Listening to President Duterte over the past days as he "pivots" (to use a popular word these days) to China and attacks the US, I'm reminded of the man who dumps his aging, unattractive partner for a serious infatuation with a seductive, ultra-generous young thing. The guy appears to be insanely in love with this younger woman, but the question is, how long would the infatuation last? Would he ultimately return to his older partner when the momentary thrill wears off?
In fact the Inquirer photo today (Saturday, Oct. 22), showing President Digong and Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials gazing at basketball superstar Yao Ming, their eyes clearly leveled only up to the giant athlete's elbows, seems to say it all about our leader's infatuation with China. Would disillusion with our northern giant neighbor eventually set in, throwing him back to good old USA's embrace?
One wonders if, during Mr. Duterte's state visit to Beijing, hard questions were asked. For instance, everyone knows that China has been the major source of illegal drugs for PH. Interestingly, it has now pledged US$9 billion to help in our development and, most significantly and ironically, in our acute need to rehabilitate perhaps millions of Filipinos who have been involved in illegal drug use.
But we have to go to the basic question: has Mr. Duterte raised with China the issue of illegal drug trade carried out by Chinese nationals to PH, as an opposition member of the House of Representatives has stressed? One has only to see that some of the most prominent drug-traffickers in the National Bilibid Prison are of Chinese descent to realize this.
Some years back, I was in the southern city of Guangzhou in China and I learned from our consul there that over a hundred Filipino drug mules were languishing in prisons there, awaiting final sentence. Was this issue taken up during Mr. Duterte's visit and did he plead for clemency for those who were mere innocent tools (or unwitting fools), as is customary in state visits?
What about the issue of Scarborough and other islets in the West Philippine Sea? Was this discussed during the visit? While Mr. Duterte was there, an announcement came from the Chinese ministry that the Chinese are going to allow Filipino fishermen to fish in these disputed areas.
The popular reaction in our country is that those waters---only 260 km. from the Zambales shores--- are OUR WATERS, THE TRADITIONAL FISHING GROUNDS OF OUR PEOPLE SINCE THE DAWN OF TIME. This was clearly spelled out in the stunning victory of PH vs. China in the decision of the UNCLOS-backed Permanent Committee on Arbitration in The Hague, declaring Chinese incursions there illegal. The query in many minds: why are we accepting "permission" from China for use of our own waters?
When China committed to fund some $24 billion worth of mega- project loans and services---proposed investments up to $15 billion and $9 billion worth of credit facilities---during Mr. Duterte's state visit to Beijing, he became quite euphoric and announced to the world our country's military and economic "separation" from the US, its ally for the past 50 years. In fact Mr. Duterte's embrace expansively plans to include another US rival, Russia.
Thus, while he appears truly infatuated with our powerful neighbor to the north, the Manila Standard (Sunday, Oct. 23) already bannered the "Blooming Romance" between Vladimir Putin and Digong. Thus, in his very words: "...There are three of us against the world---China, Philippines and Russia. It's the only way."
The President's pro-China stance was not unexpected since President Obama and the State Department had been ticking him on human rights violations and extra-judicial killings in PH, but it rippled across the world---especially in the light of the increasing rivalry between the US and China for dominance of the crucial sea lanes in this part of the world.
As the "Daily Tribune" headlined, "Rody causes RP foreign policy confusion." As expected, his "goodbye to my friend (the US)" remark in China sent nations traditionally allied with the US, such as Japan, into a nervous fit. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to seek urgent clarification on Mr. Duterte's sudden turn-about when he visits Japan next month.
On the other hand, the US is sending Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs Daniel Russel to Manila this weekend to seek clarification on the government position.
The Palace's strong favorable positions on China and Russia---and its announced "separation" from its traditional ally, have, of course, sent rattling ripples across the world, prompting attempts at clarifications by the Palace---yet again---of his ideas and utterances that should first have been carefully processed as these are not child's play. These are major policy statements he is making on behalf of the Filipino people.
Thus, Fr. Eliseo Mercado of the Oblates in Mindanao was prompted to quip about the need to create a new bureau in the administration, to be named the "Department of Clarification." This bureau would surely turn out to be the busiest in Mr. Duterte's regime.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario put the current dilemma for PH vis-a-vis the US succinctly: "The declared shift in foreign policy casting aside a longtime reliable ally to hastily embrace an aggressive neighbor that vehemently rejects international law is both unwise and incomprehensible."
Infatuation with China, as I called it, but now also "a blooming romance" with Russia.
Duterte's anti-US tirades have provoked those among our people who harbor anti-US sentiments, to come up with their own broadsides such as the US's longtime "bullying" as well as perennially sore issues such as the stiff visa requirements for Filipinos. Observation was made by resentful folks that while the US allows nationals of 38 COUNTRIES to enter the US WITHOUT VISAS, it has failed to grant such benefit to citizens of its long-time ally/friend, the Philippines.
Getting a US visa can indeed be such a mortifying experience for ordinary Filipinos and there is a whole lot of truth to accusations vs. the US. BUT MY WORRY IS THAT WE DON'T KNOW CHINA AT ALL and yet our President is opening our country to its full embrace. Recall that we have had running problems with China through the years as it asserted its hegemony over Asia.
Interestingly, a recent SWS survey notes that Filipinos trust the US most and China least. The SWS survey conducted last Sept. 24-27 with 1,200 adult respondents on net trust rating of countries placed US at +66, Australia +55, Japan +34 and China at -36. The President should have reckoned with this failing grade of China before he even spoke up in Beijing and to the world about abandoning the US and embracing China asap.
Moreover, he should realize that we have such a huge Fil-Am population that boosts up our economy from year to year, in remittances here said to be in the vicinity of $25 billion yearly. He should have reckoned with all these facts before making that sweeping "Goodbye, my friend (the US)."
I am not a great lover of America---in fact I haven't been in the US in perhaps over two decades. But our ties with this longtime ally with whom we fought side by side in WWII cannot be severed just like that---because there are many huge implications and repercussions especially in the economic front. This is where Mr. Duterte needs so badly that SOUNDING BOARD OF IDEAS that this blog had earlier asked former President Ramos, who egged the then Davao mayor to run for President in the last elections, TO FORM ASAP.
Infatuation, be it in love or in war, can be quite dizzying and dangerous. As for a "blooming romance," let's smell the flower first.