Following a controversial election many have likened to that of Trump, the new Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is causing anxiety in the White House for his human rights violations and distancing himself and his country from the U.S. After taking office on June 30,Duterte used his executive authority to justify the killing of drug addicts, resulting in hundreds of deaths within his four months in office. At the same time, Duterte reduced Philippines’ sole reliance on the United States by threatening to end cooperation with the U.S. military and improving relations with China.
On human rights issues, Duterte has justified extrajudicial killings as the only way to solve the country’s drug abuse problems and has ignored U.S. condemnations about these killings. In order to expand the scale of his “war on drugs” from his town to the entire nation, Duterte has encouraged the police force as well as assassins to kill suspected drug users. Although the number of victims killed is contested, according to the Human Rights Watch, his policy has resulted in more than 2000 deaths, including those of petty criminals and street children mistaken for drug addicts. Despite condemnation from human rights groups and foreign countries alike, Duterte has defended his stance and openly admitted to operating death squads. In a publicized speech, he even compared himself to Adolf Hitler, claiming that, similar to Hitler’s genocide, he is “happy to slaughter [the 3 million drug addicts in the Philippines]” in order to “finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition.”
Regarding foreign relations, Duterte has threatened to end military cooperation between the Philippines and the United States, which will be a huge blow to American efforts to contain Chinese expansion. In a profanity-laced speech in Manila, Duterte lashed out against the United States for refusing to sell weaponry to the Philippines, saying that Obama can “go to hell.” Responding to U.S. criticism, Duterte also said that “I am the president of a sovereign country and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people… Son of a bitch [,President Obama], I will swear at you.” In addition, Duterte has vowed to diminish U.S. influence in the Philippines by initiating a “new chapter of bilateral relations” with China. However, the Philippines, a former U.S. colony, has traditionally provided the U.S. military with air and naval bases to counteract Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. Therefore, if Duterte’s threats are realized, the Obama administration’s ability to contain Chinese action in the South China Sea will be weakened.
Considering the challenges and significance of maintaining the Philippines as an ally, doing so successfully will be an important task for the next president. At the same time, despite the urgency of improving diplomatic relations, the slaughter cannot be ignored.