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President Trump’s Troubling ‘Bromance’ with Philippines’ Drug War Strongman

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
Photo by YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images

The Philippines’ inimitable President Rodrigo Duterte is being his usual charming self.

The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamardarrived in the country on May 5 to attend a conference on drug policy and human rights at the University of the Philippines. Callamard is of course a harsh critic of Duterte’s campaign of police and paramilitary terror against low-level drug dealers and users.

Duterte wasted not a moment in voicing defiance, warning drug users: “And here’s the shocker: I will kill you. I will really kill you. And that’s why the rapporteur of the UN is here, investigating extrajudicial killing.”

Speaking at the unlikely venue of a convention of orthopedic surgeons in Davao City, where he was accused of running death squads when he served as mayor there, he added: “[O]nce you get involved in drugs, I will kill you. I will ambush you, poison you, bomb you, whatever. Steal your wife from you.”

This latest outburst comes just days after President Trump announced that he has invited Duterte to the White House. An official statement described the phone call: “President Trump enjoyed the conversation and said that he is looking forward to visiting the Philippines in November… to discuss the importance of the United States-Philippines alliance.”

This must be welcome news to Duterte, who was on the outs with Obama over the mounting toll of his anti-drug crackdown—now said to number some 7,000 dead since he took office last June. The unrepentant Duterte has proudly compared himself to Hitler, saying he’d do his country’s drug users what the Nazi dictator did to Germany’s Jews. He is now facing a possible trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

This was Trump’s second convo with blood-drenched Duterte.

After their first one back in December, Duterte boasted that Trump “was quite sensitive… to our worry about drugs,” and “was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem.” Al Jazeera warns of a worrying “bromance” between Trump and the Philippine authoritarian. 

Duterte’s latest proposal to perfect his police state, by the way, is lowering the minimum age of criminal liability  from the current 15 to 12—so pre-pubescent kids could be sent to prison.

Trump has of course made a habit of praising despots and strongmen, and Duterte is but one example in recent weeks.

After meeting at the White House last month with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is rapidly consolidating a dictatorship, Trump assured him that he was doing “a fantastic job.” Days later, he called to congratulate Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his victory in a much-disputed referendum expanding his powers—yet another aspiring dictator well on his way to instating authoritarian rule, with the White House’s blessing. Even as he threatens war with North Korea, Trump lauded the country’s absolute tyrant Kim Jong-un as a “smart cookie.”

In another troubling sign, Trump has renamed the National Security Council post previously known as the “special assistant to the president for multilateral affairs and human rights” as simply “special assistant for international organizations and alliances.” Note that the words “human rights” have been excised.

And while under Obama, the post was filled by figures such as internationally recognized human rights expert Samantha PowerMother Jones  notes the guy named to the post by Trump—Garry Hall—is yet another military man with no background in human rights policy whatsoever.

In short, space is closing for freedom and democracy all over the world at this moment, in the guise of crackdowns on terrorism, drugs and criminality. And it looks more and more like the man in the White House is leading the way.

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