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Duterte lashes out at Trump, colonialism, climate change in epic diatribe

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

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President Rodrigo Duterte addresses his troops on March 20 in Taguig city, east of Manila. On Thursday, he gave an off-script speech lashing out at a wide range of foreign influences on the Philippines. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

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  • Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte delivered an off-script speech today touching on everything from U.S. assassination plots, to colonialism, to climate change and the world's problems with illegal drugs
  • With less than three months until soccer's World Cup kicks off in Moscow, ticket sales have been underwhelming, especially among foreign fans
  • zero-tolerance policy toward wildlife poaching in Zimbabwe seems to be paying benefits, with just one rhino and one elephant lost to illegal hunting over the first three months of 2018
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Duterte unleashes his inner-Trump

It was supposed to be a two-page speech thanking farmers and fishermen for their contributions to the economy. But when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks, there is no script.

So a Manila crowd — and live television audience — were instead treated to an epic, one-hour and 15 minute diatribe this morning, touching on everything from American assassination plots, to colonialism, to climate change and the world's problems with illegal drugs.

And just for good measure, Duterte, also fired his justice minister. 

Duterte, seen here speaking on Feb. 13, is popular domestically despite international condemnation over his endorsement of ridding communities of drug criminals by extrajudicial means. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)
Switching between English and Tagalog, and swearing liberally in both languages, Duterte seemed intent on delivering a whole host of messages on what he termed the "prevailing contemporary sentiments" of his government and people.

America was a prime target.

Clearly still riled by a U.S. Senate block on the sale of 26,000 rifles to the Philippine Army, Duterte lashed out at his country's closest ally, saying they "really do not honour their word."

And he suggested that American intelligence agencies might be plotting to kill him.

"At least, if ever my airplane explodes, or if some roadside bomb explodes, maybe you can ask the CIA," said the president. (It's not the first time that he's made such a suggestion.)

Duterte brushed away criticism of his war on drugs, which has claimed more than 12,000 lives, saying Donald Trump had admitted that the U.S. would be better off if it adopted his violent methods.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte share an awkward group handshake during the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila on Nov. 13, 2017. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
"'Ah, Rodrigo, you're doing alright. I'll copy you. I'll kill the sons-of-b******,'" Duterte said, recalling a phone conversation with the U.S. president, as the audience laughed. "So, Americans … what values are you trying to impose on us? The value of Obama? The value of Trump? Or your own national stupidity?"

The 73-year-old leader also criticized U.S. foreign policy around the globe, saying America's armies will not be forgiven for "so many massacres," and suggested that concerns about climate change are just another way to perpetuate colonialism.

"You siphoned all their oil, so you rose into the ladder of industrialization way ahead from the rest of the natives of the world … But now, they have come up with this climate change. They are now blaming the present generation, the contemporary guys," he said.

Duterte's violent crackdown on criminals and drug users has raised international concern. See here, people take part in a protest in front of the Philippine consulate in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)
Duterte's pointed remarks weren't just reserved for America. He said the international community's failure to bring Myanmar's government to heel means that they share responsibility for the crimes against the Muslim Rohingya minority.

"That's what genocide is, if I may say so," Duterte said. "I really pity the people there."

The Philippine president then went on to say that he would accept Rohingya refugees, if Europe agreed to take its share.

The freewheeling speech also featured a declaration of war against smugglers. Duterte vowed to categorize anything involving more than $1 million in illegal imports as "economic sabotage," and to deny bail to those charged with the crime "so you rot in prison."

A surprise cabinet shuffle was thrown in, with an off-the-cuff announcement that his close friend and justice secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre, was leaving — the eighth minister to depart in less than a year.

Tourists pose for photos along a beach on Boracay Island in Malay town, central Philippines. The government is closing its best-known holiday island to tourists for six months over concerns that the once idyllic white-sand resort has become a 'cesspool' tainted by dumped sewage. (AFP/Getty Images)
Duterte also said he will soon have a new chief of staff.

The performance came just a day after Duterte made international news by closing down the island of Boracay for the next six months, declaring the popular tourist destination a "cesspool" that needs to be cleaned up and made environmentally sustainable.

All a reminder that Donald Trump may own the headlines, but he has no trademark on political volatility.

Russia's World Cup woes

The international battle over the Kremlin's suspected involvement in the nerve agent poisoning of a former double-agent in the U.K. is taking a toll on a prize Vladimir Putin event — the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Soccer's biggest tournament is set to kick off in Moscow on June 14, with matches scheduled in 10 other Russian cities over the following month.

But with less than three months to go, ticket sales have been underwhelming — especially amongst foreign fans.

An woman sits at a bus stop next to a poster featuring Zabivaka, the official mascot of the 2018 FIFA World Cup football tournament, on Tuesday in Moscow. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)
The second of three FIFA sales periods closed this week, with a total of 394,000 seats allocated during the three-week window.

As might be expected, the vast majority — 216,000 — went to Russian fans. Americans bought the second most tickets, with 16,400 sales, followed by Argentinians (15,000), and Colombians and Mexicans (14,000 each).

However, sales to soccer-mad nations like Germany were much lower than usual, just 5,900 tickets.

The U.K. — site of the poisoning attack — didn't even make the top 10.

The official countdown clock of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Manezhnaya square in downtown Moscow, seen here on Monday. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)
Overall, 1.6 million tickets have been sold so far. That's 500,000 fewer than had been purchased at the same stage for Brazil 2014.

In an interview published today, Alexei Sorokin, head of the Russia 2018 organizing committee, told a Russian newspaper that blowback over the Skripal affair is "not helping" preparations.

"Our main problem rests abroad — not with infrastructure," he said. "Any incident, whether it occurred naturally or was created artificially, is being used to put pressure on World Cup organizers."

A woman walks past a wall in Moscow painted with an ad for a local bank that features Argentinian forward Lionel Messi, ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup football tournament. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)
The Islamic State has threatened to launch attacks against the tournament, in revenge for Russia's military campaign in Syria backing up the regime of Bashar al-Assad. This week, the group released a mock World Cup poster depicting a knife-wielding militant standing over a kneeling and bloodied Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal's top player.

Tournament volunteers are being screened for "possible involvement in terrorist activities" by the Russian Interior Ministry.

Shoppers browse the official FIFA World Cup 2018 merchandise store in Moscow. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)
And yesterday, spy-chief  Alexander Bortnikov, director of the Russian Federal Security Service, said he is looking for foreign help to ensure that the tournament is a success.

"We expect that our cooperation with the security services and law enforcement agencies of foreign governments will help protect this event from terrorist acts as effectively as in previous years," he told reporters.

A reasonable request that may end up being even harder to sell than the tickets.

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A 'Crocodile' moves to protect elephants

A new, zero-tolerance policy towards wildlife poaching in Zimbabwe seems to be paying benefits, with just one rhino and one elephant lost to illegal hunting over the first three months of 2018.

Over the same period in 2017, 12 elephants and seven rhinos were slaughtered.

A herd of elephants gather at a watering hole inside Hwange National Park. Zimbabwe's elephant population is estimated to be 86,000. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)
A senior official from Zimbabwe's Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is suggesting that the success has everything to do with the end of Robert Mugabe's rule.

"There is now political will from the highest office to deal with poaching," Tinashe Farawo told the Zimbabwe Daily newspaper. "Since the coming-in of the new leadership, poaching has been going down."

Last year, Zimbabwean wildlife authorities arrested 640 hunters and killed 10 others during operations — seven locals and three foreigners. Two rangers also died in the firefights.

A game ranger stands next to the remains of an elephant poisoned by ivory poachers in Hwange National Park in 2013. More than 900 elephants were lost to hunters and poisoners between 2013 and 2016. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press)
In December, customs officers at the international airport in Harare seized 200 kilograms of tusks — worth $500,000 US —  bound for Malaysia, bringing the total number of ivory pieces recovered to more than 100.

As recently as last fall, Mugabe's government had tried to persuade the United Nations that Zimbabwe should be exempted from a global ivory ban and allowed to legally export elephant tusks, in order to reduce black market demand and raise money for conservation.

But his successor, Emmerson "The Crocodile" Mnangagwa, has indicated that he wants to alter course in meetings with wildlife groups, reviewing the previous government's anti-poaching strategy, and instead try to protect elephants by boosting tourism.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, President of Zimbabwe, has taken steps to protect elephants that include clamping down on ivory poachers and dealers. (Luc Gnago/Reuters)
An even stronger indication of change came late last month when Zimbabwean police launched an official investigation into allegations that Grace Mugabe, the former first lady, was one of the country's biggest ivory smugglers.

Adrian Steirn, an Australian photojournalist, secretly filmed meetings with poachers and government officials who described Mrs. Mugabe as the "mastermind" of the country's ivory trade. He alleges she freely exported tusks out Zimbabwe by exploiting her exemption from airport security screenings.

More than 900 elephants were lost to hunters and poisoners between 2013 and 2016, although some 86,000 remain in Zimbabwe.

The key to protecting the beasts has always been choking off demand for their tusks.

A Zimbabwe National Parks game ranger in the country's 'ivory vault' holds an elephant ivory tusk seized from poachers. (Jekesai NjikizanaAFP/Getty Images)
Earlier this week, the British government announced a total ban on the sale of ivory items, regardless of their age. The new legislation will do away with a loophole that allowed dealers and the public to continue to purchase worked objects created before 1947.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, called the trade "abhorrent."

"Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol," he said in a statement.

The move came after a public consultation last fall that drew 127,000 responses. Only 458 of them expressed opposition to the ban.

Quote of the moment

"I woke up over a week ago now and am glad to say my strength is growing daily. I am grateful for the interest in me and for the many messages of goodwill that I have received. I have many people to thank for my recovery and would especially like to mention the people of Salisbury that came to my aid when my father and I were incapacitated."

- The first public statement from Yulia Skripal, the victim of a March 4 nerve agent poisoning, released by London Police this morning. While she is recovering from the attack, her father Sergei remains in critical condition.

Yulia Skripal, in a photo taken before she was poisoned by a nerve agent in the U.K. on March 4 along with her father Sergei, a former Russian spy. (Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)

What The National is reading

  • 8th round of NAFTA talks put on hold as Freeland flies to Washington (CBC)
  • Brazil's former president Lula must start prison term, Supreme Court rules (BBC)
  • Women barred from Sumo ring, even to save a man's life (NY Times)
  • Taylor Ruck wins Canada's first Commonwealth gold (CBC)
  • India to build 14,000 bomb shelters along Pakistan border (Times of India)
  • The rise of America's white gangs (Guardian)
  • NYPD sex crimes chief donated thousands to Trump after video scandal (NY Daily News)
  • Goths, emos and metal fans at greater risk of self-harm, suicide (Independent)

Today in history

April 5, 1968: John Turner, 'My time is now'

John Turner's speech to the 1968 Liberal leadership convention is best remembered for prophesying his own loserdom: "I'm not just in this race so you will remember my name at some future date," the man they called "Chick" told the delegates. "I'm not bidding now for your consideration at some vague, future convention in, say, 1984." But it's the next lines that really deserve to go down in history. "My time is now. And now is no time for mellow men." That prescient anti-70s vibe failed to bring him victory, however, as Turner finished a distant third to Pierre Trudeau, with 8.2 per cent of the vote. It would be 16 more years until he became Liberal leader.

"My time is now"

3 years ago
Duration 5:32
John Turner argues his case in front of delegates at the 1968 Liberal leadership convention.

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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.