Local Filipino community weighs in on controversial president
Ever hear of Rodrigo Duterte? Probably not. Rarely making headline news in Canadian media, the Philippine’s new President, nicknamed “The Punisher” by for his hard stance on crime and drug users, is perhaps more controversial than Trump, and, depending on who you ask, is either the crime fighter that country needs or just a mass murderer.
Duterte was elected President of the Philippines in May of this year in a landslide victory based on promises to eradicate crime and drug use throughout the entire country as he did at his long-time post as Davao City’s mayor. During his 22 years as mayor, Duterte turned Davao from the murder capital of the Philippines to one of the safest places in the country, but not without numerous allegations by human rights organization of ties between Duterte and a vigilante group called the Davao Death Squad which was responsible for hundreds of extra judicial killings of suspected drug dealers and petty criminals. Over the weekend, Duterte threatened to leave the United Nations after human rights experts criticized the rise in extra judicial killings since his election.
But despite this, the overwhelming portion of Fillipinos seem to be in favour of Duterte, and that includes the hundreds of workers and ex-pats currently living in Drumheller, says vice-president of the local Filipino association, Bernard Fernando.
“Probably 95 per cent of the community is in favour of Rodrigo Duterte for his special ability to lead the country,” Fernando said. “He is not a punisher, he is a do-er of what he says. He’s serious about stopping crime and drug use and he’s willing to take all the chances and use every regulation or rule to make it happen.”
Fernando has relatives living in Davao who now say the city, a port city which was once a major centre for drug smuggling and crime, is one of the most desirable in the country.
“To be honest with you, the Filipinos worldwide and back home are expecting a big dramatic change for the country and we are all hoping the beauty of the country will be regained, along with the government’s dignity. He’s considered the only hope we have right now.”
Drumheller resident Oliver Felisilda, a political science and European studies degree holder from Ateneo de Manila University in Manila, the highest ranked private school in the Philippines, says Duterte should be understood not as a political agent but more as a phenomenon.
“I believe that he’s the culmination of decades worth of frustration by the Filipino people... So many promises have been given and not a lot trickle down has been felt. This served as the fuel for populist narratives that propelled his rise to the Presidency. With this in mind, the overwhelming support from overseas Filipino workers is symptomatic of this unheeded frustration. People leave the Philippines as a terminal effort to overcome poverty and had the circumstances been better for them at home, they would not have had to risk everything and leave their loved ones for greener pastures,” Felisilda said.
Duterte’s controversial comments are numerous. He’s been under fire for making rape jokes, openly advocated for death squads, threatened to dump the bodies of 100,000 criminals in Manila Bay – outlandish statements that achieve the improbable feat of making Trump look acceptable.
“Everything he says is controversial,” says Fernando, “whether it has to do with drugs or other politicians. Since he’s a person of what he wants to do, things become controversial.”
Felisilda said there are certainly similarities between Duterte and Trump, primarily his use of populist narratives.
“Their policy positions are also unclear, especially when it comes to foreign affairs,” he said. “There is also a striking resemblance to their affinity to violence as an exercise of political power. Furthermore, they use divisive discourse to weave their positions into the popular agenda; even if that means they have to take back their words on some of the policy issues they are confronted with. This makes them even more dangerous because there is no telling what they actually intend to do and how their friends in power are to benefit from them.”
“I am of the firm position that your love for country cannot be realized with an empty liberty that forces you to choose your freedoms over others’. I hope that the investigations currently being conducted shed light on the truth behind these issues. If the Duterte government is truly willing to pave the way to development, then it must be unafraid to confront the allegations and find a better way to pursue its objectives without the moral compromises it so readily concedes to.”
Rodrigo Duterte... President of Philippines