Despite the efforts by members of the Opposition to stop it, the much awaited visit by United States President Donald Trump finally happened during the 2017 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. President Rodrigo Duterte’s critics did not want Trump to visit the Philippines for various reasons. For one, Trump’s visit would overshadow their calls to put an end to alleged “human rights abuses” by government forces as a result of Duterte’s war on drugs. And just as I predicted, Trump was smart enough not to bring up so-called human rights issues with Duterte. Trump has recently spoken out about the need to combat the drug problem in his own country since the US is having an opioids epidemic “as more than two million Americans have become dependent on or abused prescription pain pills and street drugs”.
It’s actually quite odd that there were people who expected Trump to call Duterte out on human rights issues since the very fact that Trump was willing to visit Duterte already says Trump is going the whole nine yards to appease the Philippine President. Bringing up alleged human rights issue would simply undermine all that work. What was reportedly discussed during their 40-minute meeting were trade deals, which makes more sense. Enhancing trade agreements between the US and the Philippines will be good for the economy as it can raise the standard of living in the country, which then raises the value of Filipino lives. It’s a cliché, but it’s all about the economy, stupids.
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Besides, the human rights “issue” in the Philippines is nothing new. It’s always been a problem. The United Nations even reported how it got worse during former President BS Aquino’s term. His government failed to solve the Maguindanao massacre where 58 people including journalists died in the hands of members of the Ampatuan political clan in 2009. Farmers were not treated well during his term, which was quite ironic considering BS Aquino comes from a family farm owner. His own elite forces were left to be slaughtered by elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front during the Mamasapano massacre that saw the loss of 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police.
If the members of the Opposition are worried about the country’s reputation being diminished by human rights abuse, they should have raised the alarm during BS Aquino’s term, not just now. It’s not like abuses by the police and military only happened now. They claim perception matters a lot with investors, but media allied with the Opposition are the ones publishing a lot of negative stuff about the Duterte government, which foreign media use as bases for analysing the situation. Rappler cannot even get the number of deaths due to the “war on drugs” right. Rappler CEO Maria Ressa also goes on media blitzes overseas discussing the so-called “threat to democracy.”
Local Liberals and from overseas can only sneer, speculate and cry foul over the “meeting of the minds” at the ASEAN Summit. Some of them can’t believe Trump met with “madman” Duterte. But, then again, so did Trudeau, Turnbull, Jinping, Abe and other world leaders who attended the ASEAN Summit. They all shook “madman” Duterte’s hands. The Opposition from both countries should use this opportunity to reflect on why these two are now leaders of their respective “democratic” countries instead of them. They should admit their failures.
Trump and Duterte have so much in common. Both leaders won because voters have had enough of their respective previous administrations’ political correctness. They are both outspoken and straightshooters – the opposites of their predecessors. This is what their supporters like about them. They come across as more truthful than other politicians because they appear transparent and not hiding anything. Of course being politicians, they probably have agendas up their sleeves, but a lot of people think what they see is what they get. They are tired of motherhood statements from their predecessors. Obama was good at speeches, but they did not translate to “change”. BS Aquino’s Daang Matuwid or “Straight Path” slogan only meant something to the people who came up with it.
Members of the Philippine Opposition don’t have any choice but to suck it up since the Trump just gave Duterte the thumbs-up during his visit. The chances of the US backing a move to oust Duterte don’t look promising.
In life, things are not always what they seem.