Trump Has a Friend in Manila

The American president has invited Rodrigo Duterte to the White House and has admitted that Duterte’s policy of killing anyone who gives him trouble doesn’t seem so bad.

Rodrigo Duterte promised that if he became president of the Philippines, he would rid the country of the scourge of drugs, even if it meant he would have to execute anyone suspicious himself. Twelve months after coming to power, his plan has made him famous while isolating him from the rest of the world. With more than 7,000 already dead, the path to winning the war on drugs looks to be far longer than he first suspected, but no less bloody. Although he won democratically, his commitment to extrajudicial execution – with no more proof of guilt than a point-blank gunshot fired solely on suspicion – is taking the Philippines back to the turbulent days of the Marcos dictatorship, rather than moving it forward as one of the few democracies in Southeast Asia.

Duterte didn’t come from Manila’s political elite, and that was his winning card. He came from a small city council on the island of Mindanao in the south of the country, where his hard line politics allowed for the fight against guerrillas and traffickers, creating the impression of order in a particularly unstable area. But while these politics worked in a city, it has been a far more difficult job to make them work in a country of more than 7,000 islands and 100 million inhabitants, and where, with a license to kill, the police tend to vent their anger on street children, turning an already difficult situation into something far worse. It’s not only human rights organizations that have denounced Duterte’s practices. Despite the turmoil, the Philippines has developed an opposition, a certain separation of powers capable of questioning the practices of the president and a nascent civil society that is capable of putting pressure on him. But thus far, none of these have been able to stem the tide of Duterte’s criminal instincts. Displaying a contempt toward all those who point the finger at him, with his provocative remarks – from threatening to leave the United Nations to insulting Barack Obama – he has made a name for himself in the international media, where he never misses an opportunity to revile a critic.

Meeting of Two Populisms

Obsessed with drugs and other vices like alcohol and tobacco, Duterte has abandoned policies necessary for the country’s development, from the proposal of a federal state to promises made on social issues, such as the demarginalization of the Muslim population, which is concentrated in Mindanao (the island of the president) and into which the Islamic State has now crept. Under pressure in Syria and Iraq, the Islamist radicals are relocating manpower, recruiting and attacking in order to create a province of the caliphate in Mindanao and to expand throughout the region wherever there are more Muslims.

Surprisingly, as he heads toward the abyss of a new failed state and is rejected by the international community, Duterte, who this Friday completes his first year as head of state of the Philippines, has come to the end of his solitude. Donald Trump has invited the Filipino president to the White House and has admitted that Duterte’s policy of killing anyone who gives him trouble doesn’t seem so bad. With the disdain they show toward adversaries, they are alike, and when two populisms meet, a dangerous path opens up. We don’t know if they’ll end up getting on, but Trump has found a friend in Manila.

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