On the day the country was mourning the loss of an esteemed Senator, news broke out that the President wanted to emulate Hitler.
The reaction was swift, unrelenting and unforgiving.
“The President is opening himself for possible prosecution in international courts on the grounds of crime against humanity by saying he would like to slaughter three million Filipinos,”said Representative Teddy Baguilat, even as Representative Edsel Lagman argued that such is already an admission by the President of being responsible for the so-called “extra-judicial killngs.”
Kabataan Partylist Representative Sarah Elago was more direct: “Mr. President, comparing yourself with Hitler is troubling, to say the least. You are talking about committing genocide.”
The reference to Hitler and the holocaust triggered global condemnation. “Duterte owes the victims (of the Holocaust) an apology for his disgusting rhetoric,” saidRabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate Project. Todd Gutnick of the Anti-Defamation League pointed out that “it is baffling why any leader would want to model himself after such a monster.”
Martin Schaefer, spokesperson of Germany’s Foreign Ministry, said that “any comparison of the singular atrocities of the Holocaust with anything else is totally unacceptable.”
The United States joined the chorus of condemnation, finding the President’s statement “deeply troubling.”
A reliablecritic of the President that moonlights as a newspaperhad as its banner the Hitlerian salute “Heil Digong!”
Even Duterte supporters expressed disgust, and some even withdrew their support.
And in a moment of weakness, and taken by my liberal bias, I initially believed what my reasonable friends were expressing in social media. I joined the condemnation. Even without actually hearing the President, I took him to task for reportedly uttering such a despicable speech.
It was easy to condemn the President. He possessed all the traits that can make any reasonable person conclude that he, indeed, emulated Hitler. He cursed the Pope and Obama. He made fun of a rape victim. He even doubted the existence of God. His mantra is “Kill! Kill! Kill!”
If this was a criminal proceeding, he would have been the perfect accused that any jury or judge could easily convict. He is a prosecutor’s dream and a defense lawyer’s nightmare.
But if you are a fan of “How to Get Away with Murder,” as I am, you would know that some of those who appear most guilty are, in fact, innocent, despite having a criminal record.
And I realized how wrong I was after I carefully reviewed the raw footage of that controversial press conference.
A careful review of the footage revealed that far from celebrating Hitler, the President was angrily reacting to critics who referred to him as his cousin. Hence, the President did not aspire to be a Hitler. It was his critics who likened him to the German genocidal dictator. It was clear in his impromptu remarks that he was deeply offended by such reference to Hitler. He even said that he would not have minded such if the remark was made against him when he was still mayor. But to suggest that he is a Hitler now that he is our President is deeply offensive, not only to him, but to the entire Filipino people.
The heart of the problem is when, in his usual unrestrained bravado and hyperbole, the President differentiated himself from Hitler by pointing out that while the latter murdered three million Jews (actually, records show six million Jews died during the holocaust), he can be like a Hitler, too, except that what he will “slaughter” will be three million criminals, whose deaths, according to him, will “save the future generation from perdition.”
At the outset, I abhor killings of any kind. I remain steadfast in my opposition to the death penalty, and to executions of criminals, suspected or otherwise. I also maintain that the use by the President of the word “slaughter” was inappropriate, and that I would have preferred that he just gave his critics a dose of his silence to shut them up.
But I am equally angered by being almost taken by a culture of condemning without even hearing. I am angered by a culture that subsists on contempt for the President, leading to a kind of prejudice where critics would never give him a fair chance to be heard even as they fight for that right for drug criminals.
This is a culture that I constantly have to face, and resist, perhaps because it is what is now convenient and fashionable in the world where I circulate.
“Duterte likens himself to Hitler!” screamed the headlines.
And we – scientists, artists, journalists, educators and educated people – all took that as bible truth. This makes me wonder how we can behave like the Nazis who blindly took Hitler’s rhetoric without question.
And then we have the temerity to criticize the Duterte supporters for being blindly loyal to a man we now call “Hitler.”