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The Real Story Behind Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

Image credit: President-elect Rodrigo Duterte. Lean Daval Jr., Reuters
The Real Story Behind Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
Christina Comben

Eyes all around the globe finally turned to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday – but not for the right reasons. In what is yet another classic example of the power of the media to skew reality out of context — the headlines were about Duterte’s colorful language, rather than his iron handed politics, clamp down on drug cartels or 91% national trust rating.

Foul Language

The outrageous insults supposedly directed at US President, Barak Obama, calling him the “son of a whore” perhaps unsurprisingly went down like a lead balloon. Leading US aides to immediately cancel (and later reprogram) Obama’s upcoming discussions with Duterte on international human rights concerns in the Philippines.

Foul-mouthed Philippine leader, Duterte, has a history of speaking his mind and cursing at people and in places he shouldn’t. Including labeling Pope Francis’ mother a “whore”.

What could have been a powerful platform at the G20 summit to cement ties with neighboring countries and superpowers China and the US, instead saw Duterte forced to utter a global apology. A rather unnecessary and uncomfortable speech that could have been avoided, from a leader who aims to instil fear in the hearts of his opponents and strength in the eyes of an adoring Philippine public.

Out of Context

The fact that Duterte is a foul-mouthed leader does not detract from his undeniable ability to keep his word and clean up the Philippines of crime. And in fact, had US aides taken the time to investigate the entirety of the interview with Duterte and the alleged remarks, they would have uncovered the real context.Native Tagalog interpreters later revealed that Duterte’s words were in fact not directed at US leader, but at the reporter for pummelling him with questions.

A Lost Opportunity

On May 9, 2016 President Duterte won a resounding victory with more than 16 million votes.  Clearly speaking to the hearts and minds of a frustrated Philippinepublic, he promised change and a clampdown that would allow the Philippines to move forwardand enable the police to properly police the nation.

Promising to eliminate corruption and crime, he repeatedly warned drug leaders and corrupt politicians to “surrender or it will be bloody.”

True to his words, Duterte has come into the spotlight lately for extra judicial killings and political arrests. Including the killing of 1,700 criminals during arrest (a number that grows steadily by the day). A statistic that has not gone unnoticed by the international community, calling into question human rights violations.

However, the other side of the story that has been underrepresented is that of the families and everyday Philippine people who have benefited from Duterte’s clampdown.

Elna June of the Huffington Press reports that aside from the war on drugs and corruption, in a few short months, the Philippine people have been privy to some landmarkachievements. For the first time ever the country now has access to a national 911 number and an 8888 number has been establishedfor complaints and feedbackon government offices.

What is perhaps even more surprising is that, despite the“mass killings” and international headlines, Duterte is boasting a 91% trust rating nationally, compared with around 50% confidence in Obama in the US.

The Language Barrier

The saddest thing about this unfortunate incident is the fact that, once again, languages (or rather a misunderstanding of languages) prevented two main things from happening:

  1. The Philippines taking advantage of the G20 summit and the new president’s first international visit to cement regional ties and discuss pressing issues with China
  2. The human rights issues in the Philippines from being properly discussed, openly viewed and potentially investigated by an international committee

A headline that should have gripped the world for other reasons has forced them to be swept under the radar. And Duterte, who many have dubbed the “Trump of the East” has been left with his tail between his legs and an embarrassing international incident on his hands -something that the colorful leader doesn’t really mind.

Comment Below
  • twnklm

    While I appreciate the author’s attempt to write a balanced article, there are some glaring mistakes:
    – first of all there are no political arrests. In fact, the government has released some political prisoners to pursue peace and end the communist insurgency.
    -the number of criminals who died due to resisting of arrests is not 1,700 but around 700. Other deaths are due to unidentified killings which have already been happening for many years even before Duterte took office.
    -it was not at the G20 summit that he was supposed to meet Obama but at an ASEAN summit.

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