MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/17 December) — What we say could bring us trouble. And, if we’re in charge of governing, get ready for whatever implications it may cause.
President Rodrigo Duterte has done exactly that not once nor twice but several times already. In many instances, his pronouncements related to the prosecution of the war on drugs have painted the country — rightly or wrongly — as one being run by someone who lusts for the blood of suspected criminals that restoring the death penalty would be superfluous. His supporters applause his antics. But the UN and other targets of his belligerence would have none of his verbal stunts.
How do Western governments in general view his unconventional way of behaving on the international stage? Are they seeing a different animal with his frequent bashing of the US, the European Union and the UN? No Philippine leader has had shown such recalcitrance toward the US and institutions that have poured in significant amounts either as aid or development package.
Duterte has made it clear he couldn’t care less even if foreign governments and institutions stopped the flow of assistance over concerns on human rights abuses and shortcuts committed by law enforcers in the campaign against illegal drugs and other crimes. Of late, he again created an uproar when he declared that as mayor of Davao City he would go around on a motorbike to hunt criminals and shoot them himself.
As expected, [Duterte’s] audience took this narrative from his motorcycle diary with a chuckle, although some or many of them may have wished that what he said was true. However, never expect the international community to interpret the president’s word the way his officials would have us decipher it. Media in particular cannot just be told to be “imaginative” in reporting the president and treat any controversial statement from him as mere hyperbole. Anything he says amounts to policy, and this is what the Palace has chosen to gloss over sine Day One.
The White House, for its part, found Duterte’s latest comments “deeply troubling,” and noted that his war on drugs has claimed the lives of almost 6,000 people.
For the Millennium Challenge Corp., a US poverty reduction agency, Duterte’s statement was no laughing matter. In fact, it emphasized its concern by declaring it was putting on hold funding for another round of antipoverty program for the Philippines under the Trump administration. The MCC announced on its website that it was reconsidering the reselection of the Philippines “subject to further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties.”
Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia sounded unfazed by the MCC decision, saying the aid coming from it was insignificant and can be offset by the amount of incoming foreign investments.. For its first 5-year compact with the Philippines which ended in May, the MCC gave a grant of $434 million.
However, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. appealed to the MCC to reconsider its decision. The latter added that the US should give the aid without conditions not on the basis of “alleged human rights violations”.
Yasay’s appeal stemmed from the fact that the MCC decision would impact too on the prospects of other foreign aid programs intended for the Philippines. Now that the MCC has accepted Duterte’s dare to the international community to stop giving aid if it finds fault with his government’s human rights performance, other institutions might do the same thing in the days to come.
Yet the secretary forgot that this administration has eaten up more than it could chew so to speak. Despite mounting criticisms here and abroad over the bloody prosecution of the war on drugs Duterte has chosen to play hardball with statements that bolsters the “alleged human rights violations” — and with more blood in the streets. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. The author welcomes comments and feedback from readers with verifiable identities, and reserves the right to have them published in all their unedited glory. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)