“My order is shoot to kill you. I don’t care about human rights, you better believe me.” – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte
Last October I wrote a post about Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. At that time, he had been in office just over three months, and already across the globe, human rights groups, world leaders, and the United Nations had concerns about him and his presidency. He had sanctioned the killing of thousands in his country by vigilante groups, supposedly as a means of eradicating drug dealers, but those killed were only suspected or reported to have ties to the drug world. There was no documented evidence in most cases, and none were given the benefit of a trial. Duterte was offering medals and rewards for citizens who killed a person suspected of dealing in drugs, saying, “Do your duty, and if in the process you kill 1,000 persons because you were doing your duty, I will protect you. If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful. I don’t care about human rights, believe me.”
Back in December, when the death toll by police and vigilantes had risen to at least 4,500, Trump praised Duterte in a telephone call, telling him he was “ … doing it the right way. I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump. And he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem,” claimed Duterte.
Last Saturday, Donald Trump once again called Duterte and they had what Trump described as a “very friendly conversation”. It is reported that the two discussed topics including North Korea and “the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs.” And then Trump invited Duterte for an official state visit to the White House. Human Rights Watch is urging the United Nations to open an independent investigation into the massive deaths of mostly poor citizens in the Philippines. They are more than a little concerned over Trump’s praise and invitation.
“Countries with bilateral ties to the Philippines, particularly the United States, have an obligation to urge accountability for the victims of Duterte’s abusive drug war, rather than offer to roll out the red carpet for official state visits by its mastermind,” said Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.
John Sifton, Human Rights Watch’s Asia advocacy director, said that “speaking glowingly” of a president who has bragged about the deaths of his own citizens while remaining silent about concerns over human rights violations sends a “terrifying message.” “It says to the world that illegal violence is legitimate and that the rule of law and human rights can be ignored. This is a message in the language of thugs and criminals, not government servants who take an oath to protect their citizens and laws.”
Last year, when President Obama expressed concern about the high number of deaths early in September, Duterte lashed out, calling Obama a “son of a whore”, leading President Obama to cancel a scheduled meeting between the two leaders. In October, Mr. Duterte called for a “separation” between the Philippines and the United States. “America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow.” A spokesperson for the White House says that Trump is merely trying to mend fences between the two nations.
On Sunday, Trump’s aides were scrambling in an effort to justify Trump’s invitation. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus defended Trump’s praise of Duterte on Sunday, saying the president’s top priority is addressing the threat of North Korea and partnering with countries in Southeast Asia:
“There is nothing right now facing this country and facing the region that is a bigger threat than what’s happening in North Korea. If we don’t have all of our folks together — whether they’re good folks, bad folks, people we wish would do better in their country, doesn’t matter, we’ve got to be on the same page”
And then on Monday morning, there was Sean Spicer, in his usual stumbling, bumbling manner, had this to say:
“I mean, the president gets fully briefed on the leaders that he’s speaking to, obviously, but the No. 1 concern of this president is to make sure that we do everything we can to protect our people — and specifically to economically and diplomatically isolate North Korea. And I think when you look at what he is doing in terms of building that coalition of countries in that region to do it, I think this is hopefully gonna have — I mean, I’m not gonna tell you every single thing that’s in his brief, but he’s well aware of when he speaks with a leader, he gets briefed on a lot about what they’re doing, what they’ve done. That’s all part of the brief.”
Some days I really feel sorry for Sean.
According to the New York Times (30 April), “The State Department and National Security Council were “caught off guard” by Trump’s controversial invitation to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte,” though an administration spokesperson later denied this.
As of April, Philippines police had killed 2,500 people, and vigilantes had killed 3,600 people. These were not murderers, were not convicted of any crime. Some may have actually been drug users or dealers, most were likely merely innocent civilians. None were given the benefit of a trial, merely murdered. The situation in the Philippines is being monitored by human rights groups, the United Nations, and the Interenational Criminal Court (ICC).
Trump’s praise and the invitation are disturbing, to say the least. One must wonder if Trump plans to get some ‘tips and pointers’ from Duterte. It is disconcerting and not a move I would have advised, nor one that I like to see. Thinking about the leaders that Trump has praised, we have the following partial list:
- Trump has repeatedly praised Putin, a dictator, and as has been discussed at length on this blog, has numerous ties to Putin and the Russian government.
- Last month, Trump called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to congratulate him on the passing of the referendum that greatly increases Erdoğan’s power and jeopardizes the democracy of Turkey.
- Trump complimented Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has curtailed free speech and locked up political dissidents.
- Trump has spoken warmly of the Egyptian leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who seized power in a military coup.
Yet he has disparaged and insulted our allies and friends, saying he neither needs nor wants friends abroad. Among those he has offended:
- Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
- Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia
- Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
- Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran
- Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico
- Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden
- Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway
Trump’s propensity to embrace more autocratic, despotic leaders while offending allies is gravely concerning. In addition to the above lists, Trump threw his support behind such recent populist candidates as Norbert Hofer (Austria), Geert Wilders (the Netherlands), and is now supportive of the candidacy of populist French candidate Marine Le Pen.
“Be wary of the company you keep for they are a reflection of who you are, or who you want to be.” – Kenneth G. Ortiz