“A man with the human rights records of President Duterte should not be invited to the White House and, if he comes, I will lead the protest.” –Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-2, D)
Recently, two members of the United States House of Representatives publicly stated their opposition to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Rep. Jim McGovern is from the second district in the state of Massachusetts, which include the city of Worcester. He’s been in office since 1996, running unopposed for more than half of his reelection campaigns. The other is Rep. Jackie Speier, who first won her congressional seat through a special election in 2008 and represents California’s 14th congressional district. That area includes parts of left-wing San Francisco, along with Daly City, an American city known for being one of the most heavily-populated by Filipinos and Filipino-Americans.
Both are members of the Democratic party, the party that continues to be in the minority of both the House and the Senate, and whose candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, lost to businessman and television personality Donald Trump in the hotly-contested presidential election of 2016.
McGovern, ranked as one of the most leftist members of Congress, has a background in international human rights, where he previously worked as an advocate in countries like Sudan – some would say a far cry from the Philippines.
“President Duterte by all accounts seems to not have a high regard for human rights,” he asserted. “No other country comes to mind where people are assassinated in the streets in the name of fighting drugs and leaders brag about it as a good thing.”
This is the same man who, in February 2017, traveled to Cuba seeking business opportunities.
According to a report in The Boston Globe, he met with Cuban President Raul Castro, saying, “We always think of the embargo in terms of how it hurts Cubans.”
The congressman’s comments on Duterte are based on sheer speculation that the president is ordering indiscriminate killings. The president, himself, stated police have the right to shoot if suspects fight back or are resisting. It’s a policy Indonesian President Joko Widodo has carried out in his country, recently ordering police to shoot drug traffickers who resist arrest – will have to wait and see when McGovern takes as firm a stance against the Indonesian president.
How exactly does one reconcile his previous announcements when he happily shakes hands and is willing to extend millions of dollars to a man whose family built their power by abusing human rights?
The late Fidel Castro, with his brother Raul by his side, according to Human Rights Watch, “refused to recognize the legitimacy of Cuban human rights organizations, alternative political parties, independent labor unions, or a free press;” additionally, according to Amnesty International, “Upon establishing his provisional government in 1959, Castro organized trials of members of the previous government that resulted in hundreds of summary executions.”
Yet, when it comes to a firm policy in combatting the scourge of illegal drugs and suppressing the drug trade that has gone unmitigated for years, Duterte is the bad guy and Castro is, as McGovern said after praising former US President Barack Obama for taking “a major step forward” by normalizing ties with the authoritarian Communist regime, “You can feel it when you meet with the government.”
Moreover, after Trump referred to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as a “madman with nuclear weapons,” McGovern and other Democrats appeared to be outraged by the statement and penned a letter demanding the president take a diplomatic approach, seemingly trying to appease the North Korean leader.
The mere act would not automatically dictate an endorsement of Kim, but while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previously articulating a strategy towards direct talks with North Korea, for the other political side to overreact to a glib statement by the president, shows it is not merely a matter of foreign policy, but it’s game of politics – trying to put forward a façade that does not entirely spell out the entire truth; similar to the way McGovern tries to illustrate Duterte, through his skewed view of the world.
Speier, on the other hand, since Trump was elected has acted more like a conspiracy monger than a member of Congress. She has since sought an FBI investigation into Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner; continues to claim there is “more” evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, when no evidence has even been revealed (the only such “collusion” with hard evidence was between Ukrainian officials and the Clinton campaign); along with trying to link Trump associate after Trump associate to Russia – with no result.
As Trump campaign communications adviser Michael Caputo put it, “The problem we have is the Democrats have no interest in ending these investigations.”
“They’re looking to extend this as long as possible because they’re successfully stopping Donald Trump from implementing his agenda,” he explained. “He may have won the election, but they have won the first year of his presidency – the most important year of a presidency.”
Plus, with her district including Daly City, it should surprise nobody that Speier is likely trying to pander to her Filipino constituency and play up “knowledge” of the Philippines.
In December 2014, Speier took to Facebook to praise the normalization of relations between the US and Cuba. Like McGovern, she heaped praises on Communist Cuba, writing, “Normalizing relations is the right thing to do and opens a new chapter between our nations.”
The California congresswomen even framed the United States as the bad actor, adding, “We’ve been occupying a part of the country since the 1930s.”
Yet again, an elected American official, saying things like “Duterte’s campaign of vigilantism and extrajudicial execution is unacceptable in a modern democracy” out of one side of their mouth, and then fawning over the Castro brothers and their legacy from the other.
According to a May 2017 report by polling company Gallup, the United States House of Representatives showed a 20 percent approval rating; a number that has been pretty constant even throughout Obama’s presidency – meaning, the number remain low with either Democrats or Republicans in charge. However, the latest Pulse Asia survey, conducted between June 24 and 29 and after the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, found Duterte with an 82 percent approval – up from before declaring Martial Law.
After a year into his administration; amid terror attacks; revolutionary policies implemented to combating illegal drugs; and a human rights record McGovern believes disqualifies him from entering the United States, he’s still pulling in numbers that, during his now-infamous interview with Senator Antonio Trillanes III, HARDtalk host Stephen Sackur said, “If a Western politician could command a 75 percent approval rating, they would regard that as the happiest day of their life.”
It could also merely be Western elitism. Condemning something the Filipino people themselves have shown they approve of but believing Filipinos are unable to formulate decisions on their own.
It could be a matter of anti-Trump politicking, trying to keep two pro-law enforcement leaders from forming meaningful policy together. With the way the two expressed their opposition to a Trump presidency, can only imagine the same vigor is held for those who also want to see a nation’s laws enforced – for Trump, it’s illegal immigration; for Duterte, it’s illegal drugs.
As an expatriate of the United States, being a law-abiding citizen, the drug war has not made a personal impact and those feeling the effects are the ones Duterte vowed to go after during his campaign for president. There were plenty who took opposing views from then-candidate Duterte and those the American legislators are trying to appeal to could have made their voices heard at the ballot box.
Had another candidate won, a traditional politician that would keep the country subservient to the whims of the United States, perhaps foreign officials would not be so vocal.
Perhaps their goal is to keep the illegal drug trade lucrative – something foreign groups fail to see (or selectively ignore) regarding the imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima. The world would like to see it as the silencing of a political opponent (something she has propagated), however, within the borders of the country (and without the presence of a yellow ribbon), one can see the evidence to show how the drug problem became a concern while she was at the helm of the Department of Justice.
In the end, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto said it best.
“So what?” he stated in a text message to GMA News. “He is not the president of the US.”/WDJ