President Donald Trump has made it a point to befriend and encourage Rodrigo Duterte, the brutal leader of the Philippines whose human rights record is disturbing for the amount of time he has been in office.
The two leaders have plenty in common, beginning with their hatred of reporters.
During a joint press conference with the two leaders in Manila on Monday, Duterte intimated that the press were spies and therefore he could not reveal what his meetings with Trump would be about.
“We will be discussing matters that are of interest to both the Philippines and…with you around, guys, you are the spies,” Duterte said. “You are.”
This remark really tickled Trump – who has threatened to have broadcast news licenses revoked when unflattering stories are published and whose administration has referred to the media as “the opposition party” — who simply laughed in response.
“Hah, hah, hah,” the U.S. president said.
Trump and Duterte having a laugh about how journalists are *spies" "Hah, hah, hah" pic.twitter.com/6DjpIZznRc
— Gabriel Snyder (@gabrielsnyder) November 13, 2017
But, considering 77 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and allegedly 177 have been murdered since 1986, Duterte’s remark is no laughing matter. Especially since several journalists have been killed since Duterte took office.
177 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1986, making it among the deadliest countries to be a journalist.
Hah, hah, hah. https://t.co/nsBiwkRVxD
— Megha Rajagopalan (@meghara) November 13, 2017
Referring to journalists as spies is more than just a punchline to a bad joke. Historically, journalists around the world in countries with a less-than-free press or an authoritarian regime have been accused by the state as being a spy in order to first discredit them and then punish them.
Journalist Sulome Anderson explained why she took exception to the two leader’s chummy moment at the expense of the press: “My dad was a journalist, not a spy, but after he was kidnapped, he was repeatedly tortured while his captors tried to get him to admit he was. Hilarious.”
My dad was a journalist, not a spy, but after he was kidnapped, he was repeatedly tortured while his captors tried to get him to admit he was. Hilarious. https://t.co/CJ2H7qTC7j
— Sulome Anderson (@SulomeAnderson) November 13, 2017
Her father, Terry Anderson, was an AP reporter taken hostage in Lebanon in 1985 and was not released until 1991.
Duterte has claimed that Trump once called to congratulate him on his violent crackdown on alleged drugs in his country, during which there have been more than 4,000 killings of suspected dealers and users — many of these were either extrajudicial killings or via kangaroo court.
Given that Duterte’s human rights record did not seem to be a major talking point for Trump during his visit — the White House claims it was briefly mentioned, and Duterte’s spokesperson said it was not brought up — this claim has gained credence. Adding to this notion was Trump allowing Duterte to silence U.S. reporters asking about human rights matters. Per CNN’s Jim Acosta:
“Trump allowed Duterte to shut down US reporters’ questions about human rights. Duterte told reporters they weren’t at a news conference. Question wasn’t answered,” Acosta tweeted.
Trump allowed Duterte to shut down US reporters' questions about human rights. Duterte told reporters they weren't at a news conference. Question wasn't answered.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) November 13, 2017