Being an American executive living and working in the Philippines, it is safe to say my phone has been ringing off the hook recently, with reams of inquiries about “How is it in the Philippines now?”, or “What do you think?”, or “How is all of this going to play out?” with regard to the new Duterte administration and the war of words that has dominated the global press.
One can debate these questions back and forth for hours, and certainly social media is alive with the debate raging in full view. My answers to these questions have been rooted in what I believe are four fundamental conclusions that are near-irrefutable at this point:
It is far too early to conclude anything regarding the long-term impact. President Duterte has been in office a mere 100 days. We don’t know at this point how any of this is going to play out. Some wonder if the rhetoric is the result of a lack of seasoning as a politician on a global level. Others suspect this may all be part of a far grander strategy. What do I think? My mother grew up on a farm, and she always used to say, “Your mule always notices when you kiss your tractor.”
And I suspect President Duterte himself has the same kind of wisdom about him. This very likely could be a clever negotiation play to create more balance with the US and the EU and strike a better deal, i.e. making the “mule” more jealous. And why shouldn’t he fight for a better set of terms from the US and EU? Nothing wrong with this; it is his job as president of his nation to protect the best interests of the Philippines. Only time will tell. Let’s give the president time to run his playbook before any conclusions are drawn.
An important essence of leadership is a bias for action. President Duterte is not a “NATO” kind of leader, meaning “No action, talk only.” Rarely in recent history has the world seen a leader be more decisive in the first 100 days than President Duterte. No matter how one feels about the decisions, this itself must be applauded. He is a man of action. And this is an essential element of great leadership.
And finally, when the president uses the counter-argument of hypocrisy from the West with regard to human rights, he is absolutely right. I personally don’t agree with the use of 100-year-old arguments, as the present must be argued with the present. Dredging up human-rights issues from 100-plus years ago is a slippery slope — under this premise, a country could, for example, remove women’s rights to vote under the argument, “Well, the USA did not allow women to vote prior to 1920.” No, one cannot argue the present with the past, because the past is in the past, but the present can be altered. Yet, this really doesn’t matter, because the present hypocrisy of the West surrounding Syria, ISIS and the refugees proves that the US, EU and NATO, for that matter, have no business lecturing anyone about human rights. Because every day thousands of innocent people are murdered at the hands of an issue created by the West. And, worst of all, there is no willingness to help refugees, to clean up a mess of their own making.
So, who is cleaning up the mess?
This question brings me to the subject of how Jordan fits into all this. A small country in the Levant region, bordering Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, you could say Jordan is right smack in the middle of it all. Every day you turn on CNN, and somehow Jordan is in the middle of the mess you see on TV.
A few short years ago in 2014, the population of Jordan was a mere 6.8 million people. Half the size of Metro Manila. The economy has always more or less muddled along. The country is mainly desert, has scarce natural resources, and is situated in a volatile region. What constantly worries Jordan are the simple pleasures in life, things we in the west take for granted, like having enough water to drink. You see, Jordan has a water crisis, being an arid nation that is the third driest country in the world. With 6.8 million people, well, there are many areas that water is rationed daily, just to have enough to drink, let alone to bathe and recreate with! You think Jordan has swimming pools and expansive fountains everywhere? Think again.
So, what is the population of Jordan today? Well, it now stands at a whopping 9.5 million people! So how did this happen? Well, it wasn’t that the Jordanians went on a binge of unprotected sex as a means to boost their population. No, what happened was the turmoil in Iraq and Syria, two close neighbors, leading to entire villages and families spilling across the border to escape the death and destruction. To avoid bombs falling on their heads. And who can blame them? I mean, what would we do if we were in the same situation? Stay in our homes and be bombed and killed, or flee to safety? It’s not a complicated question. We in the west talk about the Syrian refugees like they are nothing but terrorists looking for a welfare check. It’s utter bulls**t. They are people, families who had a life and just want to live without bombs falling through their roofs, without snipers picking off the kids on their way to school.
What was Jordan to do? It’s easy to talk human rights. It is easy to quote the Bible or the Koran and to stand on a soapbox and tell everyone how great and caring we are. It is easy to lecture someone else on how to behave, or how to treat his or her fellow man. Talk is cheap. However, the real people of substance do something. They go beyond words, to actions.
The Jordanians are amazing people. Among the best of humanity honestly. Here they are worrying about things like having enough water to drink? How many Americans outside of Flint, Michigan, worry about drinking water on a daily basis? And what did Jordan do? Well, they took them all in. And in doing so, the population spiked by 2.7 million people, to a whopping 9.5 million.
Now, let’s chew on this for a minute: 2.7 million refugees taken in, an incredible 40-plus-percent increase in population overnight! I mean, what country can handle such an influx?
Jordan can. The little country, in the middle of conflict, made up of mainly desert and not enough water. They don’t complain. They don’t whine. They don’t protest and riot and make a scene on CNN or Fox News. They take in 2.7 million refugees, because, quite simply, it is the right thing to do. Even though they had nothing to do with creating the mess. They clean it up, for the rest of us.
And the USA? Well, President Obama proposes to take in a mere 10,000 Syrian refugees and is harpooned for it. States fight back. People scream and yell, ignorantly, “Let the Middle East take care of their own issues.” Donald Trump will build walls as his grand solution and as an example of protecting human rights. Wow. So let me get this straight. The West goes into the region, destabilizes Iraq and Syria, creates the entire issue, and now we claim no responsibility and turn our backs on the poor and homeless refugees who are created as a result?
In the US we love to get up on our pulpits and tell how great and kind we are. A “beacon of light for the rest of the world.” If the US was to replicate the Jordanian generosity, well, we would be accepting, oh, let’s say about 128 million refugees! That’s right, 40 percent of the population! But we can’t even take in a measly 10,000? It’s incredible. It’s sad. And it is hypocrisy in its worst form.
Come on! Let’s walk the talk!
The most shocking thing of all is how this fierce resistance to assisting refugees comes so strongly from the religious right in America. The so-called “Christians” who so strongly support a serial philanderer for president, a man who incites hatred and mob mentality, and who has insulted different ethnicities left and right. Well, just because one goes to church and votes republican does not make one a Christian. How anyone can go to a foreign land, create a massive refugee crisis and then turn their backs on the poor and homeless refugees and call him or herself a Christian is beyond logic or reason. What would Jesus do? I don’t think he would build a wall!
The most shocking fact of all is the list of the “top 10” countries in terms of taking in refugees, published by Amnesty International. It is downright mind-blowing. Here it is. And no surprise, little but generous Jordan tops the list. There is one NATO member, but it’s the poorest NATO nation: Turkey. Nowhere to be seen are the big, rich powers who talk a good game when it comes to human rights. Not a single America, or EU, or any of the “leaders” who criticize the Philippines. It’s amazing. These countries create many of the refugee issues. The human rights issues. And then despite their wealth they stand by and do nothing. They leave it to poor nations to clean up the mess. Shame. No, the only list these countries make the top 10 in is for hypocrisy. You have the US screaming about 10,000; you have EU member Hungary slamming shut the borders. Yet Jordan takes in 2.7 million people. It’s so hypocritical it is hard to fathom.
If you really care about human rights, well, then, it starts with supporting people without a nation. The poor without a home, who live in fear for their lives. This is ground zero; this is where it all starts. If you ignore these people, you can’t make an argument you care about human rights.
So the conclusions are crystal clear: To the wealthy, condescending nations that are not on the list of accepting refugees, may we suggest you get your own values, priorities, and principles in order before you go around lecturing others. You have no moral grounding to say a single word. Get your name on this list. Then you can talk.
To President Duterte, we say, “Give ’em hell, Rody!” There is an old saying in the Arab world, “The dogs bark, yet the caravan still passes.” Let the dogs bark. And keep doing what you think is right.
And to the nation of Jordan? We offer you a tip of the cap, a debt of gratitude, and our ultimate respect. Jordan has set the tone for what it means to act on principle and honor. The US and EU could stand to learn a thing or two from Jordan.