OFW supporter: Duterte will kill for peace? Same in Saudi Arabia

Pia Ranada
OFW supporter: Duterte will kill for peace? Same in Saudi Arabia
Duterte's iron-fist approach to criminality appeals to OFWs who live in societies with a similar justice system

MANILA, Philippines – He vowed to rub out drug lords, shut down Congress if the lawmakers are corrupt, and feed bullets to scheming Customs personnel.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s statements may make the moderate-minded uncomfortable, to say the least. (READ: Duterte, his 6 contradictions and planned dictatorship)

Yet his cult following of supporters means some people like what they are hearing.

While waiting for Duterte to arrive at a concert-cum-sortie on Sunday, November 29, I struck a conversation with one of the thousands of supporters determined to see him that night.

He introduced himself as Jobert Eric, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who works for a travel agency in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He is enjoying the first month of his two-month vacation.

He said he is part of a large group of Riyadh-based OFWs who support Duterte. The “very organized” group meets regularly. He claims it is the largest Filipino group in the Saudi capital.

Eric is not at all bothered by the harshest criticism thrown at Duterte: that he violates human rights; that his action plan against criminality borders on vigilantism and plain murder.

Why? Because that’s how it works in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is peaceful and orderly.

“Me, personally, you kill a person in exchange for a peaceful community. He killed only criminals, drug lords, the corrupt, whoever else. He cuts off the hands of thieves, he cuts off the penis of a rapist. In Saudi Arabia, it’s like that,” he told me in a mix of English and Filipino.

Saudi Arabia’s legal system is based on Sharia or Islamic law. Crimes like murder, rape, theft, and robbery are punished by public beheading, amputation, stoning, and lashing.

The country’s “secret police,” the Mabahith, brings to mind the Davao Death Squad (DDS) that has been linked with Duterte.

Like the DDS, the Mabahith has been criticized by human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

But for Eric, what matters is that law-abiding citizens are safe.

“The people in Riyadh are behaved. You leave your cellphone, we are not scared because everything is secure….We need this kind of leadership.”

Although he mentioned the prevalence of sexual assaults against men in the Middle Eastern country, he said, “that’s another story.”

Duterte ‘defends’ OFWs

Eric said Duterte’s hardline stance on issues that matter the most to OFWs fill the void left by the Aquino administration’s statements which are at best, mild; at worst, vague.

“The situation in NAIA is the worst and then the President only says, ‘I am not convinced.’ Oh my God, it’s like we were hurt and then we were stabbed to the hilt,” he said.

In comparison, Duterte’s statements sounded a lot more reassuring to Eric.

“When he said he would make them eat bullets, because we were hurt, this is our grievance, that made us happy.…He said he would fix Customs, that made us happy because Malacañang did not act.”

Far off from their country of birth, OFWs still want to feel like they matter to the Philippine government, said Eric.

“That’s all we want, not to be ignored. PNoy’s term is ending and he hasn’t even visited Saudi which has 1.3 million OFWs.”

Then Eric recalled the first time he realized that he admired Duterte. He was a college student at Adamson University who flew to Davao City with his classmates to work on a research paper.

The subject of their paper was to assess peace and order in Davao City.

Although Duterte could not meet with them personally, Eric remembers going to city hall and being warmly received.

The staff knew exactly where to take them and who they should speak to.

His other two group mates gave Davao City low marks because of the DDS and alleged human rights violations. (READ: Duterte: ‘Am I the death squad? True’)

It was only Eric who, even then, liked Duterte’s style. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.