Pubdate: Mon, 29 Aug 2016
Source: Philippine Star (Philippines)
Column: Sketches
Copyright: PhilSTAR Daily Inc. 2016
Author: Ana Marie Pamintuan


Judging from foreign media reports, the Duterte administration is 
attracting a lot of international attention, much of it for the wrong reasons.

President Duterte will probably tell the foreign media to go to hell, 
but it's the Philippines that's taking a hit from all the bad press.

So far, most foreign governments have refrained from publicly 
commenting on the drug-related mass killings, now about to shoot past 
2,000. But I've been told that diplomats representing key global 
players are now touching base with certain administration officials, 
mainly to send word that the negative reports have started taking 
their toll on tourism and investments from their countries.

Apart from concerns about human rights violations, the principal 
reason is that investors and tourists prefer to wait for the 
situation to stabilize before they come here. The common concern is 
that the violence can quickly go either way: while it can bring peace 
and order, it can also spiral out of control. This is on top of the 
continuing kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf targeting foreigners in Mindanao.

A prominent diplomat told me that at this point, given a choice of 
destinations in Southeast Asia for tourists from his region, the top 
choices are Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

More Chinese tourists are also staying away after the administration 
announced that most of the drugs smuggled into the Philippines come 
from Chinese triads. The government is just stating a fact, but 
legitimate Chinese tourists are reportedly worried of harassment as 
possible drug suspects if they come here.

* * *

So how do administration officials react when told by foreign 
diplomats about the possible repercussions of the drug war on tourism 
and investments?

The common response is that President Duterte has his own mind and no 
one can tell him what to do, despite his regular Cabinet meetings.

Several diplomats representing major global players are under 
increasing pressure from their governments to publicly issue if not a 
condemnation, at least a strongly worded expression of concern over 
the killings. The diplomats have resisted the pressure... so far.

Like President Rody's supporters - and they remain legions - these 
foreign governments prefer to look on the bright side in assessing a 
new administration that has promised "real change" and is trying to 
implement reforms ASAP.

Diplomats have a shared concern about the institutional damage that 
may be caused by a reliance on short cuts to implementing change. But 
again, institutional damage takes time to become manifest.

By that time, at the current pace, Dirty Rody would have permanently 
neutralized all 600,000 (up to 700,000) drug dealers big and small.

* * *

Even as the death toll from the drug war surges toward 2,000, public 
protests remain surprisingly lame.

Most of the protests come mainly from expected sources: human rights 
groups, the Catholic Church, mass media (more from the foreign 
press). Even relatives of most of those killed seem to prefer to just 
live with their grief and keep quiet, possibly for fear of greater tragedies.

The US State Department has issued several statements, and so has the 
United Nations. But the voice of the international community has been 
generally muted.

There are several reasons for this, foremost of which is that it's 
early days yet; the Duterte administration has just finished its first 50 days.

Another is the peace process with communist rebels and Islamic 
separatists, which is proceeding at an impressively rapid pace. 
Left-leaning groups are usually the most vocal about state-sponsored 
human rights violations, but this time they are dwelling on the 
positive, which is the peace process.

I have talked to several top diplomats assigned here, and they admit 
that the progress in the peace process has added to the reluctance of 
the international community to issue any strong public condemnation 
of the killing spree at this time.

Then there's President Duterte's dizzyingly high approval ratings, 
indicating widespread public support that cuts across income classes. 
If this bloodshed is what Filipinos want, foreigners tend to think 
twice before opening their mouths in condemnation.

Several diplomats have taken note of comments pointing out that the 
ongoing body count is just a drop in the bucket when compared to the 
toll in drug wars in other regions such as Latin America, where 
hundreds of thousands were killed before certain countries enjoyed stability.

Countries that have had similar or worse drug problems have refrained 
from commenting on Dirty Rody's War.

The Manila diplomatic community is waiting to see if Duterte's bloody 
war will have a lasting positive impact on the peace and order situation.

If Dirty Rody's war is enjoying public support, among the reasons 
must be the fact that extrajudicial responses to criminality have 
worked in the past. The execution of kidnapping gang members largely 
ended the menace in the 1990s that targeted mostly Chinese Filipinos, 
although the most brutal involved an American hostage, California oil 
executive Michael Barnes, who was rescued. A spate of bank robberies 
also stopped with the neutralization of the Kuratong Baleleng gang in 1995.

The two cases drew strong protests against what looked like summary 
executions. But today those killings seem tame: 14 members and 
supporters of the Red Scorpion Group were killed in the March 1992 
police raid in Las Pinas, while 11 Kuratong members were neutralized 
in Quezon City. Heck, that's just a day's toll in Dirty Rody's war.

* * *

President Duterte might not get to kill all the drug dealers 
operating in the country, with the New Bilibid Prison serving as the 
command center or call center of sorts for large-scale trafficking.

But it looks like he will get up to six months of breathing space to 
achieve his end with his brutal means before the world finds its 
voice and condemns the mass deaths.

Meanwhile, he has reverted to his mean, crude, ungentlemanly, 
patently un-presidential persona. Several diplomats have noted that 
Dirty Rody has failed to metamorphose into a butterfly. Instead he 
has remained a worm - a woolly worm or higad, which can cause extreme 

Woolly worms transform into moths, with certain species quite 
majestic. Is Dirty Rody still interested in his promised 
metamorphosis? It doesn't look like it. He's not backing down on his 
bloody war either. With the prevailing public attitude, it seems he 
has convinced the nation that mass killings are a necessary evil.

He seems genuinely unconcerned about the impact on his image. But the 
country is starting to be affected by the negative image spawned by 
the evil. And the impact can be difficult to reverse.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom