The Philippines’ Communications Secretary has hit back at American comedian Hasan Minhaj, who over the weekend gave an unflattering take on President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign.
In a statement sent to various media last night, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar took issue with many of the things that Minhaj said in his show Patriot Act, and said that the program was being used by Duterte’s critics.
“We find it desperate that, on the eve of the Philippine midterm elections, the vociferous detractors of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte would use an American comedy show, aired on Netflix, to demonize the chief executive and his government in its episode entitled ‘Brazil, Corruption and the Rainforest’ before the global audience,” said Andanar in his statement, as quoted by The Philippine Daily Inquirer.
In his segment about Duterte and the midterm elections, Minhaj expressed disbelief at how the president remains popular despite reports that his drug war has claimed the lives of thousands of Filipinos. He quoted the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) which said that since 2016, around 27,000 people have been killed in Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.
Minhaj also said that the government “doesn’t seem to care about the human cost” of its anti-drug campaign, which he described as “appalling.”
Andanar called Minhaj gullible for using the CHR’s figure and said it was “exaggerated.”
“He cited an exaggerated figure — 27,000, which is way higher than the official figure – to besmirch the government’s campaign against illegal drugs,” Manila Bulletin quoted Andanar saying.
Andanar added: “We express outrage that such erroneous narratives, obviously peddled by anti-Duterte haters and trolls, would find their way to the gullible TV host and his comedy show and unwittingly parrot these falsehoods to an audience unaware of the real score in the Philippines.”
The correct data, according to Andanar, was the figure given by the Philippine government itself which says that 5,050 people allegedly died in the drug war from July 2016 to November 2018. He also said that the Philippine National Police (PNP) reported that many of these deaths were allegedly the result of violence between rival drug syndicates.
However, a February Social Weather Stations survey showed that many Filipinos believe that the PNP is involved in the summary killings of drug suspects.
Andanar cited various surveys to show that the Duterte government is supported by the public.
“For the information of Mr. Minhaj, 6 out of 10 Filipinos pointed out that the illegal drug users in their areas have decreased based on independent pollsters, attesting that the campaign is effective. Also, 7 out of 10 Filipinos mentioned that the Duterte Administration is serious in solving the killings in the country,” the Philippine News Agency quoted Andanar saying.
Andanar also took issue when Minhaj cited Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa and jailed Senator Leila de Lima for standing up to Duterte.
De Lima, whom Minhaj described as courageous, is a vocal critic of the president who was jailed for drug-related charges in February 2017. She has been accused of receiving money from drug dealers back when she was Department of Justice secretary. In an interview with Al Jazeera, the senator said the charges were “total, absolute lie[s] and fabrications.”
On the other hand, Ressa has been facing a slew of charges including tax evasion and cyber libel. She said that the charges were politically-motivated due to Rappler’s strained relationship with Duterte.
Andanar insisted that the president has nothing to do with the legal woes faced by both women.
“On Ms. Ressa and Senator De Lima, their cases underwent legal processes and their politics, or opposition to President Duterte, has nothing to do with the charges that they are now facing,” he said.
“Both personalities violated domestic laws with Ms. Ressa committing tax evasion, breach of anti-dummy laws, and violation of cyber laws; and Senator De Lima transgressing anti-drug laws.”
In his segment, Minhaj also took a swipe at Duterte’s decision to endorse controversial candidates in the Senate elections, specifically Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos (The daughter of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos), former special assistant Christopher “Bong” Go, and former Philippine National Police chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, who launched the drug war. All three appear poised to work in the Senate, judging by the current poll results.
Reacting to Minhaj’s criticism, Andanar said: “The Philippines, like the USA, is a country where democracy is vibrant and the will of the people reigns supreme. Ultimately, it is the Filipino people who will choose their own set of leaders and we simply have to respect the results of the elections.”