Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as alleged assassin
See Chris Lorano, “Philippine President Duterte Ordered Killings as Mayor, Senate Witness Says; In televised Senate hearings, man says he participated in a death squad under Duterte’s command, Wall Street Journal, September 15, 2016 (Updated 7:27 a.m. ET).
Till Fähnders (Singapur), “Philippinen: Der Präsident als Killer? Rodrigo Duterte soll vor seinem Amtsantritt einen Menschen erschossen und etliche Morde in Auftrag gegeben haben; Das behauptet ein Zeuge,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 16 September 2016.
Duterte’s public exhortations to kill drug criminals
See United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Geneva), “UN experts urge the Philippines to stop unlawful killings of people suspected of drug-related offences,” August 18, 2016. Excerpts
“We call on the Philippines authorities to adopt with immediate effect the necessary measures to protect all persons from targeted killings and extrajudicial executions,” said the new UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard.
“Claims to fight illicit drug trade do not absolve the Government from its international legal obligations and do not shield State actors or others from responsibility for illegal killings,” Ms. Callamard stressed. “The State has a legally binding obligation to ensure the right to life and security of every person in the country, whether suspected of criminal offences or not.”
During his election campaign and first days in office, Mr. Duterte repeatedly urged law enforcement agencies and the public to kill people suspected of trafficking drugs who don’t surrender, as well as people who use drugs. The President was also reported as promising impunity for such killings and bounties for those who turn in drug dealers ‘dead or alive’.
“Directives of this nature are irresponsible in the extreme and amount to incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law. It is effectively a license to kill,” the UN expert on summary executions warned. “Intentional lethal use of force is only allowed when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life and should not be used for common policing objectives,” she said.
Obama as “son of a whore”
See “Obama’s response to Philippine President Duterte calling him a ‘son of a whore: ‘He’s a colornful guy,’” The Trenchant Observer, September 6, 2016.
The strategic game: U.S. interests in the Philippines, and Duterte’s flirtation with China and Russia
Trefor Moss, “Philippine President’s Shift on U.S. Alliance Worries Military; His willingness to upend alliance with U.S. has dumbfounded even those in his inner circle,” Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2016 (4:44 p.m.).
Obama’s failure to speak out
Obama was obviously “rolled” by Duterte’s vulgar outburst calling him a “son of a whore”. He proceeded to meet with him at the regional summmit in Vientiane, Laos. He made an anodyne statement that was probably drafted by his “Assistant National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication”, Ben Rhodes, as follows:
Obama responded in his own speech later: “Clearly, he’s a colourful guy. I always want to make sure if I’m having a meeting that it’s productive and we’re getting something done.”
He added: “We recognize the significant burden that the drug trade plays not just in the Philippines but around the world, and fighting narco-trafficking is tough. But we will always assert the need to have due process and to engage in that fight against drugs in a way that’s consistent with basic international norms.”
–Mary Papenfuss, “White House cancels Philippines meeting hours after Duterte called Obama a ‘son of a b****’; Duterte’s a ‘colourful guy’ but ‘I want a productive meeting,’ said Obama of the decision to cancel, Businss Insider, September 6, 2016 (01:34 BST).
When one might have expected a clear statement by President Barack Obama about U.S. values and its opposition to Duterte’s calls for vigilante justice against drug criminals and his promises of impunity for police and other officials who killed such individuals, what we got instead was a kind of diplomatic formula that played down the real issues.
Now, Obama or his successor will have to sort out the conflicted military and diplomatic relationships that have followed (1) his announced intent to call Duterte out for the extrajudicial executions and his call for vigilante murders and guarantee to officials of impunity; (2) being grossly insulted in a manner which cost him enourmous “face” in the Philippines and Asia; and (3) then failing to respond even with clear words and a clear articulation of U.S. values and foreign policy principles, further compounding the loss of face.
“Playing nice” obviously did not work with Duterte, as it has not worked with other authoritarian leaders.
Obama should now make a clear statement on the issue of extrajudicial executions, vigilante justice, and impunity in the Philippine’s drug war. He should also speak clearly about strategic issues, taking care not to appear to be dealing from a position of weakness, which would undermine U.S. supporters among the military, the government, and the population of the Philippines.
When the president of a country leads the assault on the “rule of law”, and there is no strong response from other countries, civilization itself starts to crumble.
The Trenchant Observer