Well in case you missed it, the President of the Philippines just called the US ambassador a “gay son of a whore.” And though it was actually in Tagalog, I can’t imagine any language where calling someone that is a compliment.
It’s not every day that the head of a sovereign republic uses homophobic slurs to refer to the appointed ambassador of another country, and then refuse to even apologize for it, but then Rodrigo Duterte isn’t really your average president.
For starters, there’s the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a single picture of him wearing a tie, which when you think about it is pretty strange in this day in age for a politician, and then there is also the fact that his nickname is “the Punisher“, for reasons that will become clear very soon.
You see, Rodrigo began his political career in Davao City, which is an area of the Philippines that was historically known as the center of a lot of violent drug crime in a country that already has a lot of violent drug crime. Duterte was elected on a promise to do something about the crime in what many called “the murder capital of the Philippines”, and it’s not exactly clear what happened, but it seems like at some point, Duterte sort of lost it and decided that the legal means of fighting crime weren’t as effective as just hiring a personal death squad and sending them out to clean up the streets.
The Davao Death Squad, as it is somewhat uncreatively known, has allegedly been operating in the city for several years, summarily executing small time criminals and drug users, with a body count that may run into the thousands.
Essentially the way it works is that local city officials draw up lists of people they think may be criminals, or more likely would just like to see dissapear, and pass it off along with some cash to a group of vigilantes who are actually trained by the city’s police force.
Of course, it’s hard to argue with results, which is why Duterte likes to point out that during his term as Mayor, Davao City became one of the safetest in the country.
And this loose interpretation of the difference between justice and just murdering people has served him well in the campaign, seeing him elected in a landslide victory. After taking office he pledged that he would impose the same kind of justice that he had brought to Davao to the rest of the country. But seeing as how he’s just one guy, he kindly requested that the average citizen of the Philipines just “go ahead and kill drug addicts.”
That is an actual quote by the sitting leader of the country for people to run around and murder people they think are taking drugs. It’s the kind of like the “Just say no” campaign if it was being run by Adolf Hitler.
And in case you think that’s out of context, rest assured that it is not. Duerte really thinks that mob justice is the best way to handle the country’s drug problem, which is why he has said it publicly several dozen times now. People, meanwhile, have been listening to this call. Since Duterte’s election, the rate of vigilante killings in the country has risen from one a day to almost ten. Almost seven hundred people have died since Duterte took office a mere three months ago. Though it’s a bit shy of his stated goal of killing 10,000 criminals in his first ten months in office.
Many observers have noted that extra-judicial murder has essentially supplanted the legal system in the country, which is why anyone from mayors, several of whom Duterte publicly named, ostensibly so people knew who to kill, to rice smugglers, one of whom Duterte said he “would gladly kill” are targets.
Duterte is not immune to criticism in his own country, and numerous people have spoken out against the decline of the rule of law in the Philipines, but much like Donald Trump in this country, Duterte seems to revel in it.
He claims to take pride in the fact that the establishment of the country hates him, while he insists that the average filipino supports his policies. So, he basically is the Filipino Donald Trump.
But support for Duterte is slimmer than he likes to imagine, and while it is easy to feel comfortable with the idea that drug dealers are dying when you don’t see it, when you have to confront the reality it is more difficult to not speak. An image was captured recently in the country showing a young man killed for the crime of being addicted to drugs. As his girlfriend cradled his corpse in her arms, a cardboard sign marked “pusher”, dumped next to the body by his murderers, at her knees a journalist snapped a picture.
It’s already making the rounds on social media, dubbed “La Pieta” after a renaissance depiction of the Virgin Mary craddling Jesus which bears a striking resemblance.
Something about seeing the results of these killings up close has humanized the victims, and may be beginning to galvanize opposition to Duterte. And hopefully, the maniac running the Philippines won’t be around much longer.