How easy it is to dwell on the perceived ills of others and deflect attention from problems closer to home. We see it repeatedly in the shabby world of politics; it’s virtually a trade mark of the craft. But there’s surely a limit to the hoodwinking, the obfuscation, the misinformation and the outright hypocrisy. And so when the so-called leader of the free world (a phrase which for us is wrong on every level) continues to lambast a sovereign nation for what he believes are its shortcomings while ignoring what’s going on in his own backyard, it’s really time to say, “Enough!” Let’s illustrate what we mean.
There were 796 homicides in Chicago, Illinois last year, while 4,379 people were shot in the Windy City in 2016 – that’s one every two hours; someone was murdered every 11 hours. That marks a 46.1% year-on-year increase for 2014-2016. And these stats are for a city population of 2,720,546. Meanwhile, the financial cost of all this violence – ER and hospital expenses; Chicago Fire Department ambulances to ferry away victims; autopsies and police overtime – was more than US$240 million. One city – and with a fifth of the population of Metro Manila in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, heroin-overdose deaths in Chicago and its bordering counties have reached epidemic proportions – 2,113 deep-sixed from ‘smack’ between 2013 and 2015; 1,425 of these within the city limits. And these figures are generally regarded to be well under-reported. Now the addicts are spiking their smack with fentanyl, an extremely powerful opiate – 100 times stronger than morphine – which is causing even greater concerns for the city’s health authority. Chicago also has the dubious honour of chalking up more treatment admissions and hospital emergency-room visits for drug-related problems than any other metropolitan area in the country – it has roughly twice the national average.
Ironically, Chicago is the political home base of one of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s most-aggressive critics – US President, Barack Obama. He was a community organiser in the city, worked as a civil-rights lawyer and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. He was a member of the Illinois Senate from 1999 to 2004 and was elected to the US Senate as the representative for Illinois in 2008. So his ties to the most violent city in America are deep.
No question he cares for the place – he and First Lady, Michelle, first met there while working for the same Chicago law firm; they were married at Trinity United Church in the city’s Washington Heights district in 1992; their daughters, Malia Ann and Natasha, were born at the University of Chicago Medical Center; in baseball he supports the Chicago White Sox; in American football his team is the Chicago Bulls. And he’s chosen Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side, as the site for his presidential library.
And yet, the ripped under-fabric of this city with its ganglands, its soaring crime rates, its drug addiction and its violence rarely gets a mention from its illustrious son. Instead, he’s more concerned with similar issues in a country more than 8,000 miles away. Apparently, Chicago isn’t the problem as far as the United States of America is concerned; the Philippine cities of Manila and Davao are. It doesn’t seem to concern Obama what’s going on in the inner-city districts of Chicago, the place that springboarded him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. To him, what’s happening in the barangays of the Philippines requires far more inspection; far more critical judgement. And so he goes to great lengths to avert media attention from the former and direct it to the latter.
But the Philippines – let’s state this for the record one more time – is not represented by a star on the American flag. It is not the 51st state of the USA. It may still be in the minds of some in the White House, the Pentagon, the US State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the rest of the US intelligence community (another phrase we have a problem with), but in the real world it’s a fully independent republic. In the Philippines as everywhere else on God’s Green Earth, the American obsession with delivering its one-size-fits-all solution simply hasn’t worked.
Yes, the Philippines has many problems; there’s a lot wrong – it’s often violent, there’s corruption at every level, there’s abject poverty in parts, and on and on – but these are the things (the long untreated ills) which Duterte is addressing. After years of neglect, he’s stepped up to tackle all of them – that’s why he was so enthusiastically elected. And the fact that he’s dealing with them is why the latest Pulse Asia poll gives him an 83% trust and approval rating.
But go to Chicago’s East Garfield Park, West Englewood, Riverdale, Chicago Lawn – the crime indexes in these places are only outweighed by the poverty levels; the unemployment. Street crime is ubiquitous in these neighbourhoods. Drugs, of course, are everywhere; as are guns. Doesn’t all of that warrant more immediate focus than what’s going on at the other side of the compass? We could understand if these places offered some example to the Philippines; some benchmark to aspire to. But they don’t; they represent precisely the moth-eaten social fabric which Duterte is trying to replace in his land.
Still, Obama and his global fawns in the human-rights business pay little heed to any of that. Their job, collectively, is to train the glare on countries and leaders who don’t conform to the will of Washington. And that certainly includes the Philippines under Duterte. And we know that’s true because while Obama was having his love affair with the former Philippine president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, there was no criticism coming down the pipe to the ear of Manila. The reverse, actually, he was full of praise for the country.
The human-rights groups were similarly silent during the Aquino years. Rape, murder, street-crime and rampant crystal-meth-addiction figures were rocketing but they didn’t bat an eyelid. What mattered first and foremost to them – in fact, seemingly the only thing that mattered – was that Manila was fully on board with Washington foreign policy; that it could be relied upon, for example, to provide a loud proxy voice to challenge US world-power rival, China. And as long as it was dutiful – and it was from May 2010 to May 2016 – everything else could be scrubbed around.
Loida Nicolas-Lewis, the Philippine-born millionaire socialite and would-be author of Duterte’s downfall, provides another graphic illustration of the double standard. She’s an Americophile; but has she ever been to Crotona or Morrisania in the Bronx – a short commute by subway from her palatial home on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan – and seen how people live there? Some 44% of the residents of those two New York neighbourhoods live below the national poverty line; one third of 16 year olds and older are unemployed.
Has she once expressed criticism that the leading city of the world superpower could allow such places to exist? Does she empathise with the beggars there in the same way that she claims to feel the pain of the Filipino poor? The hollow faces of alcoholics making their cocktails of canned heat from paraffin wax and cheap cologne; the disheveled homeless ranks of street-sleepers and mentally impaired derelicts, the young prostitutes, doped-up to the eyes? Why no word of their plight – in relative terms they’re practically on her doorstep.
Or is her particular brand of humanity exclusively reserved for a Filipino cause – one that will deliver power back home, which plainly expressions of concern for New York’s ignored masses cannot.
The stunning arrogance of Obama and Nicolas-Lewis (pictured together above) is off any normal scale. Imagine how the American mainstream media would react if a Philippine head of state started attacking their president over his neglect of Chicago. Do you think for a nano-moment they’d rally round him and take the White House to task? Would Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – Obama’s puppet missionaries – suddenly start to question their lord and master? You don’t need us to answer those questions for you; you already know.
Duterte will continue to plough his own furrow for a better Philippines – one with an economy that will shine bright for all Filipinos, not just the law-school graduates, the high-born, the connected. And he’ll do it without the traditional by-your-leave, hitherto expected by American administrations. He’ll ignore the bleatings of Loida Nicolas-Lewis and her distasteful brand of subversive politics also. He has a mission – to Make the Philippines Great At Last – and they can play no part in that enterprise.