JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
August 13, 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.
This week Trump shuffled up to calling on his Republican supporters to kill his Democrat opponent, Hillary Clinton. But the best incitement to violence he could come up with was this meandering call to the defence of the right to bear arms:
“Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick — if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”
Trump was similarly bashful later in the week when he was called out to justify his claim that Clinton and President Barack Obama were the founders of the terrorist Islamic State group. After first insisting in several interviews that he stood by his ISIS claim, Trump backed off and said he was just being sarcastic. But even the dogs in the streets know he was pandering to the belief among many Republican supporters that Obama is a Muslim.
Duterte was mayor of the Philippines’ wild southern city of Davao for 22 years before winning the country’s May 9 presidential election, and he doesn’t bother with such whimpish nonsense.
After seeing the body of an Australian nun killed in a gang rape during a jail riot in 1989, Duterte said she was so beautiful he wished he’d been first in line for the outrage.
And a central plank in Duterte’s election platform was to bring to the national stage the uncompromising, anti-crime campaign he’d waged in Davao, where he was associated with the semi-official death squad, Alsa Masa.
Hundreds of alleged drug traffickers and criminals were killed by the vigilantes during Duterte’s tenure in Davao, and he got elected President in May on promises to bring the same uncompromising, extra-judicial style to the national stage.
On one occasion during the campaign he promised that 100,000 people would die after he became president, and that so many bodies would be dumped in Manila Bay that the fish would grow fat feeding on them.
Well, he’s made a good start on keeping his promise. There are several different logs of the police and vigilante death toll of alleged criminals since Duterte was inaugurated on June 30, but the total is probably now over 1,000.
The Philippines National Police reports that 239 alleged drug sellers and users were killed by police between June 30 and July 22. At the same time, according to police statistics, over 300 drug users and alleged traffickers were murdered by vigilante groups. Just over 120,000 drug users are reported to have surrendered to police to avoid the same fate.
Reports from other sources present similar figures. The country’s top broadcaster, ABS-CBN, said in early August that just over 600 people had been killed since the May election and that 211 had been killed by unidentified gunmen.
The Reuters news agency reported on August 7 that up to 800 people had been killed by police in anti-drug operations since Duterte’s June 30 inauguration, including over 200 killed by vigilante groups.
Duterte’s popularity among Filipinos remains huge – as Trump might put it. He has brushed aside criticism of his murderous strategy from domestic and international human rights organisations.
On June 11, after his election and before his inauguration, Duterte said in a speech that people should kill drug dealers who resist being taken to the police station. He said that people who encounter drug dealers should “please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have a gun … you have my support. Shoot him, and I’ll give you a medal.”
After the U.S. ambassador, Philip Goldberg, publicly expressed misgivings about the vigilante campaign, Duterte called him “bakla” – “pansy,”
“As you know, I’m fighting with (U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry),” Duterte said in televised remarks a week ago. “His gay ambassador, the son of a whore. He pissed me off.”
Duterte was equally unapologetic this week when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Lourdes Sereno, questioned his grandstanding when he produced a list of what he claimed were 159 officials involved in the drug trade, including eight judges. Sereno said only the courts had the authority to discipline judges.
“Let’s not kid each other ma’am, and do not force the issue,” Duterte retorted. “You do not warn me. I warn you. I can order everyone in the executive department not to honour you.”
“Please do not create a confrontation, a constitutional war. We will all lose,” he said.
He capped off the exchange by threatening to declare martial law if the judiciary interfered in his anti-crime campaign.
As well as the eight judges on Duterte’s list of 159 officials allegedly involved in drug trafficking are 56 elected local mayors and legislators, and 95 active and retired members of the police and the military. At least two of the people on Duterte’s list have already been killed by death squads.
One area of public life where Trump and Duterte compete in the same league is lying. Trump’s record for massive contempt for the truth is well-documented. It has already been established that he is not the successful businessman he says he is. His early record is a catalogue of business failures from which he was bailed out by his father. His recent career shows no real evidence of being more successful. There is reasonable speculation that if he ever produces his tax returns they will show his wealth is well short of his claims, that his main endeavour is pimping in the U.S. property market for Russian oligarchs, and that he pays little or no tax.
Duterte’s claims that his rough and bloody tactics cleaned up crime in Davao are equally spurious. Crime rates in Davao remain high and it is still the Philippines murder capital. This may be because of Duterte’s acceptance – if not direct sponsorship – of vigilantism. Extra-judicial death squads have become embedded in the culture of Davao and its surrounding district. As the Asian Human Rights Commission said in an August 2008 report:
“Vigilante killings take place in Davao City daily on the pretext of the war against criminals. The psyche of the people living there has reached a point where they themselves give ready acquiescence to these death squads to decide who deserves to die or not, effectively leaving the policing, prosecution and the court meaningless.”
That’s the cultural future now facing the Philippines as a whole as Duterte takes his show to the national stage. For the moment, according to a recent Pulse Asia poll, 91 per cent of respondents expressed “very big” or “big” trust in Duterte and 48 per cent said fighting criminality nation-wide is the country’s most pressing issue. That will not last. The message from everywhere where extra-judicial killings have become part of life is that they solve nothing and only make crime and corruption worse. Look at the decades of drug wars in Latin America.
And Thailand is still trying to extract itself from the mayhem in the early 2000s when new Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra loosed police death squads on alleged drug traffickers.
Many hundreds of people were killed, lots of them with no ties at all to the drug trade. It was easy for people with grudges to name enemies to the police and sit back to enjoy the inevitable outcome. The same thing will happen now across the Philippines. Denunciations will be used to settle scores and innocent people will be killed. At some point the public’s fear of crime will turn to revulsion at the methods being employed by Duterte.
The Philippines has a long and deservedly proud heritage of campaigning for human and civil rights. That impulse will reassert itself as vigilantism sets in. There will be the kinds of clashes with authority that have welled up many times since the end of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship in 1986.
The Philippines’ international reputation will suffer too.
Duterte has already fallen out with the highly influential Catholic Church after he referred to Pope Francis in almost exactly the same words as he used for U.S. ambassador Goldberg. Duterte became exasperated when the traffic in Manila became grid-locked during the Pope’s visit last year. “It took us five hours to get from the hotel to the airport. I asked who was coming. They said it was the Pope. I wanted to call him: ‘Pope, son of a whore, go home. Don’t visit anymore’,” Duterte said.
About 86 per cent of the Philippines’ 100 million people are Catholics.
The death squad culture is being introduced just as the Philippines is, for the first time, joining the leaders in economic growth in Asia. It has taken a long time and is now about to be squandered. Foreign investment, credit ratings and the general business environment are all on the block and likely victims of Duterte’s murderous grandstanding.
But at least Filipinos know where they are with Duterte, unlike U.S. voters and the slippery greased weasel Donald Trump.
Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016
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Jonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and 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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