Duterte, Hitler and the zeal to kill: Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaking during a news conference in Davao city on Aug 21, 2016.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaking during a news conference in Davao city on Aug 21, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Boying Pimentel
Philippine Daily Inquirer 

And now the latest zinger from the man leading a so-called war on crime: “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there’s three million drug addicts [in the Philippines]. … I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

President Rodrigo Duterte has since apologised for the statement, though in the same breath he threatened to crush the lawyers who are complaining about the state of human rights in the Philippines.

But let's give him some credit: Duterte has, at least, corrected his history error.

Adolf Hitler actually murdered 6 million people. Obviously, there's a huge difference between 6 million and 3 million.

The number slaughtered by Hitler is equal to more than half the current population of Metro Manila. Duterte downsized that terrible statistic to merely the combined populations of Manila and Quezon City.

"What President Duterte said is not only profoundly inhumane, but it demonstrates an appalling disrespect for human life that is truly heart-breaking for the democratically elected leader of a great country," said Ronald Lauder, president of World Jewish Congress.

Todd Gutnick of the Anti-Defamation League in the US said it was "baffling why any leader would want to model himself after such a monster".

The controversy will now fade thanks to Duterte's admission and his "Sorry ha", an apology composed in uncharacteristically elegant and polite language that he or his speechwriters likely crafted with the help of a thesaurus.

"There was never an intention on my part to derogate the memory of 6 million Jews murdered by the Germans," Duterte said. "I apologise profoundly and deeply to the Jewish community."

Now this is not meant to "derogate" my friends who still support Duterte, but what is profoundly and deeply troubling is this: This president, who will lead the way to a better life for Filipinos, say his supporters, clearly has very little regard for life himself.

The focus of his latest provocative comment understandably has been on Duterte comparing himself to the notorious Nazi dictator and his drug war to the holocaust.

In normal times - that is, when a president cracking jokes about raping a woman hostage, or cursing the Pope and other world leaders are not the norm - the culmination of his outburst would have also sparked strong reactions: "I'd be happy to slaughter them."

But the nation and the rest of the world have become so used to Duterte's bloodthirsty rhetoric and the consequences of his pronouncements that the last sentence just seemed like another crazy, troubling statement from the new leader in Manila.

It's hardly shocking for many Filipinos today: Their president declared his zeal to kill by evoking the memory of the most notorious mass murderer in history.

Duterte acknowledged that what he said had probably left "a bad taste in the mouth" for the Jewish community.

If only he could recognise the atrocious taste left by an even greater offence: The slaughter and execution without due process of more than 3,000 Filipinos and the culture of vigilante violence emerging under his leadership.