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FIRE STARTER

Duterte threatened to burn down the United Nations building

By Anne Quito

All the Christmas merrymaking in the Philippines has not softened Rodrigo Duterte. During a Dec. 17 trip to the country’s southern city of Zamboanga, the tough-talking president snapped when asked about the country’s wave of killings and reported human rights violations.

“You go and file a complaint in the United Nations. I will burn down the United Nations if you want. I will burn it down if I go to America,” he said.

Reuters/Erik De Castro

His acrimony towards the New York-headquartered intergovernmental organization flared in August when UN human rights experts in Geneva asked the Philippine government to address extrajudicial killings of drug users in the country. Since Duterte assumed the presidency in July, over 6,000 people have been killed in the country’s drug war, according to a Dec. 19 government report. In response, Duterte said he would consider taking the Philippines out of the United Nations.

But Duterte’s threat, like many others, should be taken with a grain of salt. His representatives scramble daily to retract or “massage” his words. “Don’t take him by his word. He’s a very colorful person, he exaggerates but he has a poker face. He never smiles, even through jokes,” explained presidential advisor Jesus Dureza in a Dec. 9 press briefing at the Philippine Consulate in New York City.

The hot-headed president threatened to burn the flag of Singapore in May. (He was totally kidding, insists his spokesperson).

The Philippines’s UN ambassador Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin Jr., has defended the president’s actions on Twitter, even invoking Nazism in reference to the government’s campaign to reduce drug use.

How does one actually gauge temperamental Duterte’s intentions, if we can’t take him by his words? “Wait until things roll out in action,” advised Dureza, a high school classmate of Duterte.

In any case, UN’s office safety officers are prepared for any fire starters. Said a spokesperson to Quartz, “Please rest assured that we uphold the highest safety standards.”