CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The author of the first biography of Rodrigo Duterte says the maverick Philippine president was gravitating toward China partly because of a personal animosity toward the United States and its criticisms of his human rights record.
Jonathan Miller, Asia correspondent for Britain’s Channel 4 News, spent more than a year interviewing Duterte’s family, Cabinet members, supporters and critics to compile a biography largely in the words of Filipinos. It’s called “Duterte Harry,” a nickname Duterte earned during 22 years as the gun-toting mayor of southern Davao city. It’s also a play on the Clinton Eastward movie title “Dirty Harry.”
The British journalist said Duterte would like the Philippines to be part of new sphere that included China and Russia and abandon the old alliances including with the United States, the country’s former colonial power.
China’s greatest appeal to the 72-year-old Philippine leader for a realigned relationship was money, Miller said.
“The Chinese have actually promised a lot of investment and although Duterte in the past has not been known for his infrastructure work, there are few countries in Southeast Asia that are in more need of investment and infrastructure than the Philippines — they need rail and road transport desperately,” Miller told The Associated Press in Canberra during a book signing.
“He’s looking for a lot of Chinese money in that, but he’s also doing it to punish the U.S. and he’s got a personal chip on his shoulder over the United States, which has criticized him for his human rights abuses,” Miller said.
“He values China because they don’t criticize his human rights stuff,” he added.
Many Filipinos are unsettled by Duterte moving away from the United States and closer to China, which aggressively contests the Philippines’ territorial claims in the South China Sea.
“The move toward China alarms a lot of Filipinos who love America more than any other country in the world,” Miller said.
Duterte’s gripes with the United States include being refused a visa, apparently because of State Department alarm at death squads that operated in Davao when he was mayor, Miller said.
The International Criminal Court is conducting a preliminary probe into extrajudicial killings during Duterte’s signature war-on-drugs policy despite the president withdrawing his country from the court’s jurisdiction. A Filipino lawyer has complained that the anti-drugs campaign could amount to crimes against humanity.
Miller suspects the slayings of suspected drug users and pushers “represents the largest loss of life in Southeast Asia since Pol Pot,” the leader of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime that killed millions in Cambodia in the late 1970s.
More than 4,000 mostly urban poor suspects have been killed by police — a staggering death toll officials blame on the suspects fighting back. Human rights watchdogs have cited much higher numbers of fatalities, which the government disputes.
Duterte denies condoning summary killings and has lashed out at critics, including former President Barack Obama, Western governments and U.N. human rights officials who have raised alarm over the killings.
Miller’s book notes that Duterte has publicly derided Obama, Pope Francis and the author with a favored “son of a whore” insult, while declaring his approval for President Donald Trump.
In Canberra, Miller described Duterte as an admitted liar, thin-skinned, narcissistic, vengeful, angry and deeply misogynistic.
The book cites a 1998 psychologist’s report used by Duterte’s former wife in a marriage annulment court application that described Duterte as having a narcissistic personality disorder with aggressive features.
The diagnosis was drawn from the wife’s testimony. His daughter Sara Deturter-Carpio told the author that her father had been chivalrous in not contesting the report and allowing the marriage to end in a country does not recognize divorce.
Miller approached Duterte to be interviewed for the biography. Duterte referred Miller to staff to set an appointment, but staff never did.
Duterte’s top aide summoned the U.S. ambassador in February to discuss a global threat assessment by American intelligence agencies that mentioned the Philippine leader along with dangers facing democracy in Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand.
The U.S. report said “autocratic tendencies” are expected to deepen in some governments in Southeast Asia and mentioned that Duterte has suggested he could suspend the constitution, declare a “revolutionary government” and impose nationwide martial law.
Duterte’s foreign policy critics argue his administration has not done enough to defend his country’s sovereignty in the South China Sea and argue it has been far too soft on China.
The Russian navy has visited Manila three times since Duterte vowed to diversify the country’s ties away from the United States and toward China and Russia. Duterte supports Russian President Vladimir Putin.