Times magazine’s recent cover story which singled out Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as a “strongman” along side Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was seen by many in The Philippines as an accidental compliment. After years of ineffective and corrupt leadership, President Duterte is a man who is strong enough to get the job done in a way that puts the safety and economic future of normal Filipinos first while tackling the drug problem and its accomplices in Yellow politics and the corporate oligarchy.
But for President Duterte himself, he rejected the label bestowed upon him by Time Magazine’s Ian Bremmer. Duterte correctly stated that he has not acted in a lawless manner against the rights of any Filipino, but that instead, he simply takes a strong line against foreign provocateurs trying to stir trouble in The Philippines. This is the exact same attitude that was taken by South East Asia’s most successful head of government Lee Kuan Yew, a man who realised that foreign provocations could stir internal tensions to the detriment of all Singaporeans.
In a short piece by Time’s Bremmer which acts as a defence of his initial hit-piece, the American author continues to spread malicious sentiments about Duterte’s war on drugs which prove that for many oblivious westerners, the privileges of dangerous drug addicts and narco-bandits are more important than the human rights of the normal people who are mercilessly victimised on a daily basis by drug users and narco-mobsters.
In his follow-up piece, Bremmer neglects to mention that Duterte has always stated that it is preferable to arrest drug addicts so as to remove their presence from the streets, but that in instances when violent druggies resist arrest and put the lives of law enforcement officers and the general public in danger, that it is better to use lethal force to subdue a criminal than to allow a criminal to inflict more harm on those protecting society from the horrors of drugs.
But forgetting these tired untruths and mis-characterisations of Duterte’s popular and effective drug war, Bremmer reveals his own ignorance when he writes the following,
“Gven that Mr. Duterte has made his reputation as a man who loves to talk tough, perhaps he likes being called a ‘strongman’ a bit more than he’s willing to admit. He’s spent more time talking about it than I have.
One last note: a Time reader in the Philippines suggests my use of the term ‘strongman’ reveals a bias against my own gender. Show me a female head of government anywhere in the world guilty of ordering human rights abuses on this scale and, in future, I’ll refer only to ‘strongpersons.’
It would appear that Ian Bremmer is not familiar with the crimes of “strongwoman” Sheikh Hasina, the Premier of Bangladesh. During her time in power, Hasina has jailed opposition leaders, been accused of ordering multiple targeted assassinations of opposition politicians and activists, has conspired with India to suppress the political expression of her own people, has engaged in highly corrupt activities which have had a stiffling effect on the rule of law in Bangladesh and has recently exacerbated the refugee crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, all the while passing the blame onto Myanmar for a humanitarian crisis that is more the making of Bangladesh than of any other state.
Hasina’s ruthless political tactics have been widely criticised and have led to the country becoming a corrupt one party state. While police in The Philippines have been ordered to tackle the drug problem head-on, in Bangladesh, the police are increasingly little more than the private military of Sheikh Hasina whose main goal is to harass, kidnap and unlawfully arrest anyone who challenges her iron grip on power.
But while for decades, Hasina’s dictatorial attitude and crimes against the people of both Bangladesh and Myanmar have persisted and continue to grow in terms of viciousness, Time Magazine’s “strongman” cover story instead sees fit to attack Duterte, a man who seeks legal federal reforms to make The Philippines a healthier democracy than that which Liberal Party has rendered dysfunctional.
While the author of the anti-Duterte piece believes that there are no “strongwoman” in politics, one only needs to look at the terrible political and sociological realities in Bangladesh to realise that while Duterte is strong, his strength is derived from serving the people, while Bangladesh’s “strongwoman” is the kind of dictator that Duterte has never sought to be and never will be. While Sheikh Hasina consolidates her dictatorial power, Duterte seeks to liberate The Philippines from imperial Manila through federal reforms while many Duterte supporters further encourage a parliamentary democracy to create a system that better represents the will of the people rather than the will of Yellow oligarchs.
Of course, if one goes back into recent history to find a “strongwoman” who put her own quest of power above the condition of her people, one can of course look to none other than Cory Aquino, a “strongwoman” whose toxic legacy continues to haunt a Philippine nation that is ready for the real reforms that President Duterte is set to deliver.