THE Philippine government is taking in its stride the naming of President Rodrigo Duterte in a global report on rights abuses as a populist leader who has intensified the “flouting of human rights”.
Responding to the Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2017 released Friday, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella reportedly defended the president’s “authoritative” leadership, saying his approach was similar to that of the late Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
According to Rappler, Abella said in an interview with state-run dzRB: “Like Lee Kuan Yew, you know, he was also very strict… Before, he was very strict when he was still in leadership, but then you can also see the progress of the nation.”
Lee, who passed away at 91 on March 23, 2015, was known to be authoritative in his methods but also remains respected to this day as the leader who transformed the island state from a third world nation into a thriving metropolitan city.
Abella also lashed out at those who placed labels on Duterte, saying such labels “limit you”.
He pointed out that while Duterte’s leadership approach may oftentimes be seen as harsh, the president was acting out of respect for the law.
“But the President is very authoritative and… let us remember that he goes by the rule of law,” Abella was quoted as saying.
He also said that the “liberal political order” is “antagonistic” toward authoritative approaches in government and that the Philippines remains “very Asian”.
Asians, he explained further, place greater importance on working to achieve a “common good” as opposed to the liberal ideal of fighting to uphold individual rights.
In the HRW report, the group’s Director Kenneth Roth warned of the rise of populist leaders claiming to speak for “the people,” whilst seeking to overturn the concept of human rights protections.
Roth expressed fear that “when populists treat rights as an obstacle to their vision of the majority will, it is only a matter of time before they turn on those who disagree with their agenda.”
The report in its Philippines chapter noted that since taking office in June 2016, Duterte has pursued a controversial and bloody campaign to wipe out drug crime. In the process, police and “unidentified gunmen” have killed several thousand people, it said.
Rather than holding those responsible for the killings to account, Duterte and his senior government officials have praised the deadly approach, the rights watchdog pointed out.
“In the name of wiping out ‘drug crime,’ President Duterte has steamrolled human rights protections and elevated unlawful killings of criminal suspects to a cornerstone of government policy,” Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at HRW, said in a statement on Friday.
The 687-page report launched Friday studies alleged rights abuses in over 90 countries.