On Sunday 21 August, the Philippines’ impetuous President Rodrigo Duterte once again asserted how little regard he has for the status quo domestically, and for the political establishment globally.
Describing the United Nations as a “son of a b*tch,” Duterte threatened to pull out of the UN in response to their repeated criticism of his violent crackdown on the drug trade, reiterating his support for his vigilante “shoot-to-kill” policy against those involved in illegal drugs. He went on to propose that China and African countries be encouraged to also leave the UN and create a new global institution. “Take us out of your organization. You have done nothing anyway,” he said.
The press conference where the remarks were made was held at 2am in Davao, the city in southern Philippines that is home to Duterte’s original Davao Death Squads (DDS). The president had previously spent two decades there as mayor, and inserted his daughter and son as mayor and vice mayor upon his departure from the post in June.
A recent poll by Pulse Asia Research in July showed President Duterte had a historic 91% approval rating. These numbers could very well have received yet another boost when, after his tirade on the UN Sunday, he also announced that he would be firing all presidential appointees in government. Citing continued corruption, he told appointees, “consider your positions vacant as of this hour,” clarifying that the pronouncement excludes current cabinet positions. It was unclear as to how such an overhaul would be carried out, but he went on to say that the sweeping purge would be “a number in the thousands”.
Voters have not been entirely supportive of their new firebrand president in recent weeks though. Protests broke out in Manila in mid-August over Duterte’s alarming plans to honor the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos with a state burial in a heroes’ cemetery. Many of those who were tortured and imprisoned during Marcos’ reign joined the protests in addition to relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings during his dictatorship. Senator Risa Hontiveros, one of a number of parliament members attending the rally, claimed that if the planned honorary burial goes ahead in September, “we would be the laughing stock of the entire planet.” One thing is for certain, given recent events, it seems the Philippines now has the world’s attention regardless of the burial decision.