The Western media have referred to President Rodrigo Duterte as the “Filipino Donald Trump,” and they don’t mean it as a compliment.
WorldPost ran the headline: “The New President Of The Philippines Is Donald Trump On Steroids.” On the other hand, one Western pundit, Tom Smith, wrote: “Don’t compare Trump and Duterte -- the Philippines’ leader is far worse” And he went on: “It’s easy to connect their loud-mouthed populism. But the rise of this unpredictable man to the Philippines presidency is more of a threat to the world.”
Leading Republican foreign policy experts have expressed anxiety over what they call Trump’s “dark shoot-from-the-hip unilateralism” and his shallow grasp of foreign affairs. According to them, he boasts of “reading little and ignoring expert advice instead of gleaning his knowledge of global events from Sunday TV talk shows.”
On the other hand, Michael Mosettig, a former foreign affairs and defense editor of the PBS NewsHour, in a piece entitled, “Why the US should care about the Filipino Donald Trump,” wrote: “Duterte’s shoot-from-the-hip style is not limited to personal outbursts. He has made contradictory statements on the issue that could determine the peaceful future of the Asia-Pacific region: the response to China’s claims to much of the South China Sea (and numerous rocks and islands, including the Scarborough Shoal, which China seized in 2012).
The comparison doesn’t end there.
World leaders have ridiculed such outrageous Trump statements as: “I will build a great wall -- and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me -- and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
That certainly sounds as over-the-top as Duterte’s approach to the stand-off with China over the Spratlys. At a presidential debate, he said that he would ride a jet ski to the disputed area, plant the Philippine flag on it, and dare the Chinese to shoot him and, thus, make a “hero” of him.
But the difference is that Duterte apparently said it with tongue-in-cheek. In fact, he once told the media that they should not take all of his statements seriously, including that one about killing not just 700 but 1,700 criminals in Davao City.
There are, of course, particularly unsavory characteristics specifically attributed to either Trump or Duterte:
Western media have specifically underscored two: “Duterte openly supports extrajudicial killings” and “He talked about joining in on the rape and murder of a beautiful woman.”
The extra-judicial killings, for which he has offered rewards to those who kill criminals, are unique to Duterte. The closest comparison to Trump was his assurance to his supporters that he would pay the lawyers’ fees if they beat up protestors at his campaign rallies. The killings have left average Filipinos conflicted. Because of the alarming rise of the illegal drug trade in the country, many of them privately approve of “getting rid of the scum of society,” while fervently hoping that neither their relatives and friends nor they themselves become unwitting targets of liquidation. Only the Church, the media, and human rights activists have been vocal in condemning the executions.
Concerning Duterte’s tasteless comment on the gang rape of an Australian missionary, he subsequently reasoned that it was his way of expressing disgust over the crime, although he refused to apologize for it.
On the other hand, Trump has been unapologetic about his outrageous bluster and his disregard for facts or for the feelings of others. Trump’s response to the challenge to read the US Constitution, made to him by the Muslim Pakistani-American father of a US Army captain killed in Iraq, was to imply that the Clinton campaign had ghost-written the father’s speech, delivered at the Democratic National Convention, and that the silence of the mother must have been due to her Muslim faith.
Trump has also been dead serious about his boasts.
Without batting an eyelash, Trump has said this about himself: “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. I’ll bring back our jobs from China, from Japan from Mexico from so many places. I’ll bring back our jobs and I’ll bring back our money.”
To this, Hillary Clinton, in her speech at the Democratic National Convention, remarked, with unveiled sarcasm:
“He also talks a big game about putting America First. Please explain to me what part of America First leads him to make Trump ties in China, not Colorado. Trump suits in Mexico, not Michigan. Trump furniture in Turkey, not Ohio. Trump picture frames in India, not Wisconsin. Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again. Well, he could start by actually making things in America again.”
Ross Cohen, who describes himself as a “political news junkie,” in a posting on “Politics of the United States of America,” described Trump:
“He’s a buffoon. Virtually every sentence out of his mouth is unintentionally funny. He exaggerates everything. He’s like a cross between a sketchy used car salesman and a kooky grandpa who randomly blurts out racist statements…
“He’s a wonderful gift to late night comedians, but he’s actually impossible to caricature because he already is a caricature. Jon Stewart joked that he would redo the outside of the White House in all gold to ‘class up the joint’ -- it’s funny but also seems a little too plausible, like something he would actually do. All his properties are gaudy and over-the-top, with his name added to the top in giant letters.”
Duterte, as quoted by the Washington Post, has rejected the comparison to Trump: “Trump is a bigot. I am not.”
There, I think, is where the similarity ends.
Duterte has an inclusive, down-to-earth attitude towards people, particularly the poor and those from his native Mindanao who, he believes, have been ignored too long by “Imperial Manila.”
One significant proof of this inclusiveness, and the lack of a hyper-ego, was when he invited past presidents, Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph E. Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Benigno S. C. Aquino III to Malacañang to sit with him and his national security team to discuss the dispute with China.
Duterte is as devoid of frills as Trump is like a Christmas with all the glitter, both literal and figurative, on his person. And if Duterte has ever been heard to boast, it has never been about his wealth or his power, but about his propensity for violence. He has, of course, flaunted his exploits with women, but there is hardly a Filipino male who doesn’t imagine himself a Lothario, whether they admit it to their wives or not.
Duterte has also never been accused of taking advantage of other people for their money. Trump, on the other hand, has been known to avoid paying his business debts, using lawyers to intimidate collectors and hiding behind America’s bankruptcy laws.
In the few weeks that he has been in office, Duterte has also markedly mellowed.
About the aborted cease-fire with the NPA, for which CPP’s Jose Maria Sison called him a butangero, Duterte has expressed willingness to talk to the other side because, “Maybe we did not understand each other. And so the best is really to talk again and find out whether it is reachable or beyond our reach.”
He has already tempered his language, remarking that he can no longer be foul-mouthed because he now speaks for the Filipino people.
But speaking of comparisons and similarities, what I think deserve to be compared are the reasons for the surge of Duterte in the last stretch of the election campaign, and the way Trump trounced the other Republican presidential aspirants and now continues to enjoy a relatively high approval rating among average Americans, although significantly lower than that of Clinton.
Wrote political pundit Thomas Frank:
“Let us now address the greatest American mystery at the moment: what motivates the supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. I call it a ‘mystery’ because the working-class white people who make up the bulk of Trump’s fan base show up in amazing numbers for the candidate, filling stadiums and airport hangars, but their views, by and large, do not appear in our prestige newspapers. On their opinion pages, these publications take care to represent demographic categories of nearly every kind, but ‘blue-collar’ is one they persistently overlook.”
Indeed, the resentment and discontent of these people is what Trump has succeeded in representing. And there lies the most significant similarity with Rodrigo Duterte, who echoed the resentments and the discontent of the Filipino voters with Philippine politics and the Aquino administration during the election campaign.
Comparisons are said to be odious. But this one deserves serious thought.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.
share us your thoughts by leaving some comments below.