By Ted Alcuitas
Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte must have been following what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father said when asked if he would raise the issue of human rights with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos more than 30 years ago.
“Nobody likes to be told by an outsider how to run his own government,” said the elder Trudeau.
Last week, Duterte lashed out at Justin Trudeau for criticizing his (Duterte’s) war on drugs…a campaign that has seen more than 12,000 people killed, according to Human Rights Watch—2,555 of them by the Philippine National Police.
“It is a personal and official insult…. It angers me when you are a foreigner, you do not know what exactly is happening in this country,” fumed Duterte. “You don’t even investigate.”
While Trudeau has been criticized for his photo-ops while in the Philippines for the ASEAN Summit, he deserves credit for standing up to the Philippine strongman, known worldwide for his ascerbic tongue and foul language.
Beyond Trudeau's posturing with the iconic Philippine fast-food chain Jollibee and riding the new jeepney, he was the only western leader to raise the issue of human rights, including that of the Rohingya with Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.
In contrast, U.S. president Donald Trump had a bromance with Duterte, saying they had a “great relationship” and even laughing approvingly when Duterte called the media “spies”.
Duterte sang a Filipino love song at an ASEAN leaders dinner, “upon the orders of the commander-in-chief of the United States”.
Trudeau was not risking much direct economic damage by confronting Duterte.
Canadian exports to the Philippines totaled $626 million in 2016, while imports totaled $1.35 billion.
But the PM’s motivation may not have been completely free of political calculation. Currently the Philippines ranks as the top source country for new immigrants, with 41,785 new permanent residents in 2016 alone.
In a news conference after his meeting with Duterte, Trudeau was also praised by Philippine media for, among other things, his “unabashed” mention of Canada’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) as "feminist" and pledging his continued support for women’s reproductive rights.
He admitted that Canada is not perfect and that it has its own human rights problems, especially with regard to its Indigenous people.
On the issue of the rotting Canadian garbage, Trudeau is promising a solution now that the barrier posed by Canadian law has been overcome. It is now only a question of who pays for the return to the trash, given that it was a private business venture in the first place.
While he was generally rated favourably by local media, the question remains if having a good heart alone is enough in politics.