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The Will of the People: Duterte’s Philippines – Narrated by David Strathairn – Full Episode

The Will of the People: Duterte’s Philippines – Narrated by David Strathairn – Full Episode

(lively orchestral music) Rodrigo Duterte: I will solemnly swear that I faithfully fulfill my duties as president of the Philippines, so help me God. Narrator: In May 2016, voters in the Philippines, fed up with a stagnant political system, opted for an unconventional candidate. (engine revving) (crowd chanting) -: We love Duterte so much! Narrator: Rodrigo Duterte has bragged about murdering addicts and joked about raping detainees… …and remains more popular than ever. -: Either you kill me or I will kill you idiots. (crowd cheering) (speaking in foreign language) Interviewer: So you’ve killed before? Duterte: Yes. Three men. Narrator: Great Decisions examines Duterte’s bloody crackdown on drug users and investigates how he has upended politics as usual throughout Southeast Asia. The Will of the People: Duterte’s Philippines next on Great Decisions. (dynamic orchestral music) Announcer: Great Decisions is produced by the Foreign Policy Association, in association with Thompson Reuters. Funding for Great Decisions is provided by PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP and the Nelson B. Delavan Foundation. (soft music) Narrator: The legend goes something like this: one night, in a bar in Davao City, on the southern island of Mindanao, a tourist lit up a cigarette in defiance of an anti-smoking ordinance. The bar owner summoned the mayor, who pointed a snub-nosed .38 revolver at the man and forced him to swallow the cigarette butt. -: I know that story. I would believe it. I’ve never met Duterte, but from the other stories I’ve heard, that he got on his motorcycle and drove down and took his pistol and put in the private area of a guy, I can believe that. -: President Duterte’s a very good storyteller, and Filipinos love to listen to his stories. It’s always this tough guy who’s often underestimated and basically teaching people a lesson. -: He had already a kind of a notorious reputation. He certainly was viewed as sort of a character. (speaking in foreign language) (crowd laughing) One of my predecessors, Ambassador Frank Wisner, apparently rode up part of the Philippine peninsula with Duterte on motor bicycles. (intense rock music) -: At the beginning, he looked at me, and he challenged me and said he bet I wouldn’t do it. I said, oh yes, I would. I think it produced nervous prostration among my security detail, who couldn’t quite imagine the American ambassador riding through the streets of Davao on a motorcycle, but that’s exactly what happened. (crowd shouting) Narrator: Duterte’s unique approach to justice won over voters in Davao City, which had one of the highest murder rates in the Philippines. He has dominated the city’s politics since 1988. -: We have to look at it from the Filipino point of view. What made Duterte popular in Davao, in the northern part of Mindanao, is he made a city clean and safe. And many cities in the Philippines are the opposite. -: Duterte obviously was watching very carefully both what the communists were doing, which was assassinating policemen on the streets of Davao, and what the anti-communists were doing. He saw that there was like a total breakdown of law and order in Davao, and he basically said, “I will restore law and order.” And that entailed some of the very muscular tactics that we saw. Narrator: In the 2016 presidential election, Duterte pledged to bring his controversial methods to the nation as a whole. The sitting president likened him to Adolf Hitler, but he defeated a split field with 39% of the vote. Reporter: As of 9:36 (speaking in foreign language). -: You had two distinct things going on: one, a populist candidate who appealed to people who were tired of the inherited wealthy ruling the country and, from their perspective, not doing much for them. And then, the two well-known candidates split the vote. -: I had young entrepreneur friends in Manila who I was talking to shortly after the election. I was a little surprised that they would have voted for President Duterte. And they said, “We’re sick of crime, traffic. “We sit in traffic for hours every day. “And he’s gonna come in and fix that.” (bell tolling) -: I have been an observant of many presidents from the time of Marcos up to the current situation. I have never seen one that has that kind of following, and people were actually looking at him as the leader that they’d been waiting for. Narrator: Duterte appealed to Filipinos who were fed up with a democratic system that bred corruption and seemed to advantage only entrenched elites. -: He comes from sort of the provincial elite that has always felt resentment against the Manila-based elites. He’s always ranted against what he calls Manila imperialism. -: There’s a long history of corruption, and a very small elite were the principal beneficiaries of that. Those elite figures often were the ones who got the major political jobs as well. -: What I see is frustration with democracy around the world is not producing the results that give you laws by and for the people. We are facing that in the United States with the corruption of our Constitutional system with gerrymandering, voter suppression, and dark money, and particularly the billionaire Citizens United money that is corrupting our political process. Narrator: Duterte also appealed to Filipinos who were frustrated with their country’s international relationships, including with the United States. -: You’ll see love-hate relationships, understandably so, in any place that there was a colonial power, and the United States was the colonial power. -: We went to war in the Philippines in the end of the 19th century and displaced Spain as the colonial power. We restored, in the 1930s, autonomy to the Philippines, but we retained the use of certain sensitive and critical military facilities. But with the ’90s, the bases came up for renegotiation, and the politics of the Philippines had changed, and as a result the United States had to withdraw from the bases it had in the Philippines. (delicate piano music) Narrator: In a country where many citizens perceived crime and drug use to be out of control, Duterte’s promise to restore order resonated. According to official police statistics, more than 5,000 people have died in the crackdown since he took office. Activists say the real figure is more than twice that high. (speaking in foreign language) -: We were headed to a summit in Laos, the East Asia Summit, and we were going to have our first bilateral meeting with Duterte. And it came out that he called Obama a son of a whore. -: I do not have any master except the Filipino people. Nobody but nobody. You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statement. (speaking in foreign language) -: And we canceled the meeting. The reason Duterte called Obama this is that we were being critical of his extrajudicial killing of people in his anti-drug campaign, and Duterte was saying, “I refuse the legitimacy of your ability to criticize us.” -: The extrajudicial killings are accusations that were made by many human rights groups. And like in any war, there is some collateral damage, so to speak. Especially in the beginning of the drug war, many of these killings were actually perpetrated by those policemen who were themselves involved in drugs. -: Duterte was very successful in making Filipinos believe that drugs and crime are an existential threat. Narrator: The conflicts rending Philippine society apart go beyond the drug war. In the south, Duterte has inherited a long-smoldering confrontation with Muslim separatist groups, including several affiliated with the so-called Islamic State. -: As Mindanao filled up with immigrants from other parts of the Philippines, generally Christian, there was a reaction from the native peoples of Mindanao and the beginning of dissidents on the part of Muslim Mindinaoans. That led to a long period of struggle, fighting. -: In the south, you had Muslim separatist groups who felt that they should not be part of the Philippines, that they should have been part of Malaysia or Indonesia, if you look at the maps, that they were victims of colonial mapping. -: It’s been there for a thousand years. It’s been a problem that we’ve had for so many years. And President Duterte has been offering a peace pipe. And so, very recently we’ve passed the Bangsamoro Law, which is basically giving them some autonomy. Narrator: Duterte has threatened to allow the death squads currently targeting drug users to go after leftists as well. -: Duterte himself actually got communist support for his election. But then the communists broke with him and then started attacking the military, and their supporters in the city started doing demonstrations and attacking Duterte. And now the president has gone after them. -: I don’t think the Philippines is ready to become a socialist country. We want to remain a democratic country, free enterprise. I think the government is doing what it can to be able to pacify many of these groups that have been advocating for the overthrow of the government. -: In this election, I commit to the Filipino people that this will be a clean election. (crowd applauding)
(speaking in foreign language) Narrator: As Duterte remakes Philippine society, he consistently flouts existing democratic norms. He has been especially hostile to journalists who are critical of his administration. -: Duterte said if police take a gift, a graft is not a crime. I think that’s a crime in everybody’s constitution. Whether it’s enforced is a different story. So that’s a major flouting of democratic norms. -: Some say this was brought in by the Chinese traders in the past. They always say that, in Asia, that whenever you deal with authority, you give something to make things work faster. That’s corruption here in the West, but in the Philippines or in Asia, it’s a normal thing that happens. You give a gift to a government official because he’s doing his job well. But here, that’s corruption. -: Filipinos are angry about corruption, and President Duterte himself has said he will go against corrupt officials, because he knows this is a concern. I don’t think there are separate norms. I think that there are ways that officials everywhere justify corruption in the same way. Narrator: Yet there have been tentative victories for the rule of law. In a landmark case in November 2018, three police officers were convicted of murdering a civilian, the first such ruling to emerge from Duterte’s drug war. -: They arrested the people who fired the guns. But where were the police commanders who were above them and who should take responsibility for ordering these policemen to do what they did? Have they been punished? No. Have they been promoted? Some of them, yes. -: Our government hears loud and clear what human rights activists and human rights organizations are saying. And so we’ve been able to manage that a little bit much better now. The law enforcement agencies have become more aware of the issues involved around it. And in fact, the number of policemen have been already removed from the force. At the same time, they’ve also charged them in court. I think something like two to three thousand have already been removed from PNP force. And it’s a continuing cleanup process. Narrator: Duterte’s shakeup goes beyond domestic politics. He has also put his stamp on Philippine foreign policy. -: He has had to face this challenging choice that confronts him one way or another almost constantly about how to balance or weigh the importance of two very significant relationships: that with China and that with the United States. -: I know that the United States has issues with countries like China and perhaps with Russia too, but we feel that it’s time for us to be able to have these relationships that are meaningful, that we can deal with the world on our own. And while we value our relationship with the United States, we also feel that it’s time for us to look into the other countries to be able to deal with them. We’ve never considered the Filipinos bound, in thrall in some manner to the United States. And the Philippines deserves its own, and needs its own, form of strategic autonomy, where it has strong relations with other nations in Southeast Asia and globally, can reach out to China and Russia. So, I fully agree. I don’t think that one replaces the other. Narrator: Eager to reduce the Philippines’ dependence on the U.S., Duterte has turned enthusiastically to China. -: I announce my separation from … the United States. (crowd applauding) -: In terms of South China Sea, Duterte government is not, in the Chinese perception, making trouble with China on the South China Sea. In terms of the overall attitude towards China, Duterte government is also extremely pro-China and regarded as friendly power, compared to the previous Aquino III administration. Duterte’s effort has also been rewarded by the Chinese generous commitment of financing in the Philippines. -: His original goal was to get more foreign assistance from China, both aid and trade. There has been more trade. Unfortunately, it’s also come with a large number of Chinese workers who have come into the country. And some of those have been in the middle-class professions as well. Narrator: Duterte has summed up his goal for the Philippine economy in three words: “build, build, build.” To implement that plan, he must attract investment. -: The economy is growing very well, but what’s important also is the program that the government has embarked, and this is the infrastructure program. It’s a $178 billion infrastructure program, massive, that is going to develop infrastructure from the south all the way to the north. It’s now the second-fastest-growing economy in Asia. -: Certainly China is the major source of a lot of the financing for all of the infrastructure building that’s going on in the Philippines and that Duterte has put out as one of his signature initiatives. That was a lot of the thinking behind his patching things up with China when he came into office as well. -: If we think about the growth of emerging markets as a whole, Philippines has been one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, let alone in emerging Asia. So it’s one of the Asian tiger cub economies. And you certainly see promising economic activity. Agrarian jobs giving way to manufacturing jobs and also giving way to services jobs in a very natural trajectory. The underlying growth dynamics I think are very promising, obviously with regard to demographics as well. (shouting in foreign language) Narrator: Already, some Filipinos are showing signs of frustration that the reorientation to China has not produced dramatic economic benefits. -: Traffic, as in Washington, is a terrible hit on the economy. The traffic and congestion, which he has really done nothing about. I know he’s looking at plans for subways, for light rails, but he only has a couple years left in office, and these are 15- to 20-year projects. The average person in New York City might complain about 45 minutes or an hour commute. A person in Manila has a three-hour commute each way. And that’s just average in metro Manila. -: His opening to China was originally seen relatively positively as a way to get more aid from China. The Chinese have not been very forthcoming with that aid, and so he’s lost some credibility. -: The Chinese are dragging those disbursements along. So, part of the consideration, of course, is that, well, the disbursement will also depend on how Duterte government responds to other issues, about other relations. Just want to make sure that the Philippines’ government will always maintain its pro-China and China-friendly posture, and they will be constantly rewarded. Narrator: Despite Duterte’s warm relationship with Xi Jinping, China has not been shy about pressing its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Claims which increasingly come at the expense of the Philippines. -: I wouldn’t say they’ve softened them at all, but they have put forward a kind of a softer face. They have been touting, in the wake of Duterte’s election, diplomatic negotiated settlements, sharing of resource exploitation options, et cetera. So, trying to put forward more of a diplomatic approach as opposed to the sort of legal battles that they were engaged in previously. Protestors: China out of Philippine waters! China out of Philippine waters. -: The Philippines was very smart and original in taking their cases to the United Nations, which they won, and international tribunals. But they don’t have a blue-water navy that’s capable of protecting itself against perceived or real Chinese aggression or against the biggest threat, which is Chinese, Taiwanese, even Japanese fishing boats. -: These reefs that were also being dismissed as just rocks by the Obama administration have now turned into military bases. And the Chinese refuse to talk to us. They did not recognize the decision made by the UNCLOS, which we brought out to Hague, and where we supposedly won that arbitration. It’s like we were left on our own. The United States would not get involved in any territorial dispute. So we had to reach out to China on our own. The only way is to be able to talk to them and find ways and means to be able to do what is mutually beneficial for both. (soft music) Narrator: In July 2019, a Chinese vessel rammed a fishing boat in disputed waters in the dead of night, leaving 22 Filipino fishermen clinging to inner tubes in the open sea. Duterte infuriated many Filipinos when he dismissed the assault as just a “little maritime incident.” -: A Chinese fishing boat rammed a Philippine fishing boat, sank it, and left the Filipino fishermen in the water to drown. Fortunately, another boat came by and picked them up. But that just created a very bad feeling towards China. (chanting in foreign language) -: Duterte has basically said let’s not make an issue out of this. And basically, Filipino officials looked down on these poor fishermen and told them to just shut up, and that’s been very controversial and has caused a lot of worries about Philippine sovereignty and our ability to protect our own oceans and our own marine resources and our own fishermen. -: The government was criticized by many people in the Philippines, especially the opposition, that we were very weak in our response. But when President Duterte went to China, they formally apologized and that they were prepared to compensate the fishermen. (uneasy music) Narrator: In May 2019, Duterte’s allies won the Philippine midterm elections, affirming the president’s popularity and strengthening his hold on the government. -: They did very well. We talk about the Trump effect or the Republican Party being afraid to criticize the president or challenge him, because they’re afraid they’ll be primaried. There were a lot of people, some who were Duterte supporters, many who were not, who jumped on the bandwagon and did very well. -: Duterte polled 80% popularity in 2019. He continues to be popular among large sectors of Filipinos. Some people say that people are afraid to speak out, but I would say the popularity is genuine. He’s talked about his daughter succeeding him, so this is very classic Filipino again. It’s political families instead of political parties or political movements or ideologies that carry on presidential legacies. Narrator: Some experts have urged Western countries to scale back military aid that is facilitating Duterte’s drug war. Others worry that any cutbacks could drive the Philippines further into the arms of the Chinese. -: We cannot allow for extrajudicial killings and still have business as usual. We should reconsider military-to-military connections between the United States and the Philippines. Our objective is to change the behavior in the Philippines and to adhere to international standards in regards to justice. -: Oh, for heaven’s sakes, that drives me crazy when I hear assertions like that, because, you know, we forget we’re treaty allies. The fact that the Filipinos give us a privileged treaty position is good for our defense. We’re not doing the Philippines a favor; we’re doing ourselves a favor. Our ability to operate near, in, in conjunction with, the Philippines is good for America. Maybe 20 years ago or even 10 years ago we could stomach certain discomfort with the types of leaders that we engage with. Now, where I think the existential crisis in the world today is about democracy and authoritarianism, we need to be shaping foreign policy that is more rooted in promoting democratic values. That would unfortunately probably play into the line that Duterte has been putting forward recently, which is that the U.S. is not a reliable ally and that this just shows that we need to be closer to China, so I think that would probably be counterproductive. Narrator: Around the world, Duterte is part of a rising cohort of democratically-elected leaders who have swept to power on the promise of a new brand of politics, openly contemptuous of existing elites and adept at tapping into a reservoir of popular frustration. Now, as he sets about remaking the Philippines in his own image, pundits can only guess how long his unorthodox style will maintain its appeal. (upbeat music) Announcer: Great Decisions is America’s largest discussion program on global affairs. Discussion groups meet in community centers, libraries, places of worship, and homes across the country to discuss global issues with their community. Participants read the eight-topic briefing book, meet to discuss each topic, and complete a ballot, which shares their views with Congress. To start or join a discussion group in your community, visit, or call 1-800-477-5836. Great Decisions is produced by the Foreign Policy Association, in association with Thompson Reuters. Funding for Great Decisions is provided by PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP and the Nelson B. Delavan Foundation. (dramatic music) (upbeat music)

10 comments on “The Will of the People: Duterte’s Philippines – Narrated by David Strathairn – Full Episode

  1. 23:25 "Change the behavior in the Philippines" – That's a good colonial joke Ben! Thank good we are slowly getting rid of your self righteous kind out of the Philippines. And we will refuse to get dictated especially from a Westerner who thinks they are above anyone else in terms of morality and adhering to human rights. How about you open your war records once in a while? That would be a good start. We hope the Coronavirus will not get you over there! Stay safe! Love from the Philippines

  2. 17:37 "He has done nothing about" ? Really? You don't research at all? You don't know about the MOTHERFUCKING SKYWAYS?? Your credibility completely went down the drain there and an obvious pro american anti duterte video. Here's my dislike!

  3. If situation is the other way around, like if the Philippines is the "UNITED STATES AND UNITED STATES IS THE PHILIPPINES" rest assured that no one would even dare to go nearby your territory and try to claim it because we would not allow it. Our President simply does not want trouble for his Countrymen by going into a war with China over a territorial dispute because if it happens it could possibly wipe out the entire Filipino race…. Now this is what Oppositions are trying to do to President Duterte right now, they want Duterte to make one bad decision by trying to bait President Duterte, they want him to be more aggressive in terms of dealing with China and they want him to go against China but Duterte is wise enough not to fall for it because it would only worsen the situation and that is definitely not a good idea……

  4. duterte saved the Philippines HIS ACHIEVEMENTS, on his 4th year as president is unprecedented, WE LOVE HIM for his love & dedication to save Philippines from being a NARCO State,,HE IS RESTORING JUSTICE AND ORDER,FREE MEDICAL CARE AND UNIVERSITIES FEES.Thank you for your balance reporting,

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