He’s been called “the Donald Trump” of the Philippines because of his disregard for standards of decorum. He is lewd, crass, insulting, and rejects what some might consider “politically correct” speech. It is, however, unfair to compare Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to Donald Trump—the GOP nominee is not yet responsible for the brutal deaths of hundreds and the imprisonment of thousands of his fellow citizens.
“Hitler massacred three million Jews,” Duterte declared on Friday. “Now there is three million, what is it, three million drug addicts there are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”
“At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have (me),” the Philippine president added. “You know my victims, I would like (them) to be all criminals, to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition.”
Rarely do you hear anyone favorably compare themselves to Hitler, so the shock value of this comment is surely intentional. So, too, is Duterte’s effort to diminish the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. By inflating the number of estimated drug addicts in the Philippines, he has created a rough and repulsive equivalency.
This should not be mistaken for pique or hyperbole. Aspiring totalitarians are rarely coy about their intentions. They tell you precisely what they are going to do before they do it, and Duterte’s plan is well underway.
By the end of August, according to Philippine National Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa, 1,900 had died in the nation’s quite literal war on drugs. Between Duterte’s swearing in at the end of June and the last week of August, 712 drug suspects had been killed by police with another 1,067 deaths linked to “vigilante” killings.
Those extrajudicial killings have been explicitly sanctioned by the nation’s new president—and not merely drug pushers but drug users, too. “Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun, you have my support,” Duterte urged his supporters just days before winning a landslide victory. “You can kill him,” Duterte urged police in the event a drug suspect resisted arrest. “Shoot him and I’ll give you a medal.”
Those drug suspects who are not shot in the streets by authorities or by those the president incited to violence find themselves in one of the nation’s severely overcrowded prisons. These, too, have become institutions into which enemies of the state—and personal sources of frustration for Duterte—can be disappeared. Occasionally, these thorns in Duterte’s side meet untimely ends at the hands of their fellow inmates. How tragic.
Less than a month after taking office, the overcrowding in Filipino prisons had become an international crisis. Images out of institutions like the Quezon City jail in Manila are haunting. Bodies are piled one on top of the other. Prisoners sleep in stairwells, each inmate occupying only a single step. And when the prisons are full and there is nowhere else to put the nation’s newly dubbed criminal classes, there will always be camps.
Duterte is no friend of the United States, either. The president of America’s historic ally and former territorial possession in the Pacific has promised to end military drills with the United States because China is suspicious of the activity. He has sought to secure relations with Beijing and even to procure armaments from the People’s Republic, particularly those of the variety that would help Manila to wage its domestic war on Islamist insurgents and drug suspects.
Rarely does the United States have the luxury of avoiding confrontation with thugs like Duterte. Conflict is coming, and it will be the next American president who is tasked with dealing with the menace in Manilla.