MANILA - Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella on Saturday came to the defense of President Rodrigo Duterte, who is drawing flak for citing Adolf Hitler and the Jewish Holocaust in his war on drugs.
Abella, in a press statement, said Duterte's reference to the slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War 2 by Hitler's Nazi regime "was an oblique deflection of the way he has been pictured as a mass murderer, a Hitler, a label he rejects."
"The Philippines recognizes the deep significance of the Jewish experience especially their tragic and painful history," he said. "We do not wish to diminish the profound loss of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust - that deep midnight of their story as a people."
Duterte, in a press conference in Davao City Friday morning following his arrival from an official visit to Vietnam, told reporters that he had been "portrayed to be a cousin of Hitler" by critics.
Noting that Hitler had murdered millions of Jews, Duterte said, "There are three million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I'd be happy to slaughter them.
"If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have ...," he said, pausing and pointing to himself.
"You know my victims. I would like (them) to be all criminals to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition."
Abella, however, claimed that Duterte only drew "an oblique conclusion, that while the Holocaust was an attempt to exterminate the future generations of Jews, the so-called 'extra-judicial killings', wrongly attributed to him, will nevertheless result in the salvation of the next generation of Filipinos."
"He was just addressing the negative comparison that people made between him and Hitler," he said.
"Hitler murdered 3 (sic) million innocent civilians whereas Duterte was referencing to his 'willingness to kill' 3 million criminal drug dealers (sic) - to save the future of the next generation and the country," Abella said. "Those are two entirely different things."
GERMANY, JEWISH GROUPS CRY FOUL
Germany's government on Friday said Duterte's statement comparing his war on drugs to the Holocaust were "unacceptable".
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Martin Schaefer said it is impossible to make any comparison between the two.
Duterte's comments have also triggered shock and anger among Jewish groups in the United States, which could add to pressure on the U.S. government to take a tougher line with the Philippine leader.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Digital Terrorism and Hate project, called Duterte's statement "outrageous".
"Duterte owes the victims (of the Holocaust) an apology for his disgusting rhetoric," Cooper said.
The Anti-Defamation League, an international Jewish group based in the United States, said Duterte's comments were "shocking for their tone-deafness".
"The comparison of drug users and dealers to Holocaust victims is inappropriate and deeply offensive," said Todd Gutnick, the group's director of communications. "It is baffling why any leader would want to model himself after such a monster."
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said any use of "the Holocaust and the suffering of the Holocaust in comparison to anything else, frankly, is inappropriate and needs to be rejected." He said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had made clear that the fight against illegal drugs must be done "in accordance with human rights standards."
State Department spokeswoman Anna Richey-Allen reiterated U.S. concern about "reports of extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of government authorities" in the Philippines, but offered no response to Duterte's Hitler comments.
A White House official stuck to a strategy of stressing long-standing ties with Manila, saying, "We continue to focus on our broad relationship with the Philippines and will work together in the many areas of mutual interest."
Two days before the Philippine election, then outgoing President Benigno Aquino had warned that Duterte's rising popularity was akin to that of Hitler in the 1920s and 1930s.
Duterte has been scathing about criticism of his anti-drugs campaign and has insulted the United Nations and the European Union, as well as Obama, at various times in recent weeks. - with a report from Reuters