Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Photos of "Haggle" at ASEAN@50 both amusing and ominous. EJK issue avoided by all the conferees, except that "crush ng bayan," Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, who was as brave as he's handsome. Digong was for the most part statesmanlike, except for verbal jab at Obama, his murder-at-age 16 spin and now his tirade vs.Trudeau.

US President Donald Trump at first couldn't handle the famous "Haggle", as he tried to grab the hand of Vietnamese Prime Nguyen Xuan Phuc, thus leaving President Duterte's hang hanging in the air. 

Finally, voila, Donald Trump caught the hang of it, grabs President Digong's right hand, to the great amusement of the Vietnamese PM at his right. It was apparently too complicated a maneuver for the US' Big Guy.

The 50th Anniversary of ASEAN, with President Duterte hosting this mega-milestone back to back with the 31st ASEAN Summit of Leaders that he chaired, is now history. Regional and world leaders who attended these twin events have all flown home with their happy memories of camaraderie and banquets, dazzling shows put up by our host people and conferences among political and business leaders, tea among the state leaders' spouses, etc.  

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and among the most amusing shots of ASEAN@50 was that of US President Trump trying to master the complications of the "Haggle."  First he grabbed the left hand of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc with both his hands, looking awfully confused---thereby leaving the right hand of Mr. Duterte hanging in the air. That was a fantastic shot of Trump in confusion, and to my mind, highly symbolic of the disconnect between the two presidents---despite media hyping about how famously they got along. 


But after the conferees get home and report to their constituents, what's there to remember? What are the summit issues that left strong impressions on the leaders and their aides?  What do the Filipino people remember of those historic back-to-back events, aside from the dazzling entertainment program for state dignitaries at the SMX they saw on TV?  No school the whole week, restricted ASEAN lanes and "locked-down" areas. Would that the metropolis would be that orderly forever!  

The most significant development within the back-to-back events is the way certain issues that have tremendous bearing on the life of nations and peoples have been skirted around---the biggest of them all the state of human rights in ASEAN. 


Before President Trump left for Asia, Republican Rep.Randy Hultgren of Illinois and Democrat Rep. James McGovern of Massachussetts wrote him to stress the need to take up the human rights issue with President Duterte. In addition, various rights groups,

Canadian PM invades a Jollibee outlet in Tondo to grab a hamburger, and is instantly rewarded by this photo op

Justin Trudeau takes a selfie with the Jollibee folks at lunch, showing that he really was the "Crush ng Bayan"

most notably Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, exerted pressure for concrete results. As he put it, "...surely someone from among the 20 world leaders at these summits can confront President (Rodrigo) Duterte about his horrific and unprecedented 'drug war killings." 

Because of the hyping, all eyes seemed focused on the one-on-one session between Messrs. Trump and Duterte, but unfortunately nothing like that was taken up between them.  Mr. Duterte relished with media the one sentence from the US President that to his mind referred to the rights issue in a rather oblique but approving manner. He quoted Trump's reported verdict:  "You are doing well." 


Mr. Duterte appears not to have elicited more specifics beyond this one-liner,  but this should not surprise anyone---for the US President is facing his own enormous problems back home and has even less moral authority to lecture to Mr. Duterte. Recall that very senior officials of the US intelligence agencies had testified before the US Congress and in media about the supposed manipulative role of Russia in the November 2016 US elections---which allegedly ensured the victory of Trump over Hillary Clinton. 

In addition, the less than a year old Trump administration has seen eleven very senior officials either fired or resigned--- including his chief strategist and communications director. Moreover, as Manila Times columnist Marlen Ronquillo pointed out in his "Sunday Stories," Mr. Trump's approval rating has plunged to an all-time low in the US of only 37%; in fact, only 40% of US voters say they will vote for him in a reelection. 

Deprived thus of any moral authority, the US President couldn't very well lecture Mr. Duterte on human rights or anything else. 


The other pressing issue expected to be raised at the ASEAN Summit is the crisis in Myanmar involving the minority Rohingya Muslims---more than 600,000 of whom have been reportedly forced to flee from Buddhist Myanmar to Bangladesh. The Rohingya crisis, dubbed Myanmar's "ethnic cleansing," where army elements are reported to have brutally cracked down and slain thousands, has been labelled by Human Rights Watch as "among the worst human rights catastrophes in Asia in years and demands concerted global action." 

Reports of brutal slayings of this tribal group by Myanmar's military have resulted in international pressure on the country's leader and foreign minister, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Au San Suu Kyi (she with the perpetual flower in her hair). The Rohingya crisis has threatened her rule, not to mention her celebrated peace prize.

All that seems possible at the moment from ASEAN, however, is a pledge from Suu Kyi's fellow leaders that they would prod the Myanmar military to help this ethnic group find its rightful place in the sun---a response that sounds so weak, and typically Asian.  


To the credit of Mr. Duterte, he behaved quite statesmanlike at the Summit and coped well with all the rigorous demands on his office and person by such this  huge PR milestone event---except in one or two occasions which, unfortunately, went viral. One was when he started pouncing on the absent Barack Obama for calling down Mr. Duterte's checkered record on human rights. The Philippine leader certainly dished it back to Obama, never mind if he is already ancien regime. 

The other instance was when Mr. Duterte admitted before foreign media that he had already killed someone by the time he was 16 years old---stabbing his protagonist to death. That remark was truly a sorry one which merely reinforced perceived notions about our leader.  


If there was a vote for "Crush ng Bayan" Canada's youthful, handsome and absolutely charming PM Justin Trudeau would win hands down. Son of the former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau, he has a big constituency of Filipino immigrants in Canada.  This fact is important to note, as young Trudeau acted so much like he was campaigning in his backyard---pumping hands, kissing and holding up babies; then feeling suddenly hungry, he drops in at the first Jollibee he comes across. 

That sudden visit by the Canadian PM caused pandemonium among the resto staff and they all came out for a selfie with rock-star politico from across the seas. But being handsome and personable aren't Justin Trudeau's only attributes: of all the leaders who gathered in Manila for ASEAN@50 and the 31st ASEAN Summit, Trudeau was the only foreign leader who had the nerve and the verve to directly address Mr. Duterte on the EJK killings by the PNP. 

In return, the youthful Canadian PM reaped a mouthful of verbal attacks from Mr. Duterte at the close of the Summit. He told media that Trudeau's raising the human rights issue with him was "a personal and official insult" to him, stressing, as the Manila Standard reported, that he would only answer to a Filipino and not "any bullshit foreigner." 

From across the seas came Trudeau's posit: 

"As I mentioned to President Duterte, we are concerned with human rights, with the extrajudicial killings, and we impressed upon him the need for respect for the rule of law and as always, we offered Canada's support and help as a friend---to help move forward on what is the real challenge. This is the way we engage with the world. This is the way we always will."


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