While we are still panicking over the likelihood of a nuclear Armageddon at the hands of two narcissistic leaders of nuclear-armed states, a third Trump-like figure has taken to the stage of international diplomacy: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Often called “the Trump of the East”, Duterte has a heinous track record in human rights violations and is known for his impulsive and frequently offensive speeches.
After being criticised by the European Union for his war on drugs, Duterte recently said he is considering expelling EU diplomats from the Philippines. In a furious speech, he accused the EU of intervening in the country’s domestic affairs. His brutal crackdown on drugs has led to the deaths of more than 12,500 Filipinos in the past year. Around 4,000 of them were killed during police operations while hundreds were murdered in unexplained circumstances.
The huge death toll is likely down to the police’s shoot-to-kill policy. This means an officer is not only authorised but encouraged to shoot at a drug addict who refuses arrest, even if their actions do not pose a threat to the police. Yet in many of these shootings the Filipino police maintain they acted in self-defence. With very little transparency and no independent investigations, it’s impossible to determine the officers’ real motives. Basically, the police can do whatever they want, and they are not accountable for their actions.
However, in August this year, a case came to light in which a 17-year-old student was shot by police. As he was in custody at the time, it seems unlikely the police shot him in self-defence.
In response to the police’s “killing spree”, Duterte simply said he was “happy to slaughter” millions of drug addicts while describing the deaths of children as “collateral damage”. His lack of compassion draws parallels with US President Donald Trump because this isn’t the first time he has said something so deplorable. He has made abhorrent jokes about women, particularly the Australian missionary who was raped and killed during a riot by prison inmates in 1989.
Yet, let’s move our focus from his behaviour, which is clearly well below accepted standards, towards his argument that the EU is interfering in the Philippines’ domestic affairs. It is worth noting how national sovereignty or the idea that state affairs are not the international community’s business are often brought up whenever a government is accused of human rights violations. In such cases, I believe, people’s basic right to live and enjoy freedoms should override national sovereignty.
Besides, if the EU annoys Duterte so much, why accept their money? Taking their money on one hand and then denouncing the EU on the other is somewhat ironic and it all boils down to a deranged man being given a platform to rant. The lives of people in the Philippines, even criminals, should not treated so lightly. There is simply no excuse for such brutality and ugly behaviour.