As bad as US President Trump has had it in the first year or so of his term, with the scandals, tell-alls and resignations hounding him right and left, there is another world leader who actually makes him look good in comparison. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s crass behavior and unfiltered mouth probably make him the least diplomatic and most boorish of all the current heads of state.
To name some examples of the Philippine leader’s famously foul mouth, he once called Pope Francis a “son of a bitch.” In predominantly Catholic Philippines, this caused a scandal.
Barack Obama, President Trump’s predecessor, a “son of a whore.” But President Obama is not the only person that President Duterte has used that term for. He also used it for Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights.
Mr. Duterte has also become quite well known for his rampant misogyny. Years ago, he publicly joked about regretting not having taken a turn with a young Australian missionary who was raped and killed by rebels. He insisted that he should have been first in line with her. Recently he said that women rebel soldiers ought to be shot in their private parts, so as to make them useless. Just this week he ordered a 71-year old Australian nun and human rights advocate to be arrested and detained, citing her “foul mouth” and “disorderly conduct” as reasons.
The biggest difference between the US and Philippine presidents is that Mr. Duterte launched a “war on drugs” even before day one of his presidency. Experts allege that as many as 20,000 people have been killed in this campaign, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) is now looking into the slaughter of so many. The government’s tally of people slain is at 4,000, which is already an alarming number.
Several other international organizations have expressed concerned at the rising body count, including the European Parliament, which released a strongly-worded resolution denouncing the human rights violations of the Duterte government in the “war on drugs” yesterday, April 19.
Jude Sabio, the Filipino lawyer who filed a complaint with the ICC, claims that Mr. Duterte’s record of killings is actually over three decades old, and started when he was the mayor of Davao in the 1980s.
With characteristic bravado, the President, who has been nicknamed “The Punisher” after a Clint Eastwood character, has come down hard on his critics, including Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes Sreno, whom he has vowed to remove from office. Mr. Duterte addressed Chief Justice Sereno publicly, saying, “I am putting you on notice that I am your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court. I will see to it. And after that, I will request Congress go to the impeachment right away.”
Mr. Duterte has also gone after members of the media who write less than flattering things about him. The operating license of Rappler, a popular news hub, is under threat of revocation. Rappler was started in 2012 by former CNN Jakarta and Manila Bureau Chief, Maria Ressa.
Despite these repressive moves and the growing toll of the war on drugs, the President remains highly popular among many Filipinos, and whether he will respond to the criticism leveled against him by making changes in his strong-armed ways remains to be seen.