On Saturday, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump held a telephone call with the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. According to Duterte, Trump praised Duterte’s deadly war on drugs and invited him to visit the White House. Upon assuming the presidency in June, Duterte made a public call for police and citizens alike to execute people who use or sell drugs, which has resulted in the murder of over 5,000 people suspected of being involved with drugs.
After the phone call, Duterte said that Trump “was quite sensitive also to our worry about drugs.” Trump apparently wished Duterte well in his anti-drug campaign and said that the Philippines was “doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way.”
“It sounds like Donald Trump just gave a green light to murder,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “By effectively giving his blessing to Duterte’s murderous campaign, the President-elect has signaled to foreign leaders his disregard for both due process of law and human rights – and raised the possibility that he might one day treat U.S. law with the same contempt.”
Duterte has repeatedly shown complete disregard for due process or human rights. In his call for the murder of people who use or sell drugs, he promised medals for citizens who comply, and pardons for police if they are charged with human rights violations while carrying out the executions. These extrajudicial killings have largely claimed the lives of the country’s most marginalized and vulnerable citizens, including those who are unemployed or underemployed.
Despite international calls for Duterte to end the extrajudicial killings, he has refused to change direction, responding to anyone who has questioned his anti-drug strategy with insults, including President Obama, the Pope, the International Criminal Court and the United Nations. Last week, he also threatened to kill human rights defenders who attempt to intervene in his war on drugs.
The U.S. government had become more vocal in its opposition to the gross human rights violations associated with Duterte’s war on drugs. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said in a press briefing that “we’re very concerned—deeply concerned, I would say—about reports of extrajudicial killings of individuals suspected to have been involved in drug activity in the Philippines.” After impassioned statements by Senators Patrick Leahy and Benjamin Cardin about the gravity of the situation in the Philippines, the State Department vowed to redirect $9 million in aid away from Philippine counternarcotics training.
However, this opposition from the United States looks set to change if Trump pursues his dangerous support for Duterte’s drug war. An advisor to Trump’s transition team on security policy said that the president-elect would start a “clean slate” with Duterte “without being wedded to previous policy failures.”