President Rodrigo Duterte would have much loved to hold Manila in peace that Tuesday, October 18, 2016. He was in Beijing, China undertaking a visit on which were pinned hopes for assistance from the Asian behemoth, militarily, economically, what have you.
Tuesday was the day his audience with top Chinese businessmen had been scheduled, the Philippines-China Trade and Investment Forum; which came right after Duterte met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Tuesday, therefore, would see the headlines of Manila papers bannering Duterte’s grand accomplishments in the China visit. It did, with media giving full play to his announcement of separation from the United States, which was the main content of his speech in the Beijing forum.
But Duterte, by that announcement which got the ire of Washington, did not hog all the news. Much distraction from that announcement was made by the riot incident at the US Embassy in Manila where an estimated 1,000 protesters demanding US troops’ withdrawal from the Philippines were run over by a police van, injuring, said the New York Times, dozens. A video coverage of the incident ran viral on social media, appalling viewers with graphic shots of the lone police vehicle ramming through the throng of protesters back and forth in a rampage which I, in the days of the First Quarter Storm in the 70s, never ever witnessed.
Here is a portion of the New York Times report:
“The vehicle drove wildly forward and backward, knocking down several protesters. A woman was seen being flung into the air before slamming into the ground. She was then run over, but she was later seen standing and limping away.
“About 1,000 activists had gathered to demand an end to the United States presence in its former colony; the two countries have been allies since the 1950s. The new Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, has denounced President Obama, Pope Francis, the United Nations and the European Union for criticizing his war on drugs, which has left hundreds (latest recorded count is 3,800) of suspected drug dealers and addicts dead.
“The van’s driver, Officer Franklin Kho, told reporters that he hit the protesters by accident as he tried to drive away from them because they were hitting the vehicle with wooden clubs and he feared that they would commandeer it and use it to attack other police officers, The Associated Press reported. “They were already trying to seize the vehicle,” Officer Kho said.”
I instinctively gasped in horror at the sight of a young man thrown back down on the pavement, right in the track of the van’s front tire, which was clearly headed to go atop his belly, but it was just in that precise moment when the driver shifted gear to steer the vehicle away backward. That brought memories of that sunny day in April 1971 when in desperation to block a delivery truck of the Makabayan Publishing Corp. in its attempt to break our strike against the J. Amado Araneta enterprise, I together with a number of strikers, just found ourselves throwing to the path of the vehicle, causing it to stop abruptly. But in an instant, the driver shifted to front gear, causing the vehicle to move on forward again, inch by inch threatening to run us over to death. Times like this, people do get the choice of backing out from a fight to uphold the primordial need of survival or holding your ground just to keep high the supreme virtue of your struggle even to the extent of dying for it. We did not just hold the ground, we hugged it, closing our eyes tight as we felt the corrugation of the rubber rubbing, pushing at our bodies. And then it came, the tires grew still, which we took as the shift for making the jumpstart over our bodies. But no, the truck drove backward, back into the company compound as the security guards quickly shut down the steel gates.
Thus I felt the relief of that young man in the US Embassy riot who had already been pinned down by the front tire of the police van, but who leaped back to his feet and dashed to safety as the police van backed off.
But then the inevitable question arises. Are we back into martial law? Not since that tumultuous period of the Marcos dictatorship have I witnessed in the metropolis such a fierce encounter between police and protesters, with the latter so emboldened as to even attempt to take possession of a vehicle of the former; in the Battle of Mendiola in 1971, a youth named Freddie commandeered a fire truck and rammed it through Gate 4 of Malacañang.
A creeping horror from the US Embassy riot consists in this: it portends the kind of tumult which the workers, students and youth and middle class forces of the seventies engaged in against the Marcos one-man rule. If that US Embassy violence, bloody that it was, was only just the beginning of a new season of riots, chaos and social upheavals, then we can be well into troubled times as serious as the ones they’ve been having in Syria. This was precisely the development I perceived when in an earlier column, titled “Level up on Duterte or drop into the scourge of the Syrian civil war,” I concluded:
“If World War III is truly imminent, then Duterte’s falling into the ambit of Russia might just be the spark to bring about internal chaos and disturbances necessary for the Philippines to serve the purpose of triggering World War III this side of the Asia Pacific region as Syria did it already in the Middle East.”
Toward this end, Duterte had embarked on the first adventure, the visit to China. In that visit, in the Philippines-China Trade and Investment Forum, the President announced his avowed separation from the United States militarily and economically, just as militants at home were violently calling for just that separation in that rally at the US embassy. Also in that forum, Duterte quite arrogantly proclaimed: “There’s the three of us (Russia, China and the Philippines) against the world.” What are these words but evocative of those developments at the advent of the 1940s, when from the East, Japan joined up with Germany and Italy from Europe to form the triad called Axis for engaging the Allies in World War II?
If, as Duterte indicates with his declarations, such a triad is a-forming once again in the Pacific, then the recent riot and violence at the US Embassy must be deemed as serving a usefulness toward that end. What that usefulness is, I cannot tell with certainty at the moment. Events are only just beginning to unfold and they constitute at the moment nothing but little indication of graver things to come.
But one thing is certain. Social events don’t just happen; they are made. And very troubling is a post I came across Facebook a day after the US Embassy incident that revealed the funder of that rally to be an Aquino. At least one other Aquino, Ninoy, had by now been unmistakably identified as involved in the formation of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), which eventually would serve as the main damning force for demonizing Marcos, who into his second term in the Philippine presidency was evidently pivoting toward China and Russia – away, as in the Duterte Beijing declaration, from the United States.
Now, if an Aquino, as some talks go, is the funder of the riotous US Embassy rally, the next question that inevitably arises is, why hold the rally at all? Hard facts as evidence for arriving at credible answers to the question would be hard to come by. But since social events have a way of speaking for themselves, then that US Embassy violence would produce similar and yet bigger ones for it to become the mother of a new season of riots, by which to craft such upheavals as had necessitated the declaration of martial law in 1972.
The Beijing declaration of Duterte appears to have baffled the western powers. Not the least of these powers is US President Obama himself who had expressed a desire to get to the bottom of the current stand of the Philippine President. The Obama reaction, if not a showcase of playacting, indicates the feeling of a man having been betrayed by somebody who ought not to have done the betrayal in the first place.
It had been pointed in another past column that in the history of the Philippine presidency, no president has ever been elected or stayed in power who was not a US boy. Therefore, Duterte could not have been president without US consent. That Duterte got elected president but now appears to be kowtowing to Beijing indicates either of two things: his declaration of separation from the United States is itself a playact on his end, or such declaration constitutes high-end double cross.
Either way, the US Embassy violence figures perfectly. It serves notice to Duterte to behave or else… Or it sets the tone for renewed upheavals which alone can draw the country deeper still into the vortex of the US-China skirmish over the South China Sea.