At last, with Duterte, we’re no longer the US lackey in Asia

THE big message that the Philippines has sent to the world during its hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit last week was as historic as can be in terms of our foreign policy: We are no longer the Americans’ lackey in this part of the world, not its proxy in Asean, which the US secretly founded as the Asian equivalent of NATO to counter communist China.

Perhaps this owes much to the fact that President Duterte’s background is unlike most of his predecessors. Unlike Cory Aquino, he does not owe his rise to power and his hold on it (so far) to American political and military might (remember the Phantom jets over Manila to frighten the RAM rebels?). Unlike Fidel Ramos, who was after all Cory’s male clone, he had not a chance to be brainwashed in an American military school.
In the case of Benigno Aquino 3rd, he was happy to relinquish all thinking on foreign policy to the most Americanized, and most pro-American foreign secretary this country ever had, the Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim’s long-time board director Albert del Rosario.

Russia Today’s front-page coverage of President’s view on the North Korean crisis.

How could Del Rosario not have been pro-American, when other than Salim himself, the biggest stockholders of First Pacific Co., Ltd. – the mother firm of his huge public utility conglomerate in the country—are US fund managers? He was so pro-American that in my conspiracy-theory moments, I suspect he could have been brainwashed using new technology in his six years as Philippine ambassador to the US, that he pushed for the very unwise filing of a case against China in the arbitral court.

In sharp contrast, and surprisingly for somebody who’s spent most of his political life in the frontier city that is Davao, Duterte himself is molding our foreign policy to his more realistic worldview in which the US is not our master, to the consternation even of his first foreign secretary who was a US citizen, and that of our diplomatic corps. Sadly, most of our top foreign affairs officials are so pro-American. Who would blame them when except for the fiercely nationalistic Blas Ople, our foreign policy since our independence simply followed what the US told us to follow?

Only a Duterte could snub the US, and declare to the world that his big foreign policy pivot is towards the People’s Republic of China, that North American empire’s rival in Asia.

Duterte has even drawn the country closer to Russia under Putin. The last time any Philippine President even thought of Russia was in the mid-1970s when Marcos experimented with getting the country out of the claws of the US imperial eagle by pretending to get close to the Americans’ enemies.

Arbitral ruling

It’s just been a year since Aquino and his pro-American Yellow Cult were in paroxysms of joy in getting the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands to rule that China’s historic claims to areas in the South China Sea cannot be in excess of claimant countries’, like the Philippines’, exclusive economic zones set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

But reality has quickly set in. The arbitral ruling means nothing. No state, no UN force would enforce it, not the US. After all, China and the US don’t even entirely recognize UNCLOS, and how logical is an arbitration in which one of the parties, China, had refused to be arbitrated?

The ruling actually even sets for us a dangerous precedent: What if Vietnam filed a case in the same arbitral court to claim Pag-asa island, our biggest property in the South China Sea which Marcos only claimed in 1974 and asked his troops to occupy—and we lost?

The biggest beneficiary of the arbitral ruling has been the US. It had little justification in having its mighty naval power patrol the South China Sea. Now it does, or claims it does, invoking its self-appointed role as the global policeman to enforce international law. China is now portrayed as an arrogant superpower disregarding international law and militarizing the South China Sea.

Prodded by the US, the past administration’s tack was to invoke the arbitral ruling, and to get Asean to condemn China for not complying with it. To do so didn’t even cross Duterte’s mind in this Asean summit. Rightly so.

Del Rosario had embarrassed the nation when he tried to force the Asean Foreign Ministers’ meeting, in August 2016, just a month after the arbitral ruling came out, to issue a statement against China. When it didn’t, Del Rosario came very close to claiming that the Cambodian host was China’s puppet.

Why should Asean ask China to comply with the ruling when only four out of its 10 members—the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei—have claims to it, and the rest of its six members, especially its poorest members like Laos and Myanmar, are wooing China for investments and aid? There’s a vivid Filipino term for that: Nandadamay.

Malaysia and Brunei don’t even seem to be interested anymore in the dispute in the South China Sea. Malaysia after all is happy that it has transformed its Layang-layang island into a tourism site, and calculates that the rest of the dozen shoals and islets there aren’t worth antagonizing China, its biggest trading partner and foreign investor. Why would tiny Brunei with a population less than a fourth of the city of Manila antagonize a country of one billion people?

Russia Today report

What is an example of the fact that Duterte has forged an independent foreign policy, and that the non-US-lackeys of the world respect us more for this is that the Russian news outfit rt.com* reported yesterday that its interview with Duterte was its most popular post. Now why do you think did rt.com gave such prominence to the views of a President of a weak country in the region?

RT’s interview with Duterte on the North Korean issue shows him as not one to mimic like a parrot what the Americans say, which del Rosario had done when he was in charge of foreign policy. The RT article:

“Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has urged the White House to be ‘prudent and patient’ in dealing with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, warning that ‘the guy simply wants to end the world.’

“’There seems to be two countries playing with their toys and those toys are not really to entertain,’ Duterte said during a media briefing in Manila on Saturday.

‘You know that they are playing with somebody who relishes letting go of missiles and everything. I would not want to go into his (Kim’s) mind because I really do not know what’s inside but he’s putting mother earth, the planet to an edge,’ he added.

‘The guy (Kim) simply wants to end the world, that is why he is very happy. He is always smiling. But he really wants to finish everything and he wants to drag us all down,’ Duterte said.

[The] Philippines President, famous for his rhetoric and controversial anti-drugs campaign, said that he would try to persuade his US counterpart, Donald Trump, to back down from the conflict.

‘I would say ‘Mr. President, please see to it that there is no war because my region will suffer immensely,’ proposed Duterte, who previously appeared to pivot away from his country’s long-standing alliance with the US in favor of closer ties with China.

‘I will just communicate to him – ‘Just let him play… do not play into his hands,’” he added.

‘I am sure President Trump is cautioning his military to just maybe… not to start something which they cannot control,’ said Duterte.

‘We have to caution everybody, including those who’d give the advice to the two players, because you have nuclear warheads, to just show restraint. One miscalculation of a missile, whether or not a nuclear warhead or an ordinary bomb, one explosion there that would hit somebody would cause a catastrophe’.”

*Note: I had been an avid follower of the Russia Today TV news channel when our former cable news provider, a small one in our Cavite area, carried it, with its coverage having different views and new information from those of the US’ CNN, Fox News, et. al. The cable TV monopoly service I had to shift to does not carry Russia Today. It would be a boon in new information available to Filipinos if government’s TV4 carried Russia Today and China’s Central Television.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

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