The Philippines' new ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte just took things to a new level. He had previously compared himself to genocidal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in pledging to unleash a reign of terror on drug users and dealers. But on Sept. 30, he actually invoked Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust as a favorable model for what he intends to do in his own country. "Hitler massacred three million Jews," Duterte told reporters. "Now, there are three million drug addicts. I'd be happy to slaughter them." He said thusly purging the Philippines would "save the next generation from perdition." (Reuters, Oct. 1; PhilStar, Sept. 30)
This came amid Duterte's ongoing tirades against critics of his ghastly human rights record. "I read the condemnation of the European Union against me," he said Sept. 22. "I will tell them, 'fuck you'." In his usual play to populism, he recalled European countries' imperial legacies, addding: "And then the European Union now has the gall to condemn me. I repeat it, fuck you." (Daily News, Sept. 22)
Duterte's supporters try to portray this as just a rough and outrageous style. Human rights groups beg to differ. By Amnesty International's estimate, there have been some 3,000 extrajudicial executions in the Philippines since Duterte took office in June—both at the hands of official security forces and unaccountable paramilitary death-squads. As is inevitable in such situations, the victims are overwhelmingly low-level street dealers and users from the Philippines' lowest classes. Duterte's drug war constitutes oppression of the poor and dispossessed—no less than that in the USA, the country that he loves to diss for cheap applause.
What's maddening is the free ride Duterte is getting from the political left in the Philippines, which has rallied around him as a political outsider in a country long ruled by an aristocratic oligarchy. The left-wing alliance BAYAN, which fights for the rights and dignity of the workers and peasants, finally reacted to the Hitler statement, issuing a statement of their own: "We do not subscribe to the President's referencing of Hitler in relation to the war on drugs and the killings of so-called drug addicts. Killings by state forces of unarmed civilians, even if they are suspected criminals, goes against the principle of due process. It is also important that the President realize that the drug menace will not be solved simply by killing the 3 million addicts… The drug problem is not a mere police problem. The socio-economic roots of the proliferation of illegal drugs should be addressed… The police force, itself tainted with corruption and links to drug syndicates, cannot be given carte blanche in dealing with the scourge of illegal drugs."
That's a pretty good statement, as far as it goes. But it doesn't go nearly far enough. BAYAN follows up by saying: "We still believe though that despite his tactless reference to the German dictator, the President is no Hitler and is capable of advancing meaningful pro-people reforms…" Alarmingly, the statement makes no mention of the many hundreds of extra-judicial executions just since June.
If Amnesty's figures are to be believed, Duterte's kill count already rivals that of such notorious right-wing dictators as Chile's Augusto Pinochet. This is a strange man to have friends on the left. There will have to be a reckoning among progressive forces in the Philippines.