We have just arrived home from our annual visit to the beautiful Philippine Islands. Breakfast of mangoes every morning and perpetual sunny skies. Envious or what? Of course that is not the whole story – leave the gated communities of the wealthy and witness the poverty suffered by so many of these lovely people. Children beg at traffic light stops, they sleep on the streets. The “lucky” ones live in make-shift homes lining every highway. Such absolute poverty seems pitiable and disgraceful to the Western eye. Beyond giving a few pesos to the beggars there seems little that can be done by the tourist. Feelings of helplessness and anger consume me on these occasions! The Philippines face massive problems caused, in part, by the endemic corruption at all levels of Society, the lack of infrastructure, and by the power exercised by the Catholic Church, whose teachings seem light years away from the modernising views of Pope Francis.
Since our last visit a new President has been elected – Rodrigo Duterte. He is already notorious for his War on Drugs policy – which is definitely far removed from the ”just say no” approach of other Governments! Duterte was barely in office last June when he declared his own peculiar take on retribution for drug dealers. He, in effect, has authorized citizens to act as vigilantes and shoot to kill anyone they suspect of being involved in the drug trade! As of December last year official figures show that there have been 5,600 drug-related deaths, 1,950 at the hands of the Police – the result of shoot-outs during drug bust operations. There have been 3,650 vigilante-style killings, usually performed by masked men on motor cycles. Where all this will end no-one can tell, but certainly the reign of terror in the poor communities shows no sign of ending. Duterte has just announced a further 6 month extension of this policy!
There are however some small glimmers of hope that Duterte, who describes himself as a “Socialist”, may be addressing the real problems. In an attempt to ease the traffic grid-lock, particularly in Manila, he has declared a 40% tax on new cars and announced intentions to invest in large rail, road and airport infrastructure projects. He is giving land to tenant farmers. He has tripled the wages of low ranking police in an attempt to discourage the bribery that is a way of life, particularly among the traffic police. I have witnessed this first hand. When stopped for a speeding or parking offence, there is no such thing as getting a “ticket”. What you do is negotiate a “price” with the traffic cop, pay him, and go on your way! This may ease corruption at the bottom of society, but it is the corruption at the top that has to be dealt with!
Duterte would also appear to be challenging the power of the Catholic Church. He has just declared a 3 child policy and the distribution of free contraception among the Poor. To say that the Bishops are unhappy, is putting it mildly. However the population growth in the Philippines must be addressed as a major step in Poverty reduction.
So it’s great to be back home to the world of western politics? Er no! Trump has declared his own particular brand of “war” – the ban on Muslims! In effect this has given the green light to immigration officers (Homeland Security) to inflict their particular brand of pain on foreigners entering the US – be they Muslim or just foreign! As someone who has experienced these people at immigration over a number of years, I have been appalled at their rudeness and bullying attitudes. Mind you, when asked accusingly,” You have been married to a US citizen for 40 years, why are you not a US citizen?” Perhaps – “it has never appealed to me!” was the wrong answer. More seriously, some years ago (pre-Trump), I experienced a friend of mine being taken from our company and put in a detention room. She was told to sit down and wait for an officer to question her. When her husband and I tried to intervene we too were threatened with detention. After over and hour she was released. Her crime – a smudged thumb print!! The lady will never return to the States after her treatment that day. In my view the problem is, that American immigration personnel have been, since the days of Ellis Island, indoctrinated with the idea that America is the “kingdom of heaven” and they are the “keepers at the gate.”
Trump’s policies have validated their position. They now feel they have carte blanche, and indeed, Presidential sanction, to treat foreigners with contempt and distrust. Look out for the tourist figures plummeting – and not just from Muslim countries!
Of course here in the UK we have much the same attitude to foreigners. EU citizens are left in a state of limbo, while the Home Office tries to rid the country of pesky non-EU foreigners who have made their homes, raised their families and paid their taxes in these nations for decades. Saint Theresa, the vicar’s daughter, must have been absent from Sunday School the day they spoke of Christian compassion! Theresa is straight out of the Trump play book – but I don’t think even Trump is slashing Disability benefits. She came up to the Tory Party Conference at the weekend and threatened us with the power of Westminster. In effect, she said, Scotland will just “dae as it is telt” by our masters in London!
Duterte, Trump and May have at least one thing in common, they are all bullies! We are forever being told that the best way to treat a bully is to stand up to them. Scotland can do just that – It’s time to stop being the victim!