Donald Trump’s seat-of-the-pants pre-inaugural telephone diplomacy is causing shock waves in diplomatic circles and world capitals around the globe. But the president-elect outdid himself with a Friday call to Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte. The Filipino strongman took office earlier this year with a promise to unleash mass murder on Philippine drug users and dealers, and he has lived up to that vow, leaving the streets running with the blood of more than 5,000 killed so far, either directly by his police, or in a more shadowy fashion by “vigilantes.”
Duterte’s bloody campaign has drawn scathing criticism from human rights groups, the United Nations, and the Obama administration, with Duterte responding to the latter by calling Obama a “son of a whore.”
But in his phone call with the Filipino strongman, Donald Trump was singing a different tune. Duterte said Saturday that Trump had endorsed his bloody antidrug campaign, telling him the Philippines was doing it “the right way” and that Trump was “quite sensitive” to “our worry about drugs.”
In a Philippines government summary of the call between Trump and Duterte, the Filipino president said the pair had spoken only briefly, but touched on many topics, including the antidrug campaign.
“He wishes me well, too, in my campaign, and he said that, well, we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” Duterte said.
“I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump, and he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem,” Duterte said. “He understood the way we are handling it, and I said that there’s nothing wrong in protecting a country. It was a bit very encouraging in the sense that I supposed that what he really wanted to say was that we would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country.”
“I appreciate the response that I got from President-elect Trump, and I would like to wish him success,” Duterte said. “He will be a good president for the United States of America.”
Duterte, who rose to national political prominence as the death squad-supporting mayor of Davao City, is among the most brutal of the crop of right-populist political leaders and movements that have emerged around the globe this year, but concern about human rights or the lives of drug users don’t appear to be on Trump’s radar. Trump has more pressing concerns in the Philippines, like the Trump-branded residential tower going up in metropolitan Manila. Duterte has just named the Filipino businessman who is Trump’s partner in the project, Jose E. B. Antonio, a special envoy to the U.S.
The Trump team has yet to comment on the call or Duterte’s characterization of it.
As Buzzfeed News reported, despite U.S. statements of concern from the Obama administration about the mass drug war killings, the State Department continues to send millions of dollars in aid to the Philippines National Police. The Obama administration requested $9 million in aid for antidrug and law enforcement programs for this year. The State Department says the funds are no longer being used for antidrug training, but funds continue to go to the police.
The State Department also said police units found to be involved in extrajudicial killings would not get U.S. assistance, but Buzzfeed News found that “officers at police stations receiving support from the U.S. have played a central role in Duterte’s bloody campaign. By comparing Philippine police data with internal State Department records, it is clear that many of the stations — especially those in the capital city of Manila — are collectively responsible for hundreds of deaths.”
The continued State Department funding of police linked to the drug war killings subverts the Obama administrations rhetoric of concern about Duterte’s bloody crusade, but if Trump’s first chat with Duterte is any indication, even rhetorical concern about human rights in the Filipino drug war is about to go out the window.