Duterte, Your Behaviour Has No Place in Politics
United States President Barack Obama has cancelled a meeting with Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines, after Duterte called him ‘a son of a whore’. In doing so, Obama has sent a strong message to Duterte: he will not wallow in the mud.
When Duterte was elected in June, he encouraged citizens to kill drug dealers. According to some, his so-called ‘war on drugs’ has already led to thousands of deaths. The Filipino president has faced widespread condemnation for this policy, from human rights campaigners, foreign governments, and the United Nations.
Duterte had warned Obama not to mention his ‘war on drugs’ ahead of their planned meeting. ‘You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Son of a whore, I will curse you in that forum,’ he was quoted as saying. ‘We will be wallowing in the mud like pigs if you do that to me.’ In cancelling, Obama signalled that name-calling has no place in politics.
Last year, Max Harris and I published an article called ‘The Politics of Love’, in which we argued for a values-based politics flowing from love. Central to the Politics of Love is respectful engagement – something that Duterte says he wants, but does not seem to understand.
Obama’s behaviour, by contrast, was not only respectful, it was loving. His decision to cancel their meeting should not be mistaken for an unwillingness to engage with different opinions. Nor should it be understood as lacking regard for the victims of Duterte’s ‘war’. The US president has indicated that he will only engage in constructive dialogue. He will not be party to a politics of hate, as others – at home as well as abroad – are.
The international community must continue to oppose Duterte’s human rights violations – and it should endeavour to do so in dialogue with the Filipino president himself. But we must not allow ourselves, or our politics, to be pulled down into the mud. In refusing to wallow with Duterte, Obama is helping to keep politics clean.