Whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton sitting across the table (or across the Pacific) from President Duterte, there will be plenty of blowback from our President’s announced policy of scaling down (ending?) our close ties with America. The gales have started to arrive much faster than DU30 perhaps anticipated.
I will refer to the Filipino exit from the US alliance as “Fixit” to establish a rough analogy with Brexit–the British exit from the European Union. Both will prove to be unsettling for our countries and the international community.
The Oxford dictionary defines “ blowback” as “the unintended adverse results of a political action or situation.” The word is chiefly American English but it has gained wide currency in the media and in international affairs.
Blowback perfectly describes the reverberations from Duterte’s diatribe against US policy toward the Philippines, as a prelude to his coming visit to Beijing on October 18-21.
Security and economic implications
The blowback has focused mainly on defense and security matters, to the neglect of the equally significant economic dimension.
Security is the main worry of former president Fidel V. Ramos in his strong critique of the first hundred days of President Duterte.
After strongly supporting Duterte during the election campaign, FVR says that instead of “hitting the ground running” Duterte is stuck “in unending controversies about extrajudicial killings and his use of cuss words and insults instead of civilized language.”
Most of all, Ramos expressed dismay about Duterte’s resolve to steer the country away from the ambit of Washington, saying the “on-and-off” statements of the President were “discombobulating.”
Ramos asks: “What gives? Are we throwing away decades of military partnership, tactical proficiency, compatible weaponry, predictable logistics and soldier-to-soldier camaraderie just like that? On [President] DU30’s say so?”
Beyond these concerns is the strategic importance of the Philippines to the US pivot to Asia. The US would lose a major jump-off point in the Asia-Pacific if Duterte really evicts all American forces from the country.
One Australian analyst believes that Duterte’s swing toward China could be good for both China and the United States.
In a policy analysis, “Duterte changes the South China Sea tone,” Graeme Dobell, a fellow with the Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), wrote that in spite of the maddening ways of the Philippine President, Duterte has “changed the immediate tone of the South China Sea [SCS] argument at an otherwise dangerous moment.”
Dobell explained that “the fresh opening [Duterte] offers China creates an important pause in a dangerous chain of events. The volatile president met a volatile moment in the SCS and actually brought the temperature down.”
Economic blowback as scary
That said, I think the blowback on the economic sphere will be adverse and punishing.
I would compare the economic effects of the Filipino exit from the US alliance to the traumatic effects of Brexit on the UK economy and the world economy.
Regardless of the priority focus today on the drug war and US-Philippine relations, the Philippines must not neglect the bread-and-butter issues that define the larger reality of national life.
I want to call particular attention to the economy because of the growing perception that international and domestic investors are getting nervous that the country will not be able to sustain its substantial economic gains in recent years — gains which turned the Philippines into the growth leader in Southeast Asia.
President Duterte took over a country that was doing very well economically. He was gifted with a magnificent opportunity to propel the Philippines to new heights.
Unfortunately, however, Duterte’s love of lynching and his propensity to slander Filipino allies and foreign leaders have served as a brake on international and local business confidence.
The sense of insecurity will worsen if Fixit becomes fact. We will wind up in the same boat as Britain, which now faces the harsh reality of its Brexit decision by referendum last June 23.
Agence France-Presse reported on October 7: “The steep drop in the value of the British currency is a sign that the vote to exit the European Union has put Britain’s commercial relationships with the world on potentially perilous ground….
“As the British pound plunged some 6 percent against the American dollar in the span of two minutes in early trading in Asia, the markets offered a reminder that divorce tends to be messy, expensive and laced with uncertainties. It rarely ends happily….
“More than anything, though, the precipitous drop seemed to attest to an increasingly unmistakable reality…
“The world believes that the UK is going to be poorer in the future, and find it more expensive to trade,” said Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an independent research institution in London.”
Not fear-mongering, realism
Our government must take care that Fixit will not impact our economy and our money in the same way. It’s easy to swagger about how adopting an independent foreign policy will be beneficial for our people and our country.
Those who think this way still have not realized how the world has radically changed since the end of the Cold War.
There is a new international system in place called globalization; and it has totally replaced the Cold War system.
The Cold War system was characterized by the pervasive fact of division — a world divided into allies of the Soviet Union and international communism, and allies of the free world and capitalism
Globalization has one overarching feature — and that is integration. The world today is an interwoven place; whether you are a company or a country, your threats and opportunities increasingly derive from who you are connected to.
The Philippines today is very much wired to this new globalized system, which is exemplified most strongly and pervasively by the US.
The question is, shall we exchange the connections built over years of close ties with America for the new connections promised by China and Russia? If we do, what will happen to our economy? To put the issue at its crudest, what will happen to our vibrant BPO industry, which is wired to the US and the West?
These questions cannot just be dismissed as fear-mongering. This is realism.
If we don‘t ask the questions now, we won‘t have the right to protest later when the crisis hits.
Fixit needs to be fixed now, not later.