Duterte’s Hitler Comparison: The President’s Outrageous Mistake
ANOTHER DAY, another outrageous statement—and yet another frantic attempt at damage control.
On Sept. 30, President Rodrigo Duterte gained worldwide notoriety anew when he compared himself to Adolf Hitler in his willingness to “slaughter” three million drug addicts. At least, this was how many understood the president’s statements.
Speaking at the Davao International Airport, Duterte began by lamenting how he has supposedly been portrayed as “a cousin of Hitler.” (CMFR did a search of several news sites but could not find any such reference to Duterte.)
He rambled on as is his style and said he is used to it, that his critics can call him anything but he has “never (been) into hypocrisy” like them, mentioning the case of migrants fleeing the Middle East and how they were allowed to rot while some governments worry about the casualties in his administration’s lethal war on drugs. (He was apparently referring to the hesitation of some European countries in accepting migrants from Syria.)
Duterte then segued into his Hitler comment: “Hitler massacred three million (sic) Jews. Now there is three million, there’s a three million drug addict (sic). There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them. At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have you know, my victims, I would like to be, all criminals to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition (sic).”
The parallelism drew worldwide ire, but it was not the first time. Since assuming power, Duterte has made international headlines for expletives seemingly directed at US President Barack Obama and other outlandish statements such as the Philippines’ leaving the United Nations.
The administration’s usual suspects when it comes to cleaning up Duterte’s outbursts rushed to the rescue. (More than three months into his presidency, there appears to be an archetypal flow whenever the president holds his frequent and interminable press briefings: outrageous statement first, damage control second.)
On Oct. 1, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella was quoted in media reports as saying that “The Palace deplores the Hitler allusion of (sic) President Duterte’s anti-drug war as another crude attempt to vilify the President in the eyes of the world.”
He added that “It is a matter of record that the reference to Hitler did not originate from the President. Days before the May presidential elections, the President’s opponents introduced this issue to gain political mileage. It did not work.”
Reports said that Abella was referring to former President Benigno Aquino III who during the May 7 miting de avance of the Daang Matuwid Coalition. Aquino had recalled Hitler’s rise to power as he warned against a possible dictatorship should Duterte be elected.
However, Abella did say that Duterte was “referencing his willingness to kill three million criminal drug dealers.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. pinned the blame on the media. “What a malicious spin to sow hatred, against President Duterte and destabilize the country,” he said in a Facebook post. Contradicting Abella’s statement, he said Duterte “was not waging a war against illegal drugs to exterminate the more than three million drug addicts and drug users in the country.”
But it did not take long for the president to eventually say sorry — again. On Oct. 2, he apologized “profoundly and deeply” to the Jewish community, saying “I want to make it clear here and now, (that) there was no intention on my part to derogate the memory of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Germans.
“It was never my intention, but the problem was, I was criticized, using Hitler, comparing to me. But I was very emphatic, sabi ko, patayin ko ang three million. It had nothing to do with the… but perchance, there was something really, a bad taste in the mouth to say it,” Duterte was quoted in reports.
Out of context?
Was it a case of his remarks’ being taken out of context? Speaking at the 9th National Biennial Summit on Women in Community Policing, Duterte lamented the ensuing furor as the consequence of uncontextualized reporting.
But what exactly is the context of his Hitler remarks?
The peril of a short memory now plagues both media and public. Long before the campaign period, Duterte advocated the killing of drug addicts and criminals. “Ipapatay ko talaga kayo. Manalo ako dahil sa breakdown in law and order. I do not want to commit a crime. But if by chance God will place me there magbantay kayo kasi yang 1,000 maging 100,000. Dyan mo makikita na tataba ang isda sa Manila Bay. Dyan ko kayo itapon (You watch it, the fish in Manila Bay will grow fat. That is where I will dump you.),” Duterte was quoted as saying back in May 25, 2015 (“Duterte: ‘Am I the death squad? True’,” Rappler ). This would not be the only quote media would get from Duterte regarding his favored strategy of killing of criminals as a way to eliminate their threat to society.
“If I become president, I advise you people to put up several funeral parlor businesses because I am against illegal drugs… I might kill someone because of it,” Duterte was quoted in the Star’s “Duterte: If I win, better put up more funeral parlors” on Nov. 27, 2015.
During his first press conference after winning the presidency, Duterte mentioned plans to restore the death penalty by hanging and even issued shoot-to-kill orders for criminals resisting arrest.
Clearly, Duterte has established his readiness to mount a large-scale and lethal campaign against drugs even before he made up his mind to run for president. Neither has he been shy about how he plans to implement such a campaign — by killing suspects.
Media also tend to faithfully record follow-up statements from Abella, Yasay and Press Secretary Martin Andanar in their attempts to sanitize the president’s outrageous statements and to direct the public to more benign interpretations of what he said.
It’s about time that the president learns to speak in a manner that will enable citizens and the media to understand what he’s really saying. Every statement he makes as president is inevitably assumed to be a declaration of State policy.