Written by: Stephen Hsu
Primary Source: Information Processing
What did Philippine President Duterte really say at the recent ASEAN meeting?
… An actual listen to the full press conference is enlightening in terms of Duterte’s issues with the United States.
At the 6:40 mark, Duterte goes off on a Reuters reporter who, in Duterte’s view, accepts the premise that he needs to answer questions President Obama and others might raise on extrajudicial killings and human rights issues in the drug war.
Duterte is infuriated because in his view the United States is devoid of the moral stature to question him on human rights, given its bloody history of “Moro pacification” in Duterte’s homeland of Mindanao.
CNN helpfully (or hopelessly) glossed the human cost of the US intervention for its readers as a matter of about 600 dead:
Duterte was referring to the US’s history as a colonial power in the Philippines, and specifically to one infamous massacre in the southern Philippines — the 1906 Battle of Bud Dajo — in which hundreds of Filipinos, including women and children, were killed.
Actually, he wasn’t, which CNN would have discovered if they had listened past Duterte’s first agitated reference to his fuller statement about “600” at the ten-minute mark. Duterte is referring to 600,000 dead, not 600. Even more shockingly, Duterte’s number is actually one of the more conservative estimates (the upper end is 1.4 million) of Moro deaths at the hand of the US military.
Yes, American friends, Duterte is referring to one of the most brutal and shameful chapters in the history of American imperialism, the brutal subjugation of the Muslim population of Philippines’ Mindanao over 30 years of formal war and informal counterinsurgency from 1898 into the 1920s.
Mindanao is where the United States first applied the savage lessons of its Indian war to counterinsurgency in Asia—including massacre of civilians, collective punishment, and torture. Waterboarding entered the US military toolkit in Mindanao, as immortalized on the May 22, 1902 front cover of Life magazine.
And the war never ended. After the Philippines shed its colonial status, the Manila Roman Catholic establishment continued the war with US help. Today, the Philippines is locked in a cycle of negotiation and counterinsurgency between the central government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) —a cycle that Duterte as president hopes to bring to its conclusion with a negotiated peace settlement.
This is not ancient history to Duterte, who emphatically stated in his press conference that the reason Mindanao is “on the boil” today is because of the historical crimes of the United States.
Duterte has additional reasons for his choler.
As I wrote previously at Asia Times, Duterte suspects US spooks of orchestrating a deadly series of bombings in his home city of Davao in 2002, with the probable motive of creating a pretext for the central government to declare martial law on Mindanao to fight the MILF. The 2002 Davao bombings form the foundation of Duterte’s alienation from the United States and his resistance to US-Philippine joint exercises on Mindanao, as he declared upon the assumption of his presidency.
And, though it hasn’t received a lot of coverage in the United States, last week, on September 2, another bomb ripped through a marketplace in Davao, killing fourteen people. It was suspected of being part of an assassination plot against Duterte, who was in town at the time, and the Communist Party of the Philippines (which is also engaged in peace talks with Duterte) accused the United States of being behind it.
At the ASEAN gathering in Laos, Duterte apparently tried to explain the roots of his indignation … :
“The Philippine president showed a picture of the killings of American soldiers in the past and the president said: ‘This is my ancestor they killed. Why now we are talking about human rights,’” an Indonesian delegate said. The Philippines was an American colony from 1898 to 1946.
The delegate described the atmosphere in the room as “quiet and shocked.”
As I wrote here (substitute Filipinos for Chinese below):
Most Chinese are incredulous that european colonialists and imperialists, many inhabiting the lands of indigenous people exterminated or displaced only a few centuries ago, would think to assume the moral high ground.
Someone quipped that a transcript of Duterte’s remarks might be mistaken for something written by Howard Zinn or a post-colonial theorist. Obama, of all US Presidents, is most likely to understand Duterte’s perspective. Obama initially responded by calling Mr. Duterte a “colorful guy” :-)