If you’re the tourism secretary of the Philippines, part of your job is convincing tour operators to send travelers to your country. Working in your favor: the majestic mountains, tropical islands, and fascinating cultural history of the Southeast Asian nation. Working against it: a bloody war on drugs criticized by human rights groups and dominating headlines about the Philippines.
Wanda Teo is the nation’s current tourism secretary. While in Thailand this week with president Rodrigo Duterte—the driving force behind the drug war—she addressed an entourage of Filipino reporters tagging along. Especially in Asia and Europe, she complained, tour operators were always asking her about the war on drugs. She told the gathered journalists:
“Help us because you know, it’s really difficult for me to sell the Philippines, especially when extrajudicial killings becomes the topic. To the media, please tone down a little the extrajudicial killing [reports].”
Of course, if you’re a reporter, part of your job is informing fellow citizens about what’s happening on the streets, such as when a 12-year-old girl was killed as collateral damage in the drug war last December. Selling the Philippines as a great vacation destination? Not so much.
Reporters aren’t the only ones being asked this week to “tone down” observations about the war on drugs. The nation’s vice president, Leni Robredo, was taken to task by interior secretary Ismael Sueno. Her criticism of the drug war in a video message to United Nations, he complained, is affecting the Philippines’ standing in the international community. That in turn could hurt trade agreements with other countries, especially with regards to the European Union:
“We stand to lose many things. This is the consequence of what they are doing to the president. This is being propagated by many sectors in the government and recently by VP [Robredo].”
Of course the EU has, independent of any observations by wayward Filipino reporters or politicians, come to its own conclusions about Duterte’s war on drugs, which it has joined human rights groups, the Catholic Church, and other world leaders in heavily criticizing. Amnesty International reported last month that more than 7,000 drug-related killings have taken place in the nation since Duterte came to power last summer, with police incentivized to conduct extra-judicial slayings rather than mere arrests, and vigilantes also getting in on the action.
In response to the EU’s criticism of the drug war, Duterte responded by giving the bloc the middle finger during a speech last September, also telling it “fuck you.”
Such comments obviously make Teo’s job more difficult, too, but she’ll likely be quicker to complain about journalists’ coverage of the drug war than about her volatile boss’s vitriolic statements—or, say, the actual drug war itself.