Americans got a hurricane; Filipinos got an earthquake



First read
In an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes last year, the broadcaster Scott Pelley described Donald Trump to his face as “a hurricane of words.”

On the principle that our attention-grabbing President Rodrigo Duterte should not yield the stage without a whimper, and while sustaining the motif of natural disasters, I submit that DU30 is “a tectonic event” — an earthquake.

To each his own metaphor.

I discussed in an earlier column Trump’s fondness for the “truthful hyperbole” (“Take your pick: Trump’s “truthful hyperbole” or Duterte’s “in-your-face expletives,” Times, November 12, 2016), so I will dispense with a litany of his verbal legerdemain.

Instead, I will focus my energies here on laying the case for Duterte as a tectonic force in this country and in the world.

A tectonic force
In a year that an analyst of the Financial Times has summed up as “the year of the demagogue,” Duterte is clearly not just one more populist leader to come out of the anger and frustration of people around the world today.

He seeks to be a force for change in the Philippines and beyond its borders. He means to have a lasting impact on national and international life well beyond his term.

He ranks among the most powerful leaders of the world today. He will not be a player who, in Shakespeare’s words, “just struts and frets his hour upon the stage.”

In barely six months in the Philippine presidency, he can already claim to having taken decisive and oftentimes irrevocable steps toward his goals.

His most recent decisions stand out for shifting the ground of national and foreign affairs.

Crosssing a new Rubicon    
This week, in the words of the latest Economist, Duterte crossed a new Rubicon: he admitted to having killed people himself.

“In Davao I used to do it personally,” he told a group of businessmen convened at the presidential palace, “just to show the guys if I can do it, why can’t you?…I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”

This raised the temperature of this tropical country, because he has been accused by critics of ordering executions and wanting to kill suspected criminals; of cheerleading extra-judicial killings from his office, and obstructing justice in the case of the sensational murder by police operatives of a former mayor inside a provincial jail cell.

DU30 appears bent on keeping a campaign promise to “end crime” within six months of taking office, and the casualty figures have just surpassed 6,000 killed.

Did Duterte really kill anyone? Or is he merely bragging to burnish his tough-guy image? No one can really say. Just a few hours before his shocking admission, he protested to Filipino audiences, “I am not a killer.”

At heart, DU30 seems to be daring Congress and the criminal justice system to take action against him, for his record in Davao City and in the current war on drugs. If DU30 did kill suspected criminals, would Congress seriously investigate him, let alone impeach him. Since he is in command of the police and the Department of Justice, where are the prosecutors and investigators who would dare to make him accountable?

Asking America to pack up and leave
Significantly, as he paraded himself as an unrepentant killer, he also moved a mile in his on-again-off-again tiff with the Obama administration.

In retaliation for the decision of the US Millennium Challenge Corp. to halt its assistance (worth hundreds of millions of dollars) to the Philippines because of concerns over mounting human rights violations, Duterte has told American troops based in the country to “start packing your things,” and “get out.” He reiterated his plans to repeal the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Duterte explained that if foreign soldiers want to stay or return to the country, it shouldn’t be for free.

“You want to come back here? You pay us. Pera-pera na lang tayo, buti pa. (Let’s make this just about money then. That’s much better),” he said.

Philippine relations with the US extends way beyond the VFA and foreign aid, however. It involves an intricate web of ties involving, economic, cultural, political and security matters.

No sane leader would dismantle a relationship born of over a century of nurture and statecraft in exchange for bragging points. This is not wholly the authority only of President Duterte. Congress must be consulted also. And so must the people.

Nothing much can happen between now and January 20, when Obama will officially end his term and Trump will take over the White House.

Trump’s foreign policy and security team
The column yesterday of my colleague Rigoberto Tiglao, which detailed how the US in effect deposed Ferdinand Marcos and maneuvered for Cory Aquino’s takeover, is sobering. You never know what the biggest superpower on earth is capable of doing, out of pique or frustration.

If all that Donald Trump will unleash at us will be a hurricane of words, that is all right; we can withstand it, because we have a long history of withstanding big typhoons, including the biggest howler of all: Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan.

Our bigger cause for worry is that this is a Republican administration that is taking over. This is the party that usually takes America to war and wins wars.

Trump has assembled a first-rate foreign policy and national security team, composed of generals, seasoned corporate leaders, and policy experts.

They are not the sort whom you challenge to a debate. They will probably accept.

We understand America’s desire to be great again. Where Kokoy Romualdez dismally failed as ambassador to Washington in 1983-86, our statecraft now must ensure that America does not regain greatness at our expense.


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  1. This is brown-nosing drivel. Of course, every populist leader seeks change. Will the change be for the better or worse? What is the cost of making things better or worse? What is the social cost of the murder of innocents? What is this all say about the Filipino people?

  2. Yonkers, New York
    20 December 2016

    I find this statement, x x x “our statecraft now must ensure that America does not regain greatness at our expense,” by Yen Makabenta rather baffling.

    Has America lost its “greatness?” Is it not still the premier Economic and Military power of the world? Mr. Makabenta insinuates that America has lost its “greatness” and needs to regain it. From that premise, he warns that America should not be allowed to do that “at our expense.”

    By golly! In the first place, America has not lost its “greatness” and it is outside the realm of possibility that it is about to lose that distinction anytime soon. In the second place, if ever it should lose that distinction in the distant future, there is no way–repeat no way!– America will ever try to regain it–“at our expense.”


    • America will always be America, the 7th World Power, and the UN the 8th King from the book of Revelation as how I sutied it. It is a great nation but also has its misdeeds and greatness. The Indian Nation, with all the tribes, Apaches, Comanches, Cheerokee, and many others, where are they now? Well, just read American history adn you pity the small nations, against Anglo-American World Power. It is just Rome, Greece and back. These are empires…so what leaves to us? With the quarrel of the West Philippines Sea, its who control this side that has the upperhand, perhaps we may be right by diggins the beneath the ocean, and bilateral goals and plans… who is going to win in a war that may lead to a nuclear war? Philippines will be wipe out in ten minutes, just reread Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombing, done by the West…we don’t want that here. Maybe bow and arrow warfare is okay, but now?
      We are all fools to engage in wars, nobody wins, all will lose, even the fertility of the soil is gone with its radiation. Hmm we pray for God’s intervention if ever we believe in One…It just my thought

  3. “To each his own metaphor.”

    I say Duterte is like Trump on steroids. Ever seen someone with “roid rage”, kind of like the Hulk? Roid rage can be defined as a condition in which people tend to act aggressively after taking unusual doses of anabolic steroids regularly. In recent years, several high profile murders and attacks have been attributed to roid rage.

    This quote from this opinion column is an example of how he imitates Trump, but in a magnified way: “Did Duterte really kill anyone? Or is he merely bragging to burnish his tough-guy image? No one can really say. Just a few hours before his shocking admission, he protested to Filipino audiences, “I am not a killer.””

    Just like Trump, Duterte is constantly lying and contradicting himself like this. I think this is a deliberate propaganda and disinformation technique to create confusion in the minds of citizens, the better to control them.