Trump Praises Duterte For Deadly Drug War Campaign

By Zachary Siegel 05/26/17

A leaked transcript of a phone conversation between the two controversial presidents has caused public outrage.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and President Donald Trump

President Trump’s affinity for autocrats and authoritarians who’ve committed human rights atrocities is on full display in his conversation with President Duterte. 

Last April, President Trump had a “very friendly conversation” with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has presided over the deaths of about 9,000 people suspected of using or selling drugs since the authoritarian took office on June 30. 

The meaning of “very friendly” was left for the imagination until The Intercept, an investigative news site, published a confidential transcript of the conversation between the two strongmen, during which Trump praised Duterte for his campaign of extrajudicial killings, which were captured in gory detail by Times photographer Daniel Berehulak. 

"I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem," Trump said. "Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that."

President Duterte responded saying thank you. “This is the scourge of my nation now,” he said, “and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.” 

Trump reassured Duterte that he understands the plight of his country. Unlike President Obama, Trump said, who was critical of Duterte for condoning the murder of citizens without due process. “I think we had a previous President who did not understand that,” Trump said.  

Obama cancelled a meeting with the brutal president of the Philippines after Duterte called him a “son of a whore.” 

Trump effectively rebuilt whatever bridge Obama burned during the call. 

In her column for VICE, Maia Szalavitz, a veteran drug policy journalist, wrote that this conversation between Trump and Duterte is “utterly terrifying.” Especially, Szalavitz noted, in the context of Attorney General Jeff Sessions ramping up an '80s-style Drug War here in the United States. 

On the campaign trail, candidate Trump addressed the concerns of grieving parents impacted by the nation’s opioid overdose crisis, promising to expand treatment. In fact, Trump swept counties with the highest overdose mortality rates. However in the president’s 2018 budget package, 56% of $27.8 billion dedicated to drug control will be used to fund interdiction and law enforcement—not treatment. 

“We are apparently being led by people who see taking (or even being suspected of taking) any illegal drug as worthy of summary execution,” she wrote.   

Duterte, much like Trump, picks fights with anyone who disagrees or challenges him. Dr. Carl Hart, America’s leading neuroscientist, was in the Philippines to set the record straight on methamphetamine—known as shabu. Specifically that the stimulant does not shrink the brain or cause people to become violent—side effects Duterte likely made up to justify the killings. 

Once Duterte found out what Hart was up to, he flipped, and called Hart “that black guy” as well as a “son of a bitch who has gone crazy.” Hart then fled the country, fearing for his life. 

All of this somehow earned Duterte an A-plus from President Trump. 

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.