Mainstream media is having a field day as they seize on comments made by Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, that he personally slew bad guys back when he was Mayor of Davao City. They all rowed in – the usual suspects: the Guardian, BBC, CNN, New York Times, et al. Drooling over the juicy quotes – the “admissions” – that the president had gifted them, the seven-month-long trial by media is being claimed a victory.
But not so quick – nothing of what Duterte said should be taken in its literal sense. This wasn’t a confession; he wasn’t seeking absolution for a sin. He was making a point: that he stands alongside his law officers in firmly enforcing his war on illegal drugs. And he’s hammering home the fact that this war will continue till it’s won.
The Left media and their associates in the liberty groups will never be able to get their heads around any of this, but let’s try and help them anyway.
Refreshingly, Duterte has never promoted himself as “Mr Clean” – there’s been a long cast of those and all have disappointed. No, Duterte doesn’t come from the large hypocrisy wing of establishment politics, he comes from a place that reflects the realities of daily life in some of the worst pits of human existence which, frankly, are beyond his critics’ imagination – much less their experience.
The president grew up in one of the most violent metropolises on Earth; in the 1970s and 1980s Davao City was dubbed the ‘Murder Capital’ of the Philippines. Communist forces waged war on the city’s street in broad daylight with bodies left to litter the broken pavements like fallen piles of garbage. Life was not just cheap there; it had no value at all.
All that had a deep impact on the young Duterte. But he didn’t slink from it, or whine about the brutality, he got himself elected as mayor of that hopeless city and, starting in 1988, he set about removing the detritus and making those streets safe for law-abiding citizens. The reign of terror by the New People’s Army had more or less come to an end, but what it left behind was a wanton disregard for law and order.
Violent death had become a way of life in ‘The Crown Jewel of Mindanao’. The wholesale bloodletting of the past had left Davaoeños conditioned by fear. Thugs and brutal gangs took over ownership of the streets; they stole the little cash that people carried; they violated their daughters. Rape was often the preferred option to dating. And if things weren’t bad enough, the city was in the grip of illegal drugs – it had become a major marketplace for crystal meth, the biggest outside Manila. And the people had no one to turn to; no-one to protect them.
Until Duterte became their mayor.
So, don’t expect this president – arguably the most popular in the country’s history – to speak with all the nuances of a tutored diplomat; and don’t be surprised if there are a few scars from the things he’s had to witness and deal with as he lifted his city – and now attempts to lift his nation – out of its despair. Don’t be shocked or ‘scandalised’ if he uses Old Testament language – he’s dealing with a problem here of biblical proportions. And he’s reaching to a people of deep and profound faith.
Department of Justice Secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre, explains Duterte’s comments as “hyperbole”. The president, he said “always exaggerates just to put his message across”. He does and his people know that; expect it. But that message was not primarily meant for them. It was for the drug lords who still believe they have a business in the Philippines. It was a clear message and they will have understood it – ‘leave my country or I’ll kill you’.
For his people, the words were simple, unembellished and they understand them too. They weren’t meant for consumption on the cocktail circuits of Washington and London; that’s not his audience. His words were for the those who’ve been exiled from life; those so easily forgotten by previous administrations. He’s telling them he’ll make their land safe; where their children won’t be snatched and sold – a drug-free place where neighbour doesn’t need to steal from neighbour. A place where crimes are punished and the innocent protected. The dream they’ve held onto in their frightened brains for so long is what he’s showing them – for them he painted Paradise.
And let’s not ignore the gains he’s made – he’s decimated the supply of crystal meth causing the street price to rocket up by as much as 600% putting it largely out or reach. He’s building rehabs for surrendering addicts and providing courses to help them get back into society, and – yes – he’s arresting and imprisoning the parasites of this trade or, if they choose, allowing them to die in firefights with his lawmen.
For his supporters – and there are millions of them – Duterte isn’t simply the head of a state democratically voted into office, he’s a seraph with a flaming sword sent to establish a new Eden. They pray for him and to him every night – for his safety, for his intercession. And make no mistake; many would gladly die for him.
Meanwhile, the Progressive-Left is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and they’ve not been within a thousand miles of that war zone. Many “expert” commentators were young children, or not even born, when Davao was a province of Hell. What terms of reference are they using? Mystic in Connecticut? Dixville Notch in New Hampshire? Or somewhere else in the leafy, sleepy suburbs of America? Davao was a place where hopeless lives ended in ignominious death and Duterte transformed it into a clean and safe modern city.
And who exactly do they think Duterte should be? John F. Kennedy? Jimmy Carter? Albert Schweitzer? None of them had to contend with a plague of illegal drugs that was killing their people and turning their country into a mad house while extreme poverty ensured society’s unnecessary people remained in the same slimy pit where they were born and where they’d die.
The widely held Filipino belief that Duterte is Heaven-sent, of course, is way beyond the comprehension of the New York Times, the BBC and the Guardian. They have no time for such trivia as faith and belief in God. They’re ”enlightened” after all; they don’t subscribe to such “superstition”. They live in a God-free zone. And right there, is why they will never be able to make any sense of Duterte and his war. How could they hope to interpret something as complex and as alien to them as this?
They pigeonhole the Duterte phenomenon as ‘anti-establishment’ or some such while they brand him as anything from a ‘political maverick’ to a ‘raving psychopath’. But they’re attempting to assemble a jigsaw with only a few of the pieces. All they’ve got is a bit of the sky. They don’t know where the edges are and they can’t see the picture he represents.
All they can do is what they always do; dig out an old jigsaw they’ve already done – the one with the racks of skulls from Pol Pot’s Khmer killing fields, or the just-living skeletons of a Nazi death camp. That’s the sort of distorted imagery they bring to their ‘scholarship’.
If they have evidence that Mayor Duterte committed murder, let them bring it. They should know, however, that after years of investigation by Senator Leila De Lima, who used all the assets at her disposal when she was Justice Secretary, not a single shred of actual proof was found. And under the rule of law which De Lima and her Left friends constantly claim to righteously uphold, such proof is mandatory.
Duterte cleaned up Davao City and made it the safest city in the Philippines – possibly in the whole of Southeast Asia; that’s its claim anyway. He was mayor of Davao for 10 years, 1988-98; vice-mayor for three years, 2010-13, and re-elected mayor for a further three years, 2013-16 before being persuaded to run for president.
Does he lack the tolerance the liberals have for those who molest children and subject them to unspeakable acts to slake their perverted appetites? He does. Does he show little sympathy for those who ply cheap drugs to the poor and make them customers for life, short though many of those lives might be? He does. Does he put the human rights of the victims of crime above those who commit those crimes? He does. On all counts, he’s guilty as charged. And this is why he’s the president of the Philippines and probably the last real hope for his people right now.
He didn’t start this fire but he’s determined to let it rage until his country’s been cauterized. And that will be with or without the Progressive-Left’s consent.