Last month Donald Trump took the initiative to call Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. The reporting at the time was that it was a friendly conversation that ended with the US President extending an invitation for an Oval Office meeting.
But now the Americas division of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has released a transcript of the call, which has been confirmed as accurate by the White House. It reveals a truly terrifying view from Trump. Here is how the president opened the conversation.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” he said. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
Mr. Duterte responded that drugs were “the scourge of my nation now, and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.” Mr. Trump responded that “we had a previous president who did not understand that,” an apparent reference to President Barack Obama, “but I understand that.”
You might remember that when Obama criticized Duterte for his murderous approach, the Philippine President called him the “son of a whore” and an “idiot” who “can go to hell.” Obviously Trump was totally copacetic with that.
Reporters at the Intercept have provided some background on what the president was congratulating Duterte for doing.
Since Duterte took office in June, Philippine national police and vigilante death squads have embarked on a campaign to slaughter drug users as well as drug dealers. “Hitler massacred three million Jews [sic], now, there’s three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them,” he said in September. Last month, he told a group of jobless Filipinos that they should “kill all the drug addicts.” Police have killed over 7,000 people, devastated poor areas of Manila and other cities, and used the drug war as a pretext to murder government officials and community leaders…
Duterte’s police killings are widely recognized by the international community as an ongoing atrocity. The “war on drugs” has drawn condemnation from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, and last month a Philippine lawyer filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Duterte of mass murder and crimes against humanity. The State Department’s annual human rights report acknowledges thousands of “extrajudicial killings” with impunity and calls them the country’s “chief human rights concern.”
It is truly breathtaking to consider the fact that the current President of the United States would congratulate a foreign leader for that. Of course, we’ve heard him praise authoritarian dictators before, but those have mostly been general comments rather than affirmations of their specific behavior. Perhaps no strongman on the planet right now is as murderous as Duterte, who—as we see above—has proudly compared himself to Hitler. That is the kind of leader our current president admires.
That is especially alarming given that Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is reigniting the war on drugs in this country at the same time that they are basically ending oversight for police brutality and abuse. I keep wanting to tell myself that this administration couldn’t replicate Duterte’s approach here. But Trump is certainly signaling where he would go if given the opportunity, and we can count on the Justice Department to look the other way if local jurisdictions cross the line.
Beyond all that, back when Duterte was mouthing off about Obama, he did so in Beijing, where he added this:
America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow. And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.
Duterte followed through on that idea and has been in Moscow this week. I suspect that he now thinks that there are four of them “against the world,” with Trump added to his list. And we can imagine the smile that brings to Putin’s face.
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