000 have reportedly been killed since he has taken office. 

(Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Duterte called President Barack Obama a “son of a wh**e.” He made the comments after Obama brought up concerns about human rights violations in 2016. Duterte later apologized for the comment.

(Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Weeks before being sworn in as president, Duterte fueled an already hostile environment for journalists when he said, "Just because you're a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you're a son of a b****." 

(REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

In 2015, Duterte vowed to execute 100,000 criminals and dump their bodies into Manila Bay. 

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Duterte cursed Pope Francis over traffic that was generated by his visit. 

"We were affected by the traffic," Duterte said. "It took us five hours. I asked why, they said it was closed. I asked who is coming. They answered, the Pope. I wanted to call him: 'Pope, son of a wh**e, go home. Do not visit us again'."

He later apologized. 

(PHILIPPINES - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Duterte came under fire in April 2016 after he made a joke about a missionary who was gang raped and murdered during a prison riot in 1989. “But she was so beautiful,” Duterte said. “I thought the mayor should have been first.” 

(REUTERS/Harley Palangchao)

A witness testified in Sept. 2016, claiming he was a member of Duterte's alleged "Davao Death Squad," and that the Filipino president gave orders to kill drug dealers, drug users and others who may violate the law. 

(Photo credit should read Ezra Acayan / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

In December of 2016, Duterte said President Donald Trump endorses his violent and deadly campaign against drugs after a brief phone call. 

(REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

Congressman Gary Alejano filed an impeachment complaint against Duterte in March 2017, claiming he is guilty of crimes against humanity and murder.

(REUTERS/Erik De Castro TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

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Some critics believe the move to change the constitution to facilitate that would also provide means for Duterte to hold on to power beyond 2022, when his single, six-year term ends.

But the 72-year-old said he no longer had the energy.

"I will step down by 2020, I will not wait for 2022," he said in a speech.

"I am old. I have no more ambition. I really would like to rest."

Duterte's lower house allies last month voted to convene a constituent assembly to revise the charter, scrapping mid-term elections next year and extending the terms of all elected officials.

The constitution was introduced in 1987 after the ousting of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a bloodless "people's power" revolution.

Previous moves to change it have failed, with civil society and religious groups thwarting what they see as threats to a system designed to prevent strongman rulers like Marcos from emerging. Fears that Duterte could become an autocrat are compounded by the admiration he has expressed for Marcos.

Experts believe Duterte may succeed in changing the charter because of his public popularity and the super-majority he holds in Congress. (Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty)

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