Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has set the bar very high for shocking statements. He’s a man who has regularly openly called for the murder of drug users, who recently flipped the European Union the bird, and who, during his successful presidential campaign in April, made a horrific gang-rape “joke” that earned him worldwide condemnation.
Earlier today, he managed to one-up himself. In a televised address, he favorably cited Hitler’s genocide and expressed enthusiasm about the prospect of attempting to replicate it: “Hitler massacred three million Jews,” he said (it was 6 million, of course). “Now there is three million, there’s three million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them. At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have [me].” He went on to say that this hypothetical murderous crusade would “finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition.”
Such violent language is by no means out of character for Duterte. He built his national profile as the bombastically tough-on-crime mayor of Davao City, which Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth described as “The death squad capital of the Philippines” in 2009, with criminals and drug users — alleged and actual — regularly targeted for grisly executions. Duterte long claimed ignorance of the death squads, but Roth and other advocates and investigators were extremely skeptical:
A recent Human Rights Watch investigation made a mockery of his denials. Nine insiders described the machinery of death. Current and former Davao police officers and local officials select the targets and equip local thugs with handguns or knives. Riding a motorcycle without license plates, the death squad members approach their victim in broad daylight, often in busy markets, and with no attempt to hide their identities, kill him in cold blood. The killers then nonchalantly drive off, confident that the police, who had been warned of the murder and thus conveniently absented themselves, will take their time to return, and will then perform at best a perfunctory investigation. Witnesses are too terrified to identify the death squad members for fear of becoming their next victim.
Since then, plenty of new evidence has come out tying Duterte to such killings. Earlier this month, for example, a former hit man claimed, in televised Senate hearings about extrajudicial killings in Davao City, that Duterte ordered some of those killings personally. One victim was fed to crocodiles.
In light of all this, it’s understandable why human-rights activists were so horrified by the prospect of a Duterte presidency. Now their fears are being realized, not just in the form of verbal incitement, but with bodies in the street as well: The Times reports that “Since Mr. Duterte took office in June promising a grisly campaign against crime and drugs, the Philippines has seen a surge in killings of drug suspects.” About 3,000 people have been killed since then, a third by the police, and the rest by, well, who knows?