Senators properly question US aid for Philippines

Even in a roomful of tinhorn dictators, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines would stand out. He has insulted President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, admitted to killing suspected criminals, called a United Nations official an “idiot” and threatened to burn down the U.N. headquarters. He also signaled his interest in closer ties with China, a nation with which the United States has conflicts on trade, security and other matters.

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Even in a roomful of tinhorn dictators, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines would stand out. He has insulted President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, admitted to killing suspected criminals, called a United Nations official an “idiot” and threatened to burn down the U.N. headquarters. He also signaled his interest in closer ties with China, a nation with which the United States has conflicts on trade, security and other matters.

Though it’s unclear what kind of relationship he and President-elect Donald Trump will have, the United States might have a difficult balancing act ahead in holding Duterte to international standards while preserving its long-important relationship with the Philippines. It will be especially important to ensure U.S. aid to the Philippines is not used for illicit purposes, such as an extrajudicial war on drugs.

Duterte’s outbursts are more unsettling than braggadocio. They give the impression that he’s unhinged. In September, Duterte called Obama a vulgarity because of concern that the latter intended to question him about summary executions in the Philippines’ war on drugs.

In recent days, Duterte’s comments have become increasingly outrageous. After publicly admitting to killing suspected criminals when he was the mayor of Davao City, Duterte threatened to burn down the U.N. headquarters in New York, denigrated the U.N.’s top human-rights official for suggesting his claims of murder be investigated and referred to U.N. officials as his employees because of the membership dues his nation pays.

Now, three U.S. senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida, a state with a large Filipino population, have asked the State Department to determine whether millions of dollars the United States has provided for law enforcement training in the Philippines were diverted to extrajudicial drug fighting.

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The State Department should undertake this assessment and share its findings publicly so U.S. and international policy toward Duterte can be modified accordingly. He is not likely to appreciate the scrutiny. If he comes to New York, someone should be assigned to watch him.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette