Speaking at a news conference in Qatar, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte compared himself to U.S. President Donald Trump as a leader criticized for bold speech, but he praised Trump as “a realist and a pragmatic thinker.”
“Trump is profound even if he does not seem to be one. Just like me, I am not that bright but I am very deliberate. I really think it over before I curse at you,” Duterte said.
“Have you seen his building? How can he be stupid?” he exclaimed, referring to Trump Tower in New York City.
Duterte went on to claim that Trump told him he was “doing it right” in his exceptionally vigorous campaign against the illegal drug trade, performing a passable impression of Donald Trump speaking those very words over the telephone.
Duterte’s opinion of Trump’s predecessor was much lower, but the new American president may have mixed feelings about these words of support, especially those concerning the Philippines drug war. On Tuesday, Reuters published a report from senior officers claiming that the Philippine police have “received cash payments for executing drug suspects, planted evidence at crime scenes and carried out most of the killings they have long blamed on vigilantes.”
“It is the Philippine National Police doing it. This killing machine must be buried six feet under the ground,” one of the whistleblowers declared.
Reuters quotes an estimate from human rights monitors that almost 9,000 people have been killed in the drug war since Duterte took office last year, only about a third of them shot by officers in self-defense. The rest were said to have been murdered by paid assassins or police acting as vigilantes. According to the report, a bounty of about $200 a head has been placed on “drug suspects, rapists, pickpockets, swindlers, gang members, alcoholics, and other ‘troublemakers.'”
These claims are still being evaluated by the Philippines Commission on Human Rights. Reuters notes there is little documentary evidence in the report for its most explosive allegations, and it segues into a political document criticizing Duterte for Communist ties, portraying Duterte’s “social cleansing” of drug addicts to Chairman Mao’s murderous purges in China.
This new report from security insiders is hardly the first criticism of Duterte’s drug crackdown. None of that criticism seems to have shaken Duterte’s support very much. On Tuesday, the Washington Post took stock of politics in the Philippines and found what the American paper clearly viewed as surprisingly strong support for Duterte, “from the well-heeled elite circles that the unapologetically populist president attacks so aggressively to poor neighborhoods experiencing violence firsthand.”
His backers give their president credit for tackling corruption, hold drug gangs responsible for most of the deaths in the drug war, fear the damage done by hard drugs to their society, and see Duterte as a great improvement on his predecessors.
The Post was especially taken aback by how much support Duterte enjoys from young people – especially Internet-savvy young Filipinos living abroad, who worry about their country deteriorating into a morass of crime and drug abuse while they’re away. That is one of the reasons Duterte was visiting Qatar when he praised President Trump: he was touching base with the expatriate Filipino community during a three-day state visit with the emir. He even made time to cover some pop songs from back home for the cheering crowd.