Tag Archives: Rodrigo Duterte

The Death of a Businessman and the Philippines’ Drug War

South Korean nationals pay their respect during a memorial service for their compatriot Jee Ick-joo, who was allegedly killed by policemen inside the Camp Crame police camp, in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines February 6, 2017. Picture taken February 6, 2017.    REUTERS/Erik De Castro

South Korean nationals pay their respect during a memorial service for their compatriot Jee Ick-joo, who was allegedly killed by policemen inside the Camp Crame police camp, in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines February 6, 2017. Picture taken February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

By Karen Lema and Martin Petty 
February, 2017

MANILA (Reuters) – When Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte summoned his security chiefs to an urgent meeting one Sunday night last month, his mind was already made up.

His military and law enforcement heads had no idea what was coming: a suspension of the police force’s leading role in his signature campaign, a merciless war on illegal drugs.

Philippine National Police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa whispers to President Rodrigo Duterte during the announcement of the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017.       REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

Philippine National Police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa whispers to President Rodrigo Duterte during the announcement of the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

There was only one reason for the U-turn, three people who attended the Jan. 29 meeting told Reuters. Duterte was furious that drugs-squad cops had not only kidnapped and murdered a South Korean businessman, they had strangled him to death in the headquarters of the Philippines National Police itself.

“He was straight to the point – ‘I am ordering you to disband your anti-drug units, all units’,” said Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who was at the meeting in the presidential palace.

Duterte decided that the much smaller Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) would take over the drugs crackdown, with support from the military.

It was a stunning turnaround by Duterte, who had until then stood unswervingly behind his police force through months of allegations that its officers were guilty of extra-judicial killings and colluding with hit men in a campaign that has claimed the lives of more than 7,600 people, mostly drug pushers and users, in seven months.

The blunt-spoken president had repeatedly defied calls from United Nations, the United States and the European Union to rein in his war on drugs, calling them stupid and ‘sons of bitches’. Duterte’s aides were used to his mercurial style, but they were taken aback that the killing of one foreigner would be enough to stop him in his tracks.

One explanation is that relations with South Korea are of huge importance to the Philippines for development aid, tourism, overseas employment and military hardware.

But security officials said it was the audacity of the killing of Jee Ick-joo and the attempt to use the war on drugs as a cover for kidnap and ransom that triggered his decision.

“It’s all about the Korean. That it happened at all, it’s really that (which) pissed him off,” Lorenzana told Reuters.

PDEA Director General Isidro Lapena, who was also at the meeting, hadn’t seen it coming either. He said in an interview that the president had lambasted the police force and told them that the “deactivation” and purge of its anti-drugs unit was now as important as the drugs war itself.

Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa told Reuters that Duterte had been “really mad” about the incident and, after the meeting, the president publicly denounced the police force as “corrupt to the core”.

Philippine National Police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa listens as President Rodrigo Duterte announces the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017.      REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

Philippine National Police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa listens as President Rodrigo Duterte announces the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

“SO OBVIOUS”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announces the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017.       REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announces the disbandment of police operations against illegal drugs at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Philippines January 29, 2017. Picture taken January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ezra Acayan

The president’s legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, said the president, a former prosecutor, makes decisions strictly on the basis of the letter of the law. Activists’ allegations of summary executions had no supporting evidence, he said, yet to Duterte, Jee’s killing was irrefutable, audacious and embarrassing.

“The committing of that crime was so obvious,” he said.

Worried that the incident would dent the Philippines’ image in South Korea, Duterte sent Panelo to Seoul to apologise to acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn.

Seoul is Manila’s biggest supplier of military hardware, donating or selling fighter jets, patrol boats, frigates and trucks.

About 1.4 million South Koreans visited the Philippines in the first 10 months of 2016 – a quarter of all tourists arrivals – lured by beaches, golf and the sex industry. Korean tourists spend an average $180-$200 daily, and their overall spending is triple that of U.S. visitors.

South Korea is the Philippines’ fifth-largest source of development aid and in 2015 invested $520 million in areas like power, tourism and electronics manufacturing.

About 55,000 Filipinos work in South Korea and the Philippines attracts Koreans studying English, over 3,700 of them last year.

A South Korean diplomat in Manila said there were no threats or pressure on the Philippine government over the killing of the businessman, but Seoul wanted a guarantee of safety for its citizens and a secure investment climate.

Hoik Lee, president of the Korean Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, said South Koreans felt increasingly unsafe in the country.

The chamber’s membership has grown from 20 firms in 1995 to 500 companies now, including Samsung Electro-Mechanics <009150.KS>, Hanjin and LG <003550.KS>, but Lee estimated that the Korean community has shrunk by about a third to 100,000 people since 2013 despite the bright economic outlook in the Philippines.

“Police should protect us not kill us,” Lee said. “That is why we are very upset and very shocked.”

The number of Koreans murdered in the Philippines averages about 10 each year, accounting for a third of all Korean nationals killed overseas, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.

However, South Koreans are perpetrators of crime as much as they are its victims in the Philippines, says the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, which has a Korean desk handling cases of kidnappings, murder, robbery, theft, extortion and fraud, mostly in Korean communities, where mafias operate.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in Seoul and Neil Jerome Morales and Manuel Mogato in Manila; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

You may also wish to read:

Trump is a feeble version of the Philippines’ Duterte, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist, 2016

In the hierarchy of demagogues, Donald Trump is not in the same league as the Philippines new president, Rodrigo Duterte. Unlike Duterte, whose approval rating is at 91 per cent since he came to office at the end of June, Trump doesn’t have the guts to say what he means.

Drug Killings Divide, Subdue, Philippines’ Powerful Church, by Clare Baldwin and Manolo Serapio Jr, October, 2016

Catholic priests from the Philippines Church, an institution that helped oust two of the country’s leaders in the past, say they are afraid and unsure how to speak out against the war on drugs unleashed by new President Rodrigo Duterte. More than a dozen clergymen in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation said they were uncertain how to take a stand against the thousands of killings in a war that has such overwhelming popular support. Challenging the president’s campaign could be fraught with danger, some said.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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F&O this week

Bob Dylan playing Toronto, 1980. Photo by Jean-Luc Ourlin via Flickr/Wikipedia

Bob Dylan playing Toronto, 1980. Photo by Jean-Luc Ourlin via Flickr/Wikipedia

F&O’s Fresh Sheet this week features:

Focus on Bob Dylan, who this week won the Nobel Prize for Literature:

His Bob-ness joins Yeats, Beckett, and Eliot, by Rod Mickleburgh

In the winter of 1990, I waited with a handful of reporters and photographers in a grand salon of the Palais-Royal in Paris for Bob Dylan. More than 25 years ahead of the Nobel Prize people, the French had decided that Dylan’s lyrical prowess was worthy of the country’s highest cultural honour, Commandeur dans l’ Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. T.S. Eliot was one of the first to receive the award in 1960. Borges followed in 1962. And now, following in the footsteps of Sean Connery (1987), it was Bob’s turn.

No, Bob Dylan isn’t the first lyricist to win the Nobel, by Alex Lubet

A Bengali literary giant who probably wrote even more songs preceded Dylan’s win by over a century. Rabindranath Tagore, a wildly talented Indian poet, painter and musician, took the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

Are Bob Dylan’s songs “Literature?” by David McCooey

Dylan’s Nobel Prize shows up what the Swedish Academy has so far ignored in their award system: film, popular music, and the emerging forms of digital storytelling. Perhaps what this Nobel tells us more than anything is that “literature” or “poetry” are categories of our own making. To move beyond the page seems long overdue.

xxx

In Commentary:

Why Putin Fears a President Clinton, by Tom Regan  Column

Why would Russian work so hard to elect Trump? There are several theories– but I believe the reason is Vladimir Putin is terrified of Clinton.

“Only White People,” the Little Girl Told my Son, by Topher Sanders  Essay

I saw the messy birth of my son’s otherness … They were playing on one of those spinning things — you know, the one where kids learn about centrifugal force and as a bonus get crazy dizzy. They were having a blast. “Only white people,” said a little girl.

International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe is on the road this week. In case you missed it, his 2014 piece about Thailand’s succession is a must-read in light of Thursday’s death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej:  Uneasy lies the head that wears Thailand’s Crown.

To our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We exist only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story, each, on an honour system. Please contribute below, or find more payment options here.

Believers receive communion during a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Believers receive communion during a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

In Dispatches:

Nations Agree on Binding Pact to Cut Greenhouse Gases, by Clement Uwiringiyimana

Nearly 200 nations agreed to a legally binding deal to cut back on greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners, a major move against climate change.

Drug Killings Divide, Subdue, Philippines’ Powerful Church, by Clare Baldwin and Manolo Serapio Jr

Catholic priests from the Philippines Church, an institution that helped oust two of the country’s leaders in the past, say they are afraid and unsure how to speak out against the war on drugs unleashed by new President Rodrigo Duterte. More than a dozen clergymen in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation said they were uncertain how to take a stand against the thousands of killings in a war that has such overwhelming popular support. Challenging the president’s campaign could be fraught with danger, some said.

 

Greko 1. Photo supplied by FISH-i Africa

East Africans thwart illegal fishing, by Emma Bryce

Eight East African countries are waging war on illegal fishing — and sometimes winning.

~~~

Notebook:

The biggest, most important, most noteworthy news this week is in our dispatch listed above, Nations Agree on Binding Pact to Cut Greenhouse Gases.  Nearly 200 nations agreed this week to cut a greenhouse gas. It’s a story that’s not sexy. It’s about an Issue rife with bureaucracy, procedure, negotiation. And it’s an example of the only answer we have for the rage and misery infesting the world. It shows that we humans actually can tackle our problems, even the global-sized ones.

From elsewhere on the ‘net:

Mug shots of Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright, charged in Kansas bomb plot. Photo: Police handout

Mug shots of Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright, from a Kansas group police called “a hidden culture of hatred and violence.” Photo: Police handout

If this is not a case of “terrorism” I don’t know what is.  Three men in an American group called the “Crusaders” were arrested and charged in a FBI sting Friday, for allegedly plotting to blow up a Kansas mosque and apartment building, housing people from Somali.  Read the BBC report here. Like the 1995 Oklahoma city bombing by Timothy McVeigh with co-conspirators, it’s a reminder that terror comes in all skin colours, with fanaticism one common factor.

~~~

October 16 is World Food Day. The focus, set by the United Nations, is on smallholder farmers in the poor countries most affected by climate change. And in the meantime,  the U.S. Agriculture Department said American producers have dumped 43 million tons of excess milk so far this year. The WSJ report is here.

~~~

Opposition by one region of Belgium may have scuppered CETA, the Canada and European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, which proponents hoped to sign this fall. Find the AP report on CBC, here.

~~~

US First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech this week that will resonate throughout history. Watch below — the first six minutes are marred by technical problems — or read the full text on NPR.

A contagion of clowns struck long before Halloween loomed, marauding everywhere, garishly populating all news and social media feeds. I have not seen one decent explanation of why this is happening now — best guess is that clowns and our fears represent our crazed state of politics, economics and environmental security. This piece on The Conversation by psychologist Frank McAndrew explains that many of us dislike clowns because we can’t read them, and are unsure how to react.

~~~

A Wall Street Journal feature, Blue Feed, Red Feed, aims to pull the tarps off our silos, and reveal the partisan and polarized compartments that trap us in polarization on social media.  “Facebook’s role in providing Americans with political news has never been stronger—or more controversial,” notes the report. ” Scholars worry that the social network can create “echo chambers,” where users see posts only from like-minded friends and media sources.” To demonstrate these the WSJ built an interactive feature.

~~~

Two pieces in the Guardian are especially provocative. Asks Washington writer David Smith: How did WikiLeaks go from darling of the liberal left and scourge of American imperialism to apparent tool of Donald Trump’s divisive, incendiary presidential campaign? And Sarah Smarsh takes aim at journalism’s blind spots in a piece titled, Dangerous idiots: how the liberal media elite failed working-class Americans.

~~~

Last but not least, F&O columnist Jim McNiven recommends US election watchers catch this 1980 video of Billy Joel, You May Be Right. “BJ predicted Trump and the Trumpites years ago,” notes McNiven.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Drug Killings Divide, Subdue, Philippines’ Powerful Church

Filipino Catholic devotees attend a regular mass at a National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Paranaque city, metro Manila, Philippines September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Filipino Catholic devotees attend a regular mass at a National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Paranaque city, metro Manila, Philippines September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

By Clare Baldwin and Manolo Serapio Jr
October, 2016

MANILA (Reuters) – Catholic priests from the Philippines Church, an institution that helped oust two of the country’s leaders in the past, say they are afraid and unsure how to speak out against the war on drugs unleashed by new President Rodrigo Duterte.

In interviews with Reuters, more than a dozen clergymen in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation said they were uncertain how to take a stand against the thousands of killings in a war that has such overwhelming popular support. Challenging the president’s campaign could be fraught with danger, some said.

Duterte, who had a 76 percent satisfaction rating in a survey released last week, has quashed opposition to his war on drugs and blasted critics in curse-laden language. More than 3,600 people, mostly small-time drug users and dealers, have died at the hands of police and suspected vigilantes since he took power on June 30.

Before you continue: to our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We continue only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story, on an honour system. Please contribute below, or find more payment options here.

In another poll conducted by the same agency, the Social Weather Stations, 84 percent of respondents said they were satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the war on the drugs, although a majority said they had qualms about the killings.

Opposing the drug war “in some locations becomes a dangerous job”, said Father Luciano Felloni, a priest in a northern district of the capital, Manila. At least 30 people, including a child and a pregnant woman, have been killed in his ‘barangay’, or neighbourhood, where he is setting up community-based rehabilitation for drug users.

“There is a lot of fear because the way people have been killed is vigilante-style so anyone could become a target … There is no way of protecting yourself.”

Another priest, who like several others asked for anonymity because of possible reprisals, said it was risky to question the killings openly. Dozens of drug addicts and pushers are being killed every day, but anyone who criticises Duterte’s campaign could suffer a similar fate, he said.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Church was free to make statements, and there was no cause “to even imply” that anyone in the clergy would be targeted.

However, Abella added: “The Church needs to consider that recent surveys show the people trust and appreciate the president’s efforts and it would do well to take heed and not presume that the people share their  belief system.”

“We expect them to be reasonable and considered.”

Duterte said on Monday he would not stop the campaign.

“I’m really appalled by so many groups and individuals, including priests and bishops, complaining about the number of persons killed in the operation against drugs,” he said in a speech in the southern city of Zamboanga.

“If I stop, the next generation would be lost.”

Believers receive communion during a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Believers receive communion during a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

“CHURCH WILL LOSE”

Some priests have supported Duterte’s war on drugs.

“Are the means unnecessarily illegitimate?” said Father Joel Tabora, a Jesuit priest in Davao, where Duterte was mayor for 22 years, and where about 1,400 people were killed from 1998 until the end of last year in a similar anti-crime and anti-drug campaign, according to activists.

“People are dying, yes, but on the other hand, millions of people are being helped,” said Tabora.

Three decades ago, the Church in the Philippines championed a ‘People Power’ revolution that reverberated around the world and ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It also participated in a popular movement in 2001 that led to the impeachment and removal of another president, Joseph Estrada.

For the Vatican, the Philippines is a key eastern hub: it has the third-largest population of Catholics globally and accounts for more than half of Asia’s roughly 148 million Catholics.

Nearly 80 percent of the 100 million people in the Philippines are Catholic and, unlike in many other countries where the faith was once strong, the vast majority still practice with enthusiasm.

Duterte, who is not a regular church-goer himself and says he was sexually abused by a priest as a boy, has publicly questioned the Church’s relevance and he dubbed May’s presidential election a referendum between him and the Church.

His victory by a substantial margin indicates that despite its appeal, the political clout of the Church is waning, some priests say. Indeed, many churchgoers who spoke to Reuters said they supported the war on drugs.

At the San Felipe Neri Parish Church in Manila on a recent Sunday, Father Francis Lucas said in a sermon that the Philippines was going through a “moral crisis”.

“Why are all of these killings happening?” he asked, pacing in front of hundreds of people packed into wooden pews. “You have to love and care for one another.”

Lucas is one of the few priests to oppose the killings in his sermons. But he later told Reuters it was unfair to expect the Church to influence the course of the war on drugs because it no longer had the secular power it once enjoyed.

“How come everybody wants the Church to act when others don’t?” Lucas said. “Yes, we have influence but times have also changed.”

In the car park outside the church, where people had spilt out and were listening on loudspeakers, his sermon did not go down well.

“The Church has to back off,” said Jenny Calma, a 34-year-old mother of two.

“We voted for our president because he promised to stop drugs,” Calma said as her children played between parked cars.

“The Church will lose” if it takes on Duterte over the killings, she added. “The feeling, the atmosphere in the community – sometimes the Church understands, sometimes it doesn’t.”

People gather around religious statues and objects after a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

People gather around religious statues and objects after a service in a chapel at Camp Crame, the headquarters of Philippine National Police (PNP) in Manila, Philippines October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

“LIFE IS CHEAP”

Nevertheless, some in the clergy are providing shelter to individuals trying to flee the campaign.

“There are cases where asylum is being sought and given, which are not brought to the attention of media … especially during these times when life is cheap and summary execution is a way of living, and extra-judicial killing is a matter of course,” retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz told Reuters.

He was also head of the country’s apex Catholic body, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Cruz said details of the priests involved, their locations and who they were protecting were restricted because of the dangers involved.

Reuters spoke with one priest who temporarily hid someone fearing for his life, but the priest declined to be named because of concerns about his safety. He said that if any details were revealed he would become a target.

At the Vatican, a senior official said the Holy See’s Secretariat of State was following the situation in the Philippines closely but, as with all countries, would leave it to the national bishops’ conference to make its position on internal matters known to governments.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the issue, however called the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines worrying.

After Duterte took power, the first official comment from the Philippines’ conference of bishops came in mid-September. By then the president had been in office for two-and-a-half months and almost 3,000 people had died.

In that message, the CBCP said “deaths because of police encounters, deaths from extra-judicial killings” were cause for mourning and that drug addicts needed healing. But it also echoed the president’s language, noting that the drug users “may have behaved as scum and rubbish”.

Cruz said the Church was being “prudent” because so many people supported the summary execution of drug dealers.

“The CBCP also has to be very careful because it might unnecessarily offend a good number of people with goodwill, who are Catholics themselves,” he said.

Under long-serving Cardinal Jaime Sin, the Philippines Church helped topple Presidents Marcos and Estrada and campaigned against the death penalty, which was suspended in 2006.

Sin, who retired in 2003 and died two years later, saw the Church’s role as socio-political. However, before he retired, he initiated the division of the Archdiocese of Manila into multiple dioceses all run independently under different bishops.

Now, priests say, the Church’s leadership is more fragmented and, because of that, carries less clout. Since the division, the Church has lost critical political battles, most notably failing to block a reproductive health bill promoting artificial contraception in 2012.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato, Neil Jerome Morales and Andrew R.C. Marshall in Manila and Philip Pullella at the Vatican; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Related on F&O:

Trump is a feeble version of the Philippines’ Duterte, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

In the hierarchy of demagogues, Donald Trump is not in the same league as the Philippines new president, Rodrigo Duterte. Unlike Duterte, whose approval rating is at 91 per cent since he came to office at the end of June, Trump doesn’t have the guts to say what he means.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Also tagged , , |

The Trump virus goes global

Why are so many voters in a blind rage with government and politicians?

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 29, 2016

Trumpery – the political disease that is convulsing the United States – appears to be mutating into a world-wide epidemic.

Donald Trump is drinking from a deep well of public disgust for traditional politicians in his now seemingly unstoppable run to be the Republican candidate for President in November. He has found that voters will cheer anyone running for public office, no matter how incompetent, boastful or dangerous, so long as he is not tainted by conventional political experience.

READ: Boris Johnson: schemer or charmer? -- Jonathan Manthorpe

London mayor Boris Johnson has bigger political ambitions.

Something similar is happening in Britain where the Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is championing the “No” vote in July’s referendum on whether or not the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union. Just as Trump threatens to rip the Republican Party into shreds, so Johnson may split the Conservative Party down its pro and anti-EU fault line.

Johnson’s principles are plastic to say the least. He has never made a promise he was not ready to break, or had a friend or lover he was not manoeuvring to betray.

Over a couple of decades in public life as a Member of Parliament (twice), directly elected Mayor of London, newspaper columnist and television personality Johnson has cultivated the image of a loveable bumbler. Like Trump, Johnson disdains political correctness and delights in saying out loud the outrageous thoughts most people have the good sense to keep to themselves.

But everyone knows that Johnson’s purpose in campaigning for Britain to leave the EU – “Brexit” in headline writer’s shorthand – is to try to oust David Cameron from the leadership of the Conservative Party and become Prime Minister himself.

Then there is Rodrigo Duterte, who by May 9 could have outpaced Trump and Johnson, and ridden the Trumpery wave to become the President of the Philippines.

Duterte has leapt into a solid lead in public opinion polls in the last few weeks as his anti-establishment, anti-crime agenda has gained traction with the electorate. And this is a man who takes anti-crime campaigns to extremes even Trump might find objectionable. During his 22 years as Mayor of Davao, the largest city in the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao, Duterte has been cited by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Council of the United Nations for, at the very least, tolerating death squads and the extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte speaks before the protesting residents in the city who are calling for the moratorium on housing foreclosure in several housing projects in the city. At least 5,000 homeowners coming from different subdivisions in the city and even from neighboring towns and cities marched around the city on Wednesday afternoon, Feburary 11, 2008 to oppose the transfer of an estimated P13 billion worth of housing loans with the National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation (NHMFC) to a private entity known as Balikatan Housing Finance Inc. (BHFI). AKP Images / Keith Bacongco

Phillipines presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in 2009, speaking as mayor of Davao to protesting residents calling for a moratorium on housing foreclosure. AKP Images / Keith Bacongco via Wikipedia

In a television interview last year Duterte admitted his links to the Davao death squads and warned that if elected president, he may kill up to 100,000 criminals. It’s “going to be bloody. People will die,” he said, pledging to end crime in the Philippines within six months of being elected.

How far Duterte gets personally involved in his anti-crime campaigns is hard to tell. However, there was one case last September where he stepped in. A bar owner called the mayor when a tourist refused to obey the city’s public anti-smoking bylaw and lit a cigarette. Duterte went to the bar and forced the tourist to eat the cigarette butt.

That, however, is far from being the full extent of Duterte’s boorishness. He readily admits to being a womanizer and clearly relishes his notoriety. But then there’s the case of an Australian woman missionary who was raped and killed during a prison riot in Davao in 1989. This is what Duterte said to a packed sports arena during a campaign rally on April 12:

“When the bodies were brought out, they were wrapped. I looked at her face, son of a bitch, she looks like a beautiful American actress. Son of a bitch, what a waste. What came to mind was, they raped her, they lined up. I was angry because she was raped, that’s one thing. But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste.”

After outraged complaints from the Australian ambassador to Manila, Duterte said he regretted his “gutter language,” but would not apologise for his remarks, which he said flowed from his “utter anger” at the incident.

If the thought of Duterte as President of the Philippines – or of anywhere – is not bad enough, there’s another unappetizing wrinkle to the story.

In Philippine elections the vice-presidential candidates are not part of the ticket in the presidential vote. They are elected independently. Well, the man coming through the pack with increasingly good prospects of being elected Vice-President next week is Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ran a brutal authoritarian state for 20 years until his ouster in 1986. The young Marcos is a fan of his father’s fixed bayonets approach to dealing with social and political problems. He and Duterte would probably get on famously.

What is difficult to understand is why voters in the Philippines appear to be in such a bitter, anti-establishment mood. Outgoing President Benigno Aquino has done a pretty good job. The economy has been growing steadily since 2000. Foreign investment is being pumped steadily into the country. Money has been available for much needed spending on social services and infrastructure. Low oil prices have been a boon.

Like the tenure of Barack Obama in the U.S., the Aquino years have been ones of rebuilding, consolidation and bright prospects for the future, unmatched for several generations.

Why then are so many Filipino voters, like their U.S. counterparts, in a blind rage with government and politicians? Some of the reasons in the Philippines and the U.S. are similar. The economic benefits of rebounding economies have not been shared equally. In the U.S., Trump’s appeal is to blue collar white people whose manufacturing or other low-skilled jobs have been blown overseas by the gales of globalization and free trade. In the Philippines, the divide is between rural and urban areas. Most of the jobs generated during the Aquino administration have been in the cities, while the countryside remains mired in poverty and the semi-feudal domination of a few families who own vast tracts of land.

To these people Duterte looks like a champion of the poor who might shake up the entrenched, moneyed establishment. Well, Filipino voters thought the same about another big city mayor, Joseph Estrada, in 1998. He had been mayor of Manila and before that a movie star who frequently played heroes of the downtrodden working classes. But his screen roles did not translate to the Presidency. He turned out to be just as venal as the rest and was removed by his vice-president in a coup in 2001.

Duterte as President would likely be similarly disappointing to his followers, just as Trump will be if he makes it to the White House.

There is, however, one area where Duterte could make a positive contribution and it concerns the killing this week of Canadian John Ridsdel by the Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf after a ransom was not paid. Another Canadian, Robert Hall, is still among the estimated 20 hostages being held by the group.

Abu Sayyaf started life in the 1990s as one of several separatist groups in the predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao and the surrounding islands. It has become, however, little more than a bandit gang that attracts recruits not by its Islamic fervour, but by the easy money to be made from hostage taking.

For well over 20 years successive administrations in Manila have attempted to reach agreements with the main separatist groups in the Mindanao region. The aim has been to give the region enough autonomy so that it will drop the demand for independence.

In 2014 Manila signed an agreement with one of the main separatist groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The idea was to strengthen local authority in the already established Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Elections for the new authority were meant to be held together with the national elections on May 9. But that agreement collapsed last year after 44 policemen were killed in a battle with MILF fighters.

The future of the peace process now hangs by a thread. It may seem unlikely, but even foreign security analysts see Duterte as the person most likely to be able to get the negotiations back on track. He is a Christian, but as Mayor of Davao has always maintained good relations with the local Muslim community, and ensured Muslims held senior positions in his administrations.

There is strong opposition among the Christian Filipinos, who make up about 90 per cent of the 100 million population, to greater autonomy for the Muslim Mindanao region. Duterte favours creating a federal Philippines rather than doing special autonomy deals for Mindanao or other minority regions. Christian leaders like the federal approach, but it will require constitutional change to implement, which is always an uncertain matter.

Even so, Duterte is the only presidential candidate talking seriously about the Muslim minority problem and the only one with any track record of successfully promoting communal harmony.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

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Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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