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Face to face with Duterte

  • Such hardline stance earns him the respect of many in a country devastated by severe drug problems, which got out of hand under previous administrations thanks to weak leaders and ineffective law enforcement.

By TAY TIAN YAN
Sin Chew Daily

I was at an Asean forum in Manila two weeks ago when I finally had the opportunity to meet up with President Rodrigo Duterte.

The meeting was brief, but he did give me an impression that he is an unusual kind of leader.

Being "unusual" doesn't mean he is extraordinarily good, or bad, but that he is lone ranger in action, unlike the usual politicians we have.

Those who love him appreciate his candidness and machoness. But for those who hate him, he is outright unrefined and barbaric.

Such attributes have been expressly manifested in his dealings with drug traffickers.

Almost five thousand people have been killed by the police, anti-narcotics squads and mysterious executioners during the past one year of his presidency, while unconfirmed figures put the total to more than double!

Duterte has unashamedly admitted of have personally executed some of the drug addicts, and a friend divulged that he threw the criminals from a helicopter mid-air.

Such hardline stance earns him the respect of many in a country devastated by severe drug problems, which got out of hand under previous administrations thanks to weak leaders and ineffective law enforcement.

However, such mass killings have also brought out two questions: whether all the suspects are punishable by death in the absence of fair trials, and whether some of the tens of thousands killed could be innocent.

Civil organizations, the Church and international human rights bodies have hit out at Duterte, whom the opposition has described as blood-thirsty tyrant.

The outcry picked up steam last month following the killing of a 17-year-old suspect, forcing the president to halt the police's involvement in instant execution of drug suspects, now reserved for the anti-narcotics agency.

Despite the seemingly endless controversies, Duterte continues to bask in the support of majority of Filipinos. A Filipino friend told me Duterte's approval rate once breached the 75% mark, and even in his lows hovered above 50%.

Public views on him have been polarized. Some see him as a savior to fix a highly corrupt and almost lawless society in the likes of a fearless sheriff in a wild west movie coming to the rescue of villain-infested outposts where the laws are completely crippled in protecting the civilians.

His dissidents blast him for disregarding the law and human rights and destroying the country's rule of law by exploiting government machinery for deliberate extrajudicial executions.

Others argue that he has a personality issue, having developed his anti-social blood-thirsty character since his oppressed adolescence.

I met Duterte on the third day after he announced the liberation of Marawi from Islamist militants, and the contented president never forgot to brag about his successful operation to fight terrorists.

He nevertheless misread "Marawi" as "Malaysia" out of a slip of the tongue probably because Malaysia-born Dr Mahmud Ahmad was a key figure in the Marawi siege.

A Philippine daily headlined "Malaysian militant chief killed in operation".

Sure enough many of my Philippine media friends asked me how my country had produced such religious extremists.

I suppose this is a question our Malaysian government must seriously look into.

 

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