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The Trump-Duterte Drug War Tango

Since Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s inauguration last year, police and affiliated death squads have summarily executed more than 8,000 suspected drug users. When US President Donald Trump visits Manila this weekend, he will almost certainly remain silent, sending a global signal that state violence in the service of policy is acceptable.

NEW YORK – When US President Donald Trump visits the Philippines this weekend, on the last stop of his marathon trip to Asia, he will pay respects to President Rodrigo Duterte. Since Duterte’s inauguration last year, police and affiliated death squads have summarily executed more than 8,000 suspected drug users. Duterte himself has bragged of his role in launching and overseeing these extrajudicial killings.

Trump has already boasted of his close ties to Duterte, and the two men are expected to develop a fast affinity when they meet. What they are not expected to do is talk seriously about human rights. On Wednesday, Duterte told reporters what he would say if Trump broached the topic: “Lay off.”

The major question, then, is how explicitly Trump will endorse Duterte’s policy and practice of mass murder. Regardless of whether Trump directly praises Duterte’s program, or says nothing about it at all, his mere presence will be interpreted as a signal to law enforcement there, in the United States, and elsewhere that corruption and criminal violence in the service of a policy goal is acceptable.

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