• Why Europeans are suspicious of Duterte

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    SASS ROGANDO SASOT

    EUROPEANS’ understanding of President Rodrigo Duterte is informed by their own political history dotted with tragic and traumatic stories of ultra-nationalism and leaders with the same personality type and social support as Duterte. They fear Duterte because he reminds them of a past they would like to prevent from re-emerging in their countries. Any successful communication strategy that would counter Duterte’s monstrous image in Europe has to keep that in mind.

    Duterte possesses the personality type and social reception that could make Europeans nervous: charismatic, popular, and strong-willed. These are the same qualities possessed by Germany’s Hitler, Italy’s Mussolini, Romania’s Ceausescu, Russia’s Stalin, and Yugoslavia’s Miloševic.

    Associated with their names are great humanitarian disasters in European history.

    They have been filed by most Europeans in the never-again section of their psyche. Any leader anywhere in the world that would “appear” or is made to appear like any of them would surely raise alarm bells among Europeans. The emotional trauma Europeans experienced with charismatic, strong-willed, and populist leaders clouds their rational thinking, making them disregard difference in context, and thereby evaluate other political communities according to their own history.

    Among the political figures I mentioned, Hitler is the most familiar to non-Europeans. The mass killing of the Jews in pursuit of the racial hygiene policy of the Nazis remains a raw nerve. In some European countries, denying that the Holocaust happened could get you fined and imprisoned.

    Because of Europe’s trauma with Hitler-like personalities, any leader compared to him would arouse European suspicion, disgust, and eventually condemnation. As Antone Christianson-Galina said in “Why the war on Bashar al-Assad never happened”: “When any leader of the free world is faced with a ‘Hitler,’ the only rational choice is to depose the ‘Hitler’ before he destabilizes his region or commits a genocide, for example. Dictators who are successfully put into this Hitler mold often do not stay in power for long (eg. Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi).”

    Duterte had been compared to Hitler even before he was elected in May 2016. Former President Benigno Aquino’s comparison was the most significant; it has weight in the international community as it was uttered by a President and son of the woman widely recognized by world leaders as a champion of democracy.

    When Duterte mocked his detractors who’d been comparing him to Hitler since the elections by saying that he would be happy to slaughter three million drug addicts just as Hitler killed three million Jews, it rang alarm bells in Europe. They didn’t care about the context of his statement. All they know is Duterte wants to follow in the footsteps of Hitler. And as Christianson-Galina said, when faced with a Hitler, the ‘free world’ immediately thinks “he has to go.”

    In the Netherlands, Duterte’s statement was shown in the evening news and even became a question in a popular quiz show. But no one ever showed Duterte’s unannounced visit to a Jewish synagogue in the Philippines to apologize.

    Duterte’s political adversaries are exploiting Europe’s trauma of Hitler to destroy his external legitimacy. They do it by constantly juxtaposing “Duterte and mass killings”, “Duterte and Hitler”, “Duterte and crimes against humanity.”

    On April 12, 2017, the In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDefend), an Akbayan-aligned Filipino non-government organization, held a talk at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. I attended it. Before starting his speech, iDefend spokesman Budit Carlos distributed a brochure entitled “Duterte’s War on the Poor.”

    Inside the brochure, the heading “Enabling Genocide” introduced a litany of accusations against Duterte and his supporters. During the question and answer time, I asked Mr. Carlos what his organization meant by “genocide.” I pointed out to him the definition of genocide in the Rome Statute, which specifically mentions that genocide is an act to destroy national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups. Nothing of that sort is going on in the Philippines. Yet despite the lies iDefend is propagating, on May 4, 2017, the Commission on Human Rights, under the leadership of Chito Gascon, gave an award to iDefend.

    In “Top 10 warning signs of liberal imperialism,” international relations expert Stephen Walt warned about how “anti-regime forces are trying to enlist [liberal imperialists’]support by telling [them]what they think [they]want to hear” (Foreign Policy, May 20, 2013). Those liberal imperialists in Europe are now all ears to anti-Duterte forces in the Philippines who are describing the situation in the Philippines in the direst terms possible, and limning Duterte in such a way that could exploit to the hilt European trauma with charismatic, popular and strong- willed leaders.

    To counter this, our country’s communication strategy must engage with Europeans who care a lot about context and are tired of the disastrous liberal imperialist agenda. Dr. Dante Ang, the newly appointed special envoy of the President for international public relations, has his work cut out for him.

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    13 Comments

    1. it is quietly most exciting that the liberal imperialism will come face to face not with just duterte alone but the asean nations and considering turkey and mongolia wishes to join in the league, which that would be a precedent that other nation may join also with the introduction “one belt, one road” project of china… geopolitics is uncertain and the fast changing atmosphere was already infused by duterte… it is expected the gloomy doomsday episode of european union and the hegemonies of US is now narrowing in the sideways…. philippines is really indispensible with china and no matter what happen it will not end in war and that was written!

    2. Thank you, Sass. Another great perspective from you.

      I am supporting Manila Times because of intellectuals like you. I terminated my Inquirer subscription, by the way.

    3. I suggest you use Philippines and Duterte on your article’s title, so it shows up on Google’s top search results when those keywords are searched… Also if you can, post your articles on a friday evening or saturday, when there are more people using the internet..

    4. Makes sense…PH is a new democracy, only about 50 years old compared to some of Europes. Many pinoys even have the gall to believe Du30 thinks “out of the box” when the guy was educated by Jesuits and has probably read most of the biographies of past leaders like Hitler, Mao and Lee Kwan Yoo so its not surprising if he is just copying their methods in the media. Du30 understands and uses propaganda as a means of political control.

    5. When I read his article, and I read this twice, I was really confused. Did I – as a European with strong intercultural background – understand Europeans wrong until today? Did I – as a European living in the Philippines – really understand President Duterte wrong until today?

      You first have to divide Europe into at least 4 parts, as there are no “The Europeans”:
      Western Europe (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, UK, Ireland, Austria, Italy, but also Greece, Malta)
      Eastern Europe (Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, the Baltic Countries, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovenia)
      Southern Europe (Spain, Portugal)
      Northern Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Finland)

      This is what most call Europe, although it is the European Union.

      Let us now come to the point what Europeans fear:

      Dictatorships is what Europeans fear. Most of the countries (all Eastern European countries, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Spain) were dictatorships in the 20th century, Portugal de facto also, but it was different, I wouldn’t count it like that.
      At second, it is fascism in any form. That thinking you will find mostly in Western Europe. Eastern Europe defines fascism as nationalism, and the strongest “nationalism-like parties” you will find there. (A very personal word: Miss Sass Rogando Sasot mentioned that “… in some European countries, denying that the Holocaust happened could get you fined and imprisoned…”. This sounds too weak to me. Denying a fact, denying that 6 million people were brutally murdered, is inexcusible and HAS to be punished by law.)
      At third, it is communism, “thanks” to what we Western Europeans “learned” about communism after WWII and during the McCarthy area in the USA: communism is evil. Surely, Stalin in Russia was after Germany’s Hitler the most brutal. This thinking about communism you will find throughout Europe, as Eastern Europeans suffered a lot during communism.
      The do not fear charismatic persons, or strong-willed, or popular. See as an example Marcron from France.

      When now Miss Sass Rogando Sasot puts the European experience from Hitler, Mussolini (both fascistic dictators), and Stalin, Ceausescu, Milosevic (communist dictators) in one line with the suspicion about Duterte, she is completely wrong. It really seems as if she does not know about Duterte.

      President Duterte is a totally different type of leader.
      First, he is democratic. That alone is a sign that he cannot be seen as a dictator-like person. Second, he does not stick to power. Third, he isn’t suppressing the Filipino people. Fourth, and now we come closer, he has strong support from the Filipinos. The gap of 16% in the election to the runner-up Manuel Roxas II rings in Europe the alarm bell, as we are used to have different, smaller gaps. And, normally we do not vote for a person, but a party. Electing a president with power is only known in a few countries.

      What puts most Europeans – and especially the politicians – in a line against President Duterte, is his use of words and his war on drugs. The expression “war” is not liked, and, most of all, there are many deads. Europeans like to treat murderers with an exaggerated respect on behalf of their human rights and they always find excuses on why someone became a criminal (bad influence during childhood, abuse etc). Europeans are in the majority against death penalty or other forms of killings.
      When President Duterte said ahead of his election that he will feed the fishes in Manila Bay with criminals, the first comments came up against Pres. Duterte. As European police is drilled not to use weapons (they could hurt criminals), and PNP is the opposite, especially against drug dealers/pushers, this also leads to skepticism.
      Where Sass Rogando Sasot is right is that any comparison to Hitler is a bête noire or red flag for Europeans. This is a no-go, whether the context was different or not. The European Press started at that time to write negative articles about the Philippines as a country with martial law and about President Duterte in special as the inciter or commander of EJKs.

      As a European I have to say that the EU is hypocritical. The Philippines are a country with no great economic value. So the Philippines are treated differently than China (important market), USA (important market and still the strongest military partner), Arabic countries with oil. I could add many countries here.
      But, as we say in Germany: dogs that bark do not bite. The European takes indeed into account that the Philippines’ economy is rising, that investors from other countries are active here. See the mission of EU in Mindanao from the weekend or the talks about trade opportunities.

      Last but not least, the Filipino government has a very bad “marketing”. I already mentioned it in another comment some weeks ago in Facebook. Robredo, De Lima and LP are much better in this. They are another reason why . The have more influence, and they have access to the right people. The government is in an defensive position, and this is bad. You have to know a lot about your opponent before you are going into a discussion. If you want to have influence in Europe you need money. Politics in Europe is still corrupt, even if European politicians reject that fact. And unfortunately LP has enough sponsors with influence. I don’t want to mention long the Gallard issue here, but is is perfectly influenced (never forget: Robredo and Gallard are both women, which gives them always a close connection against President Duterte). The acting of the government is wrong here. Beat that lady with her own weapons: if she says that there is no bad influence of Shabu on the people, present her publicly the victims: children that were abused by drug addicts, families that were torn apart and ended on the streets. Don’t be the polite guys, take as much TV stations as you can. Do it in New York, as this is the headquarter of the United nations. let scientist speak, let doctors speak, but let them speak. And then turn out, that this country is developing, that GDP rises as nearly nowhere else, and point out that this is because of reducing criminality linked to drugs.

      There is a lot to do for the Filipino government.

      • Migs Doromal on

        Very well said, sir.

        The Presidential Communications Office is a total failure. But, they should not stop there. There are many creative ways to market PRRD’s government. After all, they have the funds to finance it.

        Too bad PRRD’s government has a very good economic team. And it’s overshadowed most of the time.

    6. teresa tiedra on

      How ironic that Aquino a president whose presidency had the Kidapawan massacre,saff 44 and the Hacienda Luisita massacre call Pres Duterte Hitler. European shouldnt be so guillible to believe the pronouncement of a lame leader who let the farmers got murdered and the ppl who were just asking for rice got bullets instead.

    7. Chris Espiritu on

      This so-called iDefend crap is nothing but a Yellow Propaganda to besmirch Pres. Duterte. It is high time for the president to take drastic actions to end this spread of lies and deceit. I wonder why is Chito Gascon continually destroying PD30 when he being a part of the government should be the first to uphold it. He is still hypnotized by the Yellow mantra. no doubt.

    8. Silvino L. Jacinto on

      ….. I wish Ms. Sass will write an article ( not necessarily in Manila Times ) to explain Federalism / Parliamentary form of government in relation to our present form of governance …..

    9. Duterte, like hitler and mussolini, is a malignant narcissist, and we need to learn from history and from the european experiences that such leaders like to kill, kill, kill, not build, build, build.
      You can also add xi jinping, putin, and erdogan onto the list of abusive leaders with no respect for human rights or the rule of law.
      The europeans know exactly what is happening in the philippines. It is the uneducated filipinos abroad who do not, and who get fed ‘fake news’.
      You cannot solve a problem until you fully understand it from experience not textbooks.

      • Many modern politicians are narcissists, FYI.

        Every nation has their own set of rules. There is no such thing as a general “rule of law”, only recommendations and political pressure.

        And it’s funny how you mentioned experience over textbooks… That sounds exactly what Duterte would say.. :)

        We have different geography, history, tradition, culture, behavior, societal structure, economy, and even genetics. EU is not the PH. Time to get rid of that globalization mentality of yours, so stop depending on biased western textbooks :)

    10. Brilliant! The government needs better strategists to counter these liberalists. Debunk all anti-Duterte propaganda and sue their local counterparts who’s duly works are to spread fake and fabricated news.