President Rodrigo Duterte is no stranger to controversy, particularly because of his callous rants that begs one to question if he is serious about them or not.
Most of his supporters dismiss this brand of demagoguery as being no more than “heat-of-the-moment” quips that the media have simply “twisted”.
The problem with that justification is that most of Duterte’s remarks have been substantiated, which yielded brutal and bloody results.
Take for example his election campaign promise that if he were to be victorious, his presidency will be bloody. This promise was made in relation to tackling the drug problem in the Philippines.
At the time the statement was made, many Duterte apologists were quick to defend him for those statements stating that they were not serious threats.
However, as the world has seen in the less than six months that the president has taken office – it has indeed been bloody. In October, the death toll from the War on Drugs was pegged at 3,700.
To make matters worse, the President then went on to say that even the public were allowed to kill anyone they suspect is involved with illegal narcotics.
Many heeded to this call, according to Business Insider of the 2,000 people killed in the September death toll only 900 were from official police operations. This means the vast majority of the deaths were from non-law enforcement agencies.
This has also led to another problem – the rise of the “hitman” industry. The need to neutralize so many drug suspects have caused a demand for “guns-for-hire”, an industry that was confined to the black market until this presidency.
These cavalier remarks by President Duterte would be easily dismissed had they not been followed by action – the problem is that they have.
Which is why we need to pay attention to the Duterte’s most recent rants, where he said he will include human rights activists in his administration’s killing spree.
In a statement made to the media he said: “The human rights (defenders) say I kill. If I say: ‘Okay, I’ll stop’. They (drug users) will multiply. When harvest time comes, there will be more of them who will die. Then I will include you among them because you let them multiply.”
The president’s remarks came after he expressed his frustrations that these human rights activists were hindering his efforts to curb the drug problem.
It is true that Duterte’s campaign against drugs have earned the ire of many human rights groups, particularly from Amnesty International but also among supranational organizations such as the European Union.
However, such a threat to go after the human rights activists violently is unprecedented. It begs us to ask if whether this threat, too, will bear any actions – and judging by previous example it is not farfetched to think so.
If such a phenomenon does occur, where human rights activists are picked off in the same dastardly manner as drug addicts – the country’s democratic foundations will seriously be challenged and the advent of a full-blown authoritarian regime could be seen.
Naturally, the President’s apologists from his Communications department were quick to downplay his recent outbursts – claiming that they were only done “out of frustration”.
Yet, based on what we have witnessed in the less than six months of Duterte’s reign in power such angry remarks are never without a follow-up. Will we also see police operations targeting the activists? Will the vigilante killings include them?
Not only will that scenario be undemocratic, it will further incite condemnation from the international community – perhaps leading to sanctions given how human rights organizations are protected by internationalist bodies.
This is why we cannot afford to keep ignoring Duterte’s rhetorics. They are not only threatening our country’s democracy, not only killing potentially innocent people but are also seriously risking our country’s reputation throughout the world.