Rodrigo Duterte has been making headlines in local media since more than two months ago, when he took his oath as the Philippines’ 16th president.
His name has, as of late, nearly become synonymous with endless extrajudicial killings linked by human rights advocates to his relentless war against rampant illegal drug trade in the country, which by his own estimate has destroyed the lives of 3.7 million Filipinos.
So far, the death toll attributed to Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign has registered a record high of 2,927 and is still counting, according to local television network TV5.
A recent Time magazine report estimated the results of the Philippine president’s invective to “an average of around 37 people per day killed in extrajudicial fashion.”
“Representatives from the U.N. as well as international human-rights groups,” the said report noted, “have condemned the rampant slaughter, to which Duterte’s response has been dismissive.”
Only recently, Rodrigo Duterte made his biggest headline so far, hitting the front pages of international media, when he suddenly freaked out upon hearing the news that U.S. President Barack Obama wanted to have an audience with him with a clear intention to confront him about alleged violations of human rights tied to his anti-illegal drug campaign.
Breaking diplomatic protocols, and probably losing his sanity, at least for the moment, Dirty Rody minced no words calling the president of arguably the most powerful nation on earth “son of a b***h,” which he would later regret.
The foul-mouthed Philippine president then quickly resorted to expletive tirades that reminded Obama of America’s extrajudicial massacre in 1906 of no less than 600 Muslims, including women and children, in Jolo, Sulu, in Southern Mindanao, infamously known as the Bud Dajo Massacre, not to mention the many other crimes the United States has committed against humanity elsewhere around the world.
As Stella Estremera of Sun Star Davao put it, Duterte’s litany was his direct response to a Reuters reporter’s query about the prospect of a meeting with Obama over the issue of human rights.
“Who is he?” Dirty Rody asked, referring to the U.S. president. “When as a matter of fact at the turn of the century, before the Americans left, the Philippines, in the pacification campaign of the Moro in this island… how many died? Six hundred. If you can answer this question and give an apology, I will answer him.”
By far, Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs has brought into view the unbelievable, gigantic proportions of how rampant the drug menace has become in his country.
The drug trade is operated by convicted drug lords, who while serving their jail terms at the national penitentiary, which they transformed into their own command centers, have managed to keep their trade running. With communications gadgets, the drug lords live like kings and princes there, presumably not without the jail guards’ and their superiors’ consent.
Unfortunately, Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, turned a blind eye to such an unlikely horrible arrangement, which he and his then justice secretary, now senator, Leila de Lima, among others, had themselves witnessed first hand.
Hence, the insatiable drive on the part of the new Philippine president to eradicate illegal drug trade, which is to blame for a number of other crimes in the country, even involving some high ranking officials in the government, police, and the military.
As Philippine Star columnist Alex Magno has it, “In Duterte’s mind, this is the battle on which everything must be put on the line. This is the engagement that will be the primal test of his presidency. This is where he will pass or fail.”
Dirty Rody’s tirades against Obama and America are meant to drive a point about something of relative importance to the current state of affairs in the Philippines under the new administration. A foreign policy realignment is now under way under Duterte’s watch in relation to Manila’s neighbors, particularly Beijing, under the shadow of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, irrespective of the United States’ interest in the region.
With respect to Philippine-U.S. relations, “Duterte has broken one diplomatic taboo after the other,” Asia-Pacific geopolitical analyst Richard Javad Heydarian noted, in his article published by The National Interest.
“His open expression of skepticism, a remarkable departure from his predecessors,” Heydarian said, “seems to have gained growing support among the Philippine public as well as intelligentsia, even though America enjoys astronomically high approval ratings in the Southeast Asian country.”
Preferring to adapt an independent foreign policy not subject to the whims of the United States as well as the United Nations, the self-confessed socialist in Rodrigo Duterte proudly declared, shortly after winning his bid to the presidency, that he “will be chartering a [new] course [for the Philippines] on its own and will not be dependent on the United States.”
On the other hand, Duterte has expressed his willingness towards developing a more friendly bilateral relationship with China, regardless of the fact that it has been known to have grabbed by a show of force a number territories within the South China Sea that rightly belong to the Philippines, a fact reinforced further by the recent international tribunal’s ruling in Manila’s favor.
Does it then indicate that Rodrigo Duterte is more inclined to submit, for good or ill, to the whims of the rising Dragon of the East, though not outside the bounds set by the international tribunal, as he himself stressed several times over?
“Clearly, the Duterte administration has taken a more holistic view of Philippine-China relations, Magno said in a more recent article on Philippine Star. “It is a view that looks beyond the intractable overlapping claims over barren reefs in the South China Sea.”
“Instead of ranting and rattling sabers, as the previous administration did,” Magno said, “the new administration is taking a more mature stock of the state of our bilateral relationship with the second largest economy in the world.”
“Like all the other ASEAN nations, Manila understands war is an unwinnable option and a wide array of economic partnerships beckons if we manage our relations well,” Magno went on to say.
[Photo by Bullit Marquez/AP Images]