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Duterte rages at 'matrix' of enemies, Philippine corruption, Canadian trash

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte strengthens hold on power; economic and environmental issues are forcing federal parties to make hard choices; at SickKids hospital, clowning around is encouraged.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

President Duterte speaks during an election campaign appearance in Manila on May 11, promoting his senatorial candidates for the mid-term elections that were held Monday. (Mark R. Cristino/EPA-EFE)

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  • Rodrigo Duterte is lashing out publicly at his perceived enemies even as the Philippine president's power grows.
  • Economic and environmental issues are forcing the federal parties to make choices as they fine-tune their election platforms.
  • At SickKids hospital, it's fine to clown around in fact, it's encouraged.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Duterte's trash talk

Rodrigo Duterte is expressing his anger over 130 containers of Canadian garbage festering dockside in the Philippines, recalling his country's ambassador and consuls in protest.

The move comes three weeks after the Philippines president threatened to "declare war" and ship the mix of household trash, plastics, newspapers and used diapers back across the Pacific, or dump it in front of Canada's embassy in Manila.

Ottawa says that it remains committed to repatriating and disposing of the waste, which was shipped overseas by private companies in 2013 and 2014, and is busy "finalizing the arrangements."

Philippine officials check a shipping container holding garbage shipped from Vancouver in this undated government handout photo. (Philippines Bureau of Customs)

But the federal government has had little success in placating the mercurial Duterte.

In that, they are hardly alone.

Today, for example, he abruptly fired the head of the Philippines Food and Drug Administration, via a letter that was released to the media. The dismissal notice didn't go into specifics, but it effectively tarred Nela Charade Puno, a pharmacist who became the youngest person to hold the role when she was appointed in 2016, as a crook, saying the move was part of Duterte's campaign to "eradicate graft and corruption."

Earlier in the week, the President defended the public release of a list of his "enemies," in the form of a complex diagram that showed supposed links between opposition politicians, journalists and communist guerrillas, all of whom he accuses of collusion with the drug trade and of plotting against him.

"The matrix is true," Duterte told reporters.

The president hasn't provided any evidence to back up his conspiracy allegations, but he has suggested that there is plenty of it in the form of "communications that were recorded."

Several of the accused, including journalist Maria Ressa, a Duterte critic who has been arrested twice this year, say that it is yet another attempt to intimidate them.

Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa is escorted by police after posting bail in Pasig Regional Trial Court in Pasig City, Philippines, on March 29. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

And one, Olympic weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who became a national hero for winning the country's first medal in 20 years at the Rio 2016 Summer Games, says she now fears for her safety.

"I am concerned for my security as well as that of my parents," the 28-year-old Air Force sergeant said in a tearful television appearance. "I am merely doing my best to represent the Philippines."

Hidilyn Diaz holds the Silver she won at the Rio Olympics in the women's 53 kg Weightlifting category. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

Duterte, who has three years left to go in his term, is only becoming more powerful.

His slate of hand-picked candidates triumphed in nationwide elections this week, with his former special assistant Bong Go, Imee Marcos, the daughter of the former dictator Ferdinand, and Ronald dela Rosa, the architect of his bloody drug war, all winning seats in the Senate.

(The opposition failed to elect even a single member of its list for the country's upper chamber.)

Three of Duterte's kids now hold office, serving as mayor, vice-mayor, and member of the House of Representatives for Duterte's hometown of Davao.

Sara Duterte, Davao City mayor and daughter of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, delivers a speech on May 9 during a senatorial campaign for Hugpong Ng Pagbabago (HNP), a regional political party she chairs. (Lean Daval Jr./Reuters)

And by the end of this year, he will have appointed 12 of the Philippines' 15 Supreme Court justices.

All of this despite a rather indifferent campaign, during which the 74-year-old president disappeared from public view for days, and then shared a photo of himself stretched out in his messy bedroom watching Django Unchained on TV.

What Duterte intends to do with all that political control and capital isn't yet clear.

He has mused about rewriting the country's constitution to devolve more power to the regions, and has promised to bring back the death penalty — "that is the only way to get even," he said in 2017.

He has also pledged to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12, and to cut corporate taxes to attract more foreign investment.

President Rodrigo Duterte is seen after voting in the country's midterm elections in Davao in southern Philippines on Monday. His name was not on the ballot, but the mid-terms are seen as a referendum on his phenomenal rise to power, marked by his anti-drug crackdown and embrace of China. (Cerilo Ebrano/EPA-EFE)

The only sure bet is that he will continue to lash out at his critics, both at home and abroad.

This week, he has been locked in a war of words with American comedian Hasan Minhaj over a recent segment on his Netflix show Patriot Act.

The president's spokesman says Minhaj distorted Duterte's record by quoting claims from human rights organizations that there have been as many as 27,000 extrajudicial killings during his anti-drug campaign.

"He cited an exaggerated figure," Martin Andanar told the media yesterday, suggesting that the true death toll is only 5,050.

"We express outrage that such erroneous narratives, obviously peddled by anti-Duterte haters and trolls, would find their way to the gullible TV host and his comedy show."

At Issue

Economic and environmental issues are forcing the federal parties to make choices as they fine-tune their election platforms, The National co-host Rosemary Barton.

Last night the federal government's tanker-ban bill hit a bit of a bump.

And it was because of an independent senator from Alberta, Paula Simons. This is what Simons tweeted after voting against the bill along with Conservative senators: 

The bill would restrict tanker traffic between the northern part of the Vancouver Island and Alaska. It's a key part of the government's attempt to balance the economy and the environment.

Though that's not how Alberta's Premier sees it. Jason Kenney called it a victory for "common sense."

It doesn't mean the bill is dead, but it does mean it's going to take a little longer and may need some amending.

This all comes as the federal parties try to position themselves around the environment and climate change.

The Liberal government is forcing a debate today to call this a "national emergency" and squeeze the Conservatives further, as their climate change plan has not yet been articulated.

The NDP also forced a debate around a climate change motion, and went further by trying to end subsidies to the fossil fuel sector and stop the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

An oil tanker anchors at the terminus to the Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby, B.C. TMX's shallow port can’t accommodate modern supertankers. (Chris Corday/CBC)

But the NDP is clearly feeling a squeeze of their own. This week the NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, would not say that he supported the LNG project in B.C. That was a day after saying he didn't believe Canada should continue energy development with fracking. Singh had previously said he supported the project.

It's hard not to see that flip-flop as a response to the loss of a by-election to the Green Party just a week ago.

At Issue will look at just how hard it is to articulate and keep a position on the environment and the economy, given the politics of right now. Chantal Hébert, Andrew Coyne and Chris Hall will be on your screens tonight. See you then.

- Rosemary Barton

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Clowns who heal

At SickKids hospital, it's fine to clown around in fact, it's encouraged, producer Perlita Stroh writes.

A. Leboo is a clown from a long line of rodeo performers. He wasn't brave enough to stay in the rodeo, so 12 years ago he hung up his lasso and saddled up to head for Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, where he has worked as a therapeutic clown ever since.

"A. Leboo is really just a better version of me, a more playful version, a more open version of me, more adventurous, more inquisitive," says Jamie Sneddon, the man beneath the red nose and who created the clown's persona.

"All those things that you would want in a friend, that's what A. Leboo is."

Jamie Sneddon (also known as A. Leboo) visits with a young patient at Toronto's Sick Kids hospital as part of the clown therapy program. (Albert Leung/CBC)

On any given day, the two clowns on staff at the hospital go from ward to ward having playdates with patients — playing cards, doing magic tricks, crafting or just watching TV together.

The idea is to brighten up the kids' days, but also to help distract them during more difficult times.

Fern is one of the full-time clowns in the special therapy program at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. The clowns provide comfort and fun for kids who are going through difficult times, but they're also an important source of support for patients' families. (Albert Leung/CBC)

Colm Bonfield, 9, plays with A. Leboo daily, but also relies on the clown's help when he's getting medical treatment.

"Once they were trying to put an NJ tube in [a feeding tube inserted through the nose into the intestine], and I was really stressed. They kept trying over and over and it just wasn't going in … then he came in. He made jokes, all sorts of things, then boom," Bonfield says, the procedure was over.

We'll take you to The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto in the coming days to see how its therapeutic clown program helps kids and their families through very difficult times.

- Perlita Stroh

A few words on ... 

Some pointed knitting.

Quote of the moment

"Of course I'm going to go for it. I don't think that is any particular secret to anybody."

- Boris Johnson, Britain's ambitious ex-foreign secretary, confirms his intention to seek the leadership of the Conservative Party once Theresa May steps down.

Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. (Andrew Yates/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • China formally arrests Kovrig and Spavor, accuses them of spying (CBC)
  • Venezuela opposition, government leaders travel to Norway for possible talks (Reuters)
  • Air Canada in exclusive talks to buy Air Transat (CBC)
  • More than 500 people infected with HIV in used-syringe dental scandal (Asia Times)
  • Islands which inspired Charles Darwin now drowning in a sea of plastic (Telegraph)
  • Belgium's ex-King threatened with fine for refusing DNA-paternity test (BBC)
  • Jeff Koons sculpture sets auction record for work by a living artist (NY Times)
  • Topless German "unicorn" politician creates stir at flower show (Deutsche Welle)

Today in history

May 16, 1995: Au revoir Nordiques, save our Jets! NHL teams pack up for U.S.

Marcel Aubut's power play for a new, publicly financed arena has failed, and Quebec's beloved Nordiques are on their way to Colorado. But hope hasn't yet been lost in Winnipeg, where citizens and business leaders are trying to gather $110 million to buy the Jets. Even the strippers are kicking in, donating their tips. Of course, we all know how it turned out. And 24 years later, only one of Canada's pro-hockey injustices has been repaired.

Au revoir Nords, Save Our Jets!

29 years ago
Duration 4:33
Featured VideoTwo Canadian cities are losing their teams — one with a whimper, one with a bang. Hockey footage: National Hockey League Cartoon: Aislin (Terry Mosher)

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.