Live in The Philippines…Is It Safe?

Ever Play a Game of Chess?

I read an interesting “Opinion” that was published in the PhilStar Global online publication. It is probably the most responsible perspective published on Rodrigo Duterte since his most recent announcement that he will “separate relations” between the Philippines and the U.S. Instead of providing a link, I have chosen to re-print the Opinion in its entirety. I also placed a link to PhilStar Global- Opinions Page at the bottom of this article for more stories on President Duterte.

Since the time this article was published, President Duterte has already walked-back his “separation” comment directed at the U.S. saying “…that is not what I meant.”  Remember that while President Duterte speaks very adamantly about his stance on issues and in his approach to taking care of his countrymen, his threats do not necessarily relate to actions that are immediately taken verbatim (except in the case of the drug war, and that is an entirely different issue driven by other forces other than Duterte himself). Remember the old saying, “a dogs bark is worse than his bite?” I think if we all just sit back and observe things going forward, we might see that the old saying has some relevancy here. Read through this article carefully and it will alleviate some fears, as I’m sure there are many forces working to keep Duterte in check.

Separation

This must be the silly season. President Duterte announced in Beijing that he was “separating” from the US militarily and economically, and the Philippines is now aligned in a triumvirate with China and Russia.

Did the Chinese give Du30 too much Maotai? A common reaction I heard yesterday – and not just among those who belong to the 76 percent of Pinoys who expressed “much trust” in the US in a recent survey – was that he could go ahead with his separation, but he shouldn’t take the nation with him. And if he doesn’t want to ever set foot in the United States, he won’t be able to stop millions of Filipinos from so doing.

The mother of his children is a Jewish American of German descent. Maybe Du30 should also announce a separation from his running mate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, whose mother is an American. Du30 should look around him to see how many of his supporters hold dual citizenship.

Not even China has announced a “separation” from the world’s largest economy and lone superpower. In fact the US and Chinese economies are so inextricably intertwined the collapse of one could spell disaster for the other.

The Philippines’ rapprochement with China is a welcome development, and President Duterte is in the best position to speed up the process. And I’m not stating this simply because my mother is part Chinese with roots in Fujian.

It’s in the best interest of every nation to be on good terms with the world. Especially with the biggest players, which are themselves engaging with each other in all aspects from trade to cultural exchanges and cooperation on climate change, terrorism and a wide range of issues including transnational crime. Yes, this includes the narco war.

It’s good for our country to increase tourism exchanges with China – one of the priorities in Du30’s state visit. Business exchanges and trade have a wide room for growth.

More Filipinos should visit China; the country has breathtaking sights and a rich history. And we can use more visitors from China, whose prosperity has allowed its people to travel the world, with many of them big spenders. The Chinese are awash with cash. In Israel, the world’s largest exporter of polished diamonds, I was told that Chinese had been arriving in droves at the diamond center in the heart of Tel Aviv and practically scooping up everything that struck their fancy. Regardless of the amount, all deals at the diamond center are sealed with a mere handshake.

After China suffered an ignominious blow before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which invalidated its bizarre claim over nearly all of the South China Sea, it’s good to have a Du30 to provide a face-saving opportunity for Beijing – and to save bilateral relations. These are ties worth saving and nurturing.

Du30’s pivot to China, however, should not mean abandoning the Philippines’ allies, with which our nation shares the values that must define enduring relations. Nations must pick friends based on shared principles.

In our case, these are values and principles that are even enshrined in our Constitution and which our president is sworn to uphold: civil liberties starting with the right to life, liberty and due process; the free flow of goods and ideas; transparency and good governance; democratic and humanitarian ideals. It’s not called a Freedom Constitution for nothing.

Then again, Du30 is just being consistent: China and Russia, his new BFFs, are no champions of the values mentioned. China is the biggest prison for journalists. Both states have perfected the art of state censorship and surveillance. Is this where Du30 is taking us?

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Du30’s obsession with breaking ties with the US is mystifying. The Philippines has just received about $500 million from American taxpayers in development aid – not tied soft loans to be repaid, unlike the promised manna from Beijing – under the Millennium Challenge Account, and may qualify for more.

Administration officials are touting some $3 billion in expected funding access, not direct aid – investments and soft tied infrastructure loans – from Chinese banks and private enterprises as a result of Du30’s visit. Compare that with the $20 billion in similar funding granted by China to Bangladesh and about $40 billion under Beijing’s so-called Silk Road infrastructure fund to Pakistan, which is skirmishing with Chinese rival India.

Since Northern Luzon has just been pummeled by Category 5 Typhoon Lawin, it’s useful to remember the international community’s response to Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. The European furniture company Ikea donated more than the Chinese to the typhoon relief effort. The Australians were the first to set up a field hospital in the disaster zone. The dazed Philippine government had to wait for a U.S. aircraft carrier with its fleet of Ospreys to be able to rescue or retrieve victims in remote areas of Samar and Leyte.

Philip Goldberg, one of the best ambassadors to be assigned here by Washington, was deployed here ASAP so he could assume his post and supervise his government’s Yolanda rescue, relief and long-term reconstruction effort. Many US aid programs remain in place in the Yolanda-hit areas. Goldberg is highly competent and does not give you BS, and it’s unfortunate that he’ll be leaving the country with deeply troubling memories of his final months here.

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Not a Win-Win!

Enough people have pointed out that international alliances are not a zero-sum game. Every nation needs every friend possible, with thorns in bilateral relationships dealt with quietly, diplomatically.

It’s good to be reminded by Du30 about American atrocities in the previous decades. But dealing with past sins can be tricky. Why isn’t he raising similar issues against the Japanese, who tortured and killed Filipinos during the last war and maintained “comfort women” for their troops? Because the Japanese aren’t criticizing his drug war?

The world has become a global village and former president Fidel Ramos is right: foreign policy is better based on interdependence, not independence. But then Du30 may soon also announce his “separation” from his mentor FVR.

A separation should not mean closing one’s ears to opposing voices calling for reasoned, nuanced contemplation of foreign policy.

The administration has not sent any official communication to Washington about a shift in any aspect of bilateral cooperation. If the President wants to preserve the credibility of his words, every policy statement must be clearly stated in black and white, with the relevant communication conveyed to foreign capitals.

In the absence of official communication, speculative stories proliferate, including those about personal affronts Du30 might have suffered at the hands of Americans.

Foreign policy cannot be dictated by personal pettiness that’s being indulged at the expense of national interest.

 

For more Phil Star Opinions on President Duterte, visit Phil Star Global Opinions.