MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Saturday, October 1, sought to snuff out the outrage sparked by President Rodrigo Duterte’s reference to Adolf Hitler in the context of the Philippine leader’s war on drugs.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella made the statement late Saturday afternoon to clarify the issue that had prompted the German government to summon the Philippine envoy in that country, and had also drawn criticism from others, including the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, the Jewish community, and US officials.
The new Palace statement, an expanded version of the one Abella issued hours earlier, began by slamming the “Hitler allusion” of the President’s war on drugs – which Duterte himself made in a news briefing on Friday – as a “crude attempt” to malign the Philippine leader on the global stage.
“The Palace deplores the Hitler allusion of President Duterte’s anti-drug war as another crude attempt to vilify the President in the eyes of the world,” Abella said.
“It is a matter of record that the reference to Hitler did not originate from the President. Days before the May presidential elections, the President’s opponents introduced this issue to gain political mileage. It did not work,” he added.
Abella was apparently referring to a warning made by then President Benigno Aquino III days ahead of the May 9 elections, about the possible consequences of supporting then Davao City Mayor Duterte, the front runner in the presidential race.
Aquino had said that Duterte, based on his statements during the campaign, had the makings of another Hitler. “I hope we learn the lessons of history. We should remember how Hitler came to power,” Aquino said then, referring to Duterte’s avowed bloody anti-crime campaign, among others. (READ: Duterte: Sieg Heil?)
Since then, no one has publicly made any Hitler reference to Duterte until the President himself did so on September 30.
Abella said criticism overseas on the President’s comparison between Hitler’s massacre of millions of Jews and the Philippine leader’s bid to “slaughter” millions of Filipino drug addicts “are shaped by unverified reports that they have been getting from the Philippines as shown by the statements of US officials.”
“The President himself flatly rejected the Hitler comparison as can be seen in his reaction,” the Palace official said.
He was referring to Duterte’s lamentation on Friday that members of the international community had “portrayed” him as “a cousin of Hitler” because of his iron-fist approach to illegal drugs and the rising number of killings linked to it.
In the same speech, however, delivered after he returned from a two-day official visit to Vietnam, Duterte himself drew parallels between Hitler’s annihilation of millions of Jews and his controversial campaign against drugs.
“Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now there [are] 3 million drug addicts….I’d be happy to slaughter them,” he said.
“At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have, you know, my victims. I would like to be – all criminals to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition,” Duterte added.
In his updated statement on Saturday, Abella sought to explain the President’s comparison. “The President’s reference to the slaughter was an oblique deflection of the way he has been pictured as a mass murderer,” he said.
“He likewise draws an oblique conclusion, that while the Holocaust was an attempt to exterminate the future generations of Jews, drug-related killings as a result of legitimate police operations (as opposed to so-called ‘extrajudicial killings’ of criminals, wrongly attributed to him, as these are not state-sanctioned) will nevertheless result in the salvation of the next generation of Filipinos,” he added.
Abella said the President’s pronouncements are not meant to slight the Jewish community, though offered no apology.
“The President recognizes the deep significance of the Jewish experience especially their tragic and painful history. We do not wish to diminish the profound loss of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust – that deep midnight of their story as a people,” he said.
Abella noted that the Philippines was the only country in Asia that provided a “safe haven for Jewish refugees during World War II.”
“The President knows this and values our strong historical ties with the Jewish people,” he said.
Various groups have called out Duterte for making such remarks, among them, Human Rights Watch, which said referencing Hitler and the Holocaust “are on their face obscene.” Senator Manny Pacquiao’s boxing promoter, Bob Arum, who has an Orthodox Jewish background, said it was “reprehensible.”