On September 29, 2016, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte compared himself to Adolf Hitler when discussing his administration’s crackdown on drug dealers and drug abusers. During a speech he said, “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews … there’s 3 million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” His remarks were immediately condemned by many world leaders and Jewish groups worldwide. He later apologized to the Jewish community for comparing himself to the reviled historical figure.
While the international community has taken the right first step in condemning Duterte’s comments, nobody has put forward a plan to stop his administration’s killing of suspected drug dealers and abusers. With the exception of the deputy director of Human Rights Watch for Asia, no public figure has even suggested that action be taken against Duterte. As such, the cries of disapproval by world leaders and prominent public figures can be seen as no more than finger wagging. If world leaders do not actually take action against Duterte, he will simply continue to kill.
International inaction in stopping Duterte proves especially concerning given that he has made significant headway in reaching his “goal” of killing three million drug addicts. Since he assumed office, over three thousand suspected drug dealers and addicts have been murdered in extrajudicial killings. It is estimated that over one thousand of these killings have been at the hands of the Filipino police, while the rest have been attributed to vigilante killings.
Duterte’s actions as President should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his political career. When running for President, Duterte campaigned on a platform of getting tough on crime. Part of this platform included his statements that he would lower crime by killing criminals. Duterte has claimed that his rhetoric is simply designed to scare criminals into ceasing their criminal activity. The actions of Filipino police since he entered office, however, suggest that Duterte’s words were not simply brash rhetoric. Instead, they appear to have been statements of intent that he has since made good on.
Duterte has a history of promoting extrajudicial killings that extends before his time as President. Before assuming the office of President, Duterte was mayor of the city Davao, where he was known as the “Death Squad Mayor.” In a recent hearing before the Filipino Senate, a former militiaman claimed that Duterte ordered the killings of over one thousand suspected criminals and political opponents as mayor. Duterte’s track record suggests that he is not full of bluster but is instead fully committed to the large scale murder of suspected criminals. The inclusion of political opponents on his hit list as mayor suggests that he would use a war on crime as a guise to dispose of those who oppose him and consolidate power.
Even though Duterte has apologized to the Jewish community for his Hitler comparison, he has not walked back his other comments lashing out at his critics. In fact, he said that the apology was only for the Jewish community and doubled down on his previous attacks on Western leaders and human rights advocates who have criticized his actions. In his continued attacks on his critics, Duterte shows that he sees nothing wrong with his actions and views himself as unjustly under assault by his critics. Meanwhile, he has asked for a six-month extension of his drug crackdown, displaying his intent to continue with his policy.
The international community has witnessed the consequences of failing to act during humanitarian disasters in the past. The genocides in Rwanda and Darfur serve as examples of times during which the international community watched as innocents were killed. Several world leaders have expressed their regret at failing to act during these atrocities. If today’s world leaders fail to act against Duterte, they will likely be expressing their regret in the future.