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Anti-Drug Death-Squad Boss Elected President of Philippines?

Bill Weinberg

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Presidential election results in the Philippines came in May 10, and the bombastic anti-crime hard-liner Rodrigo Duterte appears to be the winner. The victory isn't official yet, but ruling-party candidate Mar Roxas has already conceded defeat. Duterte is the mayor of Davao City in the conflicted southern island of Mindanao—which has been hit by a wave of death-squad terror in recent years. The paramilitary groups are ostensibly a response to crime and narco networks on the island, but ecology activists and peasant leaders have also been targeted. Duterte has been named as a mastermind of the paramilitaries, and certainly makes no bones about his intolerant position on drug use. "All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you," he Duterte told a huge cheering crowd in his final campaign rally in Manila. "I have no patience, I have no middle ground, either you kill me or I will kill you idiots."

The president-elect has won some telling nick-names, including "Duterte Harry" (a reference to the Clint Eastwood character Dirty Harry), "The Punisher," and the "Trump of the Philippines"—this last one a reference to his penchant for sick misogynist "humor."

But his rape jokes are cast in a much more sinister light given his apparent links to actual human rights atrocities. Duterte has equivocated on whether he actually does command the paramilitaries. But in an interview with a local TV station last year, he openly admitted his link to the notorious Davao Death Squad (DDS). "They say I am the death squad? True, that is true," Duterte said. The DDS is allegedly responsible for the killing of more than 1,000 suspected criminals in the city since Duterte became mayor in 1988.

Unlike Trump, however, Duterte's roots (at least) are on the political left, and he's posed himself as a champion of the poor and common people against the traditional political elite of the Philippines. But his growing emphasis on a hardline anti-crime stance seems to be blurring the lines between left and right. In any case, international human rights groups should be watching very closely for an expansion of paramilitary activity in the Philippines.

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