Duterte’s drug war similar to Thaksin’s

(The Philippine Star) - September 11, 2016 - 12:00am

Bangkok, Thailand – Thai journalists are noting similarities between President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against drugs and the one launched by former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in early 2003. Nopporn Wong-Anan, Deputy Editor of the Bangkok Post whom I had lunch with, wrote a very interesting piece titled “Duterte should learn from Thai drug policy” where he drew comparisons between the two leaders and their war on drugs. Like Duterte, Thaksin also wanted to get rid of the drug menace fast – in three months actually – saying he will be “ruthless with drug dealers” who “deserved to be shot dead and have their assets seized.”

“In February 2003, Thaksin launched a ‘war on drugs’ to suppress drug trafficking and prevent drug use, but the main outcome of this policy was arbitrary killings. The first three months of the campaign saw some 2,800 extra-judicial killings,” Wong-Anan wrote. Asked about the possibility that the United Nations might send a team to probe the killings, Thaksin told reporters: “The UN is not my father.”

The consequent abuses brought about by the bloody war and the government’s shoot-to-kill policy based on the “blacklists” (used by some officials to target enemies) saw popular support for Thaksin begin to wane. Following his ouster in 2006, an official investigation revealed that more than half of those killed had no connections to drugs and were either victims of “envious neighbors” or had existing feuds with policemen. Narcotics use in Thailand has not also abated despite the decade-long campaign, with government officials now saying they were “on the wrong track” in efforts to address drug problems.

For sure, there are many things the Duterte administration can learn from Thailand’s experience, primary of which is to prevent abuses and ensure that the rule of law is strictly enforced when going after suspects.

Not surprisingly, the Thais were very curious about President Duterte’s “colorful” language – the most recent display of which resulted in the cancellation of the bilateral talks with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the just-concluded ASEAN meeting in Laos.

Let me just mention that I am thankful to my friend, Thai Ambassador to the Philippines Thanatip Upatising, and his very able First Secretary Rathanand Vichaidit for arranging my meetings. I had the opportunity to interact with officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs like Director-General Singtong Lapisatepun, some Thai businessmen and Thakoon Boonparn, owner of the Matichon Public Company that publishes Matichon Daily, said to be the number one political newspaper in Thailand. There seems to be a lot of interest from Thai businessmen to invest in the Philippines.

I was asked if I was one of the columnists President Duterte referred to as “lapdogs of Americans” during his “s.o.b.” outburst. I certainly do not deny that I am a firm believer in the United States being our best ally especially at this time when we have this major issue with China. Four million Filipinos live in the US and millions of other Filipinos have close relatives, friends and acquaintances living in the United States. There are a thousand applicants a day lining up at the US Embassy to get a visa – giving an indication of the kind of interest Filipinos have with the United States. I finished high school in the US and lived there for many years, and I consider the American way of life as one the best in the world and so do many other Filipinos. But that does not make us less of a Filipino who loves this country, “warts and all.”

If President Duterte thinks I am an American “lapdog,” he is certainly entitled to his opinion – as I am to mine. I have always been supportive of any president who does good for our country and time and again, I have expressed hopes for President Duterte’s success just like I expressed support for former president Aquino “even if I am a Romualdez.”

As president, Duterte cannot be onion skinned because no matter what, he will get all kinds of criticisms whether he likes it or not, especially from the more vicious international media. The problem nowadays is that most of the people around the president are afraid of him and cannot tell him anything unpleasant. At least one of them should have the nerve to give him the real picture – like the story about the little boy who told the Emperor about his “new clothes.”

I met President Duterte a couple of times before and after the elections, and I was pleasantly surprised that he has a strong sense of history. His impromptu speech about the killing of 600,000 Moros by American soldiers was something he could have mentioned to President Obama if the bilateral meeting took place – a perfect opportunity to discuss the issue of America’s human rights record minus the expletives. Sadly, our focus of attention in the ASEAN was sidetracked by the cancellation of the meeting, instead of the more important issue of the West Philippine Sea.

“Colorful” language may be acceptable to some but certainly not when it comes to a formal international meeting like the ASEAN. The Philippines is part of the community of nations and surely, we cannot isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. But just the same, I still believe President Duterte can do well as a strong leader of our country, but he has to learn from his mistakes. He has to remember that he is no longer mayor of Davao City but the President of 110 million Filipinos – not just the 16 million people who voted for him.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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