President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines claims that president-elect Donald Trump praised his violent crackdown on drug use in that country during a phone call Friday between the two leaders. Relations between the United States and the Philippines, a key strategic relationship for the U.S., have been strained since Duterte came to power there in June.
Rodrigo Duterte won the most recent election in the Philippines for similar reasons that Donald Trump won the November 8 election in the United States. Campaigning on a conservative, populist platform, Duterte is plain spoken and was widely seen as an honest alternative to mainstream politicians. According to CBS News, Duterte also made fighting crime a cornerstone of his campaign, especially vowing to crack down on drug abuse in the cities of the Philippines.
“When I become president, I’ll order the police and the military to find these people and kill them,” Duterte said of drug dealers and users during his campaign in March. “The funeral parlors will be packed,” he said.
Rodrigo Duterte, for his part, has lived up to this promise. After his inauguration in June, Duterte began an anti-drug campaign, ominously called “Double Barrel.” It is estimated that up to 5,000 people have been killed under this program. The Washington Post reported that Duterte has shown little concern for the victims of the extrajudicial killings or even for innocent people caught in the crossfire.
“That’s not criminal liability,” Duterte said.
“It could not be negligence because you have to save your life. It could not be recklessness because you have to defend yourself… If you destroy my country, I’ll kill you. That’s a legitimate thing.”
President Rodrigo Duterte expressed admiration for President-elect Donald Trump during the United States campaign season and has stated that he wishes him success in his administration. After the phone call Friday between the two, Duterte discussed their conversation, saying that the leaders talked about the long history of cooperation between the two nations. However, Duterte also claimed in his statement that Trump praised his handling of the drug war in the Philippines.
“[Trump] wishes me well in my campaign and said that we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way… He was wishing me success in my campaign on the drug problem. He understood the way we are handling it and he said that there’s nothing wrong in protecting your country.”
According to Slate, Donald Trump may also have invited Duterte to visit the United States during the phone call. If true, the phone call between Duterte and the president-elect would show a significant shift in U.S. policy towards the Duterte regime. President Obama recently canceled a diplomatic visit to the country over the extrajudicial violence being used in the Philippines to combat the drug war, for example, as well as statements made by Rodrigo Duterte saying that Obama could “go to Hell” and referring to him as a “son of a wh*re.”
Donald Trump and his transition team have not yet commented on the version of the conversation that Duterte has put forward. It is likely that Rodrigo Duterte is embellishing the conversation for his own political gain domestically, attempting to tie himself to an American political figure who is popular among his own base in the Philippines. However, according to Reuters, a source within the Trump transition team has said that Donald Trump does wish to view Duterte and the Philippines through a new lens.
“He is perfectly capable of talking to Duterte in an open way without being wedded to previous policy failures,” the source said.
Donald Trump will be inaugurated as president next month. The phone call between him and Rodrigo Duterte may signal a willingness by a Trump administration to ignore or minimize the violence in the Philippines, or it may be a strategy to bring Duterte under United States influence.
[Featured Image by Eugene Hoshiko/AP Images]