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What is Rodrigo Duterte doing in the Philippines and what does Obama have to do with it

Perché il presidente delle Filippine ha dato del “figlio di puttana” a Obama? C’entra la politica di terrore e violenza che sta portando avanti nel paese contro il traffico di droga che ha causato quasi duemila morti.

He called the President of the United States, Barack Obama, a “son of a whore”, using a Tagalog phrase and adding “I will swear at you”. So, the US delegation has decided to cancel the bilateral meeting with the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, scheduled for the 6th of September during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASAN) summit in Laos.

Duterte’s remark, and apology

Duterte made the comment while answering a journalist’s question about how he intended to explain the drug-related extra-judicial killings to Obama if the US President raised the issue, which he had promised to do. “I’m the president of a sovereign country, and we have long ceased to be a colony,” said Duterte on Monday, before he left for Laos. “I have no master except the Filipino people, nobody but nobody,” he said. But he later apologised in a statement: “We regret that it came across as a personal attack on the US president”.

Il presidente delle Filippine, Rodrigo Duterte © NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images
The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte © NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

Precedents

Rodrigo Duterte, 71, was elected president of the Philippines on the 10th of May and took office on the 30th of June. And it already seems that these kinds of remark are nothing new. He made the same comment, adding homophobic tones, to US ambassador Philip Goldberg, guilty of having criticised the then hopeful president talking about the rape and killing of an Australian missionary during a prison riot. Duterte said that he wished he had been first to rape the missionary.

Una manifestante protesta contro le uccisioni extragiudiziali appoggiate dal presidente Duterte © Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
A protester demonstrates against extra-judicial killings supported by President Duterte © Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Extra-judicial killings and Duterte’s rise to power

Duterte has long served as the mayor of one of the country’s biggest cities, Davao. When in charge, he became well-known throughout the country and abroad for his lawless crackdown on criminals, drug addicts and traffickers. He has never denied his bond with the Davao death squads, which allegedly killed more than a thousand people – suspected to be linked with the drug trade – since the 1990s. For that, he has been nicknamed “Duterte Harry”, paraphrasing the name of Harry Callaghan (“Dirty Harry”), the violent inspector interpreted by US actor Clint Eastwood. Ronald dela Rosa, the Philippines’ top police official, said on the 22nd of August that killings by the police and vigilantes in the country’s war on drugs had soared to nearly 1,800 in the seven weeks since Duterte took office. A number of newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, however, claim that more than 2,000 people have been killed. In the Philippines, the presidential term lasts 6 years.

davao attack philippines
After the Davao attack in the Philippines on 2 September, hundreds of people took to the streets to call for justice © NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

The Davao attack and the state of lawlessness

The United Nations has condemned the support of Manila’s government to extra-judicial killings through the words of Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The UN called the actions illegal and a violation of basic human rights and freedoms. The president of the Philippines has declared a “state of lawlessness” in response to the terror attack that killed 14 people in Davao on the 2nd of September. The attack has been attributed to the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf by the Ministry of Defence and was the occasion to enhance the power of the army, which will be now able to carry out controls and searches, declare curfews and increase checkpoints. In fact, according to experts, it will be easier for Duterte to continue expanding his violent crackdown on drugs.

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