Is there any leader on the global stage who is more crass, obnoxious and objectionable than United States President Donald Trump?
Yes—and, hands down, the ignominious accolade goes to Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, the foul-mouthed fascist who this week was escorted around our fine city by a formidable phalanx of security. This included an elite squad from Hong Kong’s Counterterrorism Response Unit wielding, among other lethal instruments, MP5 submachine guns, and deploying a little-used anti-explosives vehicle in the vanguard of his heavily armed motorcade.
Snipers were also at the ready as the president–who may soon find himself charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague—made his way to and from his suite at the InterContinental Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Thankfully, no shots were fired—at him or anyone else. The 73-year-old Duterte is now safely returned to the Philippines, and Hong Kong’s counter-terror unit can breathe a sigh of relief. As can we all. He may have offered a very belated apology for the 2010 hostage debacle in Manila, in which eight Hongkongers were killed by a rogue policeman who hijacked their tour bus, but it’s still good riddance to bad rubbish.
This visit, Duterte’s second trip to the city in 10 months, was not even an official visit; no one invited the Tyrant from Davao to Hong Kong; he just decided to show up, turn parts of the city upside down for three days, hold a self-serving meeting with select Filipinos at a remote location and then go back to killing alleged drug peddlers in his homeland.
Trump may be drowning in a sea of his own bluster as a special prosecutor edges closer to tying him to Russian interference on his behalf in the 2016 presidential election. Allegations of sexual encounters with porn stars and Playboy models continue to swirl around the White House. But not even the mercurial, relentlessly self-promoting US president can top Duterte for vulgar bombast and general boorish tastelessness and incivility.
After all, this is the world leader who called former US President Barack Obama “son of a whore”—a descriptor he later also hurled at United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein—and called Pope Francis, of all people to target in the mostly Roman Catholic Philippines, “son of a bitch.”
In addition, the Philippines’ Misogynist-in-Chief is on record boasting of his many mistresses, joking about raping an Australian missionary and ordering Filipino soldiers to shoot female communist rebels “in the vagina” so as to render them “useless.”
But the chief obscenity for which Duterte is responsible is his so-called “war on drugs”—which has been more accurately characterised as a “mass murder” and is now the subject of an ICC inquiry.
According to a 77-page report submitted to the court by Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio, Duterte is directly responsible for “extrajudicial executions and mass murder” over three decades going back to his first election as mayor of Davao City in 1988.
Since the man known as “The Punisher” became president in 2016, the report states, more than 8,000 people have been killed by police in anti-drug operations—twice as many as the official figure of 4,000, which is in itself an outrage.
Facing a barrage of criticism both at home and abroad, Duterte has moved to muzzle his critics in the media with threats and intimidation and, in the case of Rappler—a popular news website established in 2012 by a former CNN bureau chief, Maria Ressa—revoking its operating license.
Duterte is also using his allies in the country’s House of Representatives to mount an impeachment bid against another of his critics, Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno; at the same time, government lawyers are petitioning the court to invalidate Sereno’s appointment on the grounds that she failed to follow rules for financial disclosure when she applied for the position of chief justice in 2012.
Duterte has made his feelings about Sereno crystal clear, publicly warning her: “I am putting you on notice that I am your enemy and you have to be out of the Supreme Court. I will see to it. And after that, I will request Congress go to the impeachment right away.”
Here in Hong Kong Duterte has drawn an angry response from many in the Filipino community for his role in last month’s abrupt recall of Jalilo Dela Torre, the Philippines’ well-liked and respected former labour attaché, who was known for his efforts to combat human trafficking and to lend support to the more than 190,000 Filipina domestic helpers who work, often under difficult conditions, in Hong Kong.
Indeed, prior to his recall two years into a three-year appointment, Dela Torre had called out Hong Kong as a base for crooked employment agencies that have made a practice of luring Filipina helpers into paying fees of up to nearly HK$44,000 for placement in high-income jobs in Russia, Turkey and Brazil which never materialised, leaving victims of the scam stranded, penniless and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Why would the president of a country whose biggest export is people want to remove an official who is a proven a champion of this too-often cheated and mistreated mass of human capital?
That’s what a stubborn contingent of protesters wanted to know during Duterte’s Hong Kong visit, but of course they could not get anywhere near his militarised motorcade or barricaded hotel; nor were they among the 2,000 guests invited to meet the president on Thursday at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, a location seemingly chosen for its remoteness and isolation, at a time when most Filipina workers in the city would be serving dinner and cleaning up the dishes.
Donald Trump sends his thanks and appreciation, Mr President—you make him look good.