PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has a knack for keeping his true intentions close to his chest, thus confusing his intended audience. But, must he also confuse his supposedly close advisers like his Cabinet members?
The President’s rabid supporters claim that he always means what he says. So, why is it that often, his Cabinet members interpret his words differently? And why is it that what’s supposed to be a definitive declaration of policy gets another meaning in a subsequent speech or clarification?
Now, after Mr. Duterte declared in Beijing the country’s separation from the United States, expect a lot of explanations and clarifications from his Cabinet members on what this really means.
“I announce my separation from the United States, both in military but economics also,” he said Thursday at the Philippine- China Trade and Investment Forum in China.
He gave no details on what this “separation” entails. The Philippines and US have signed many trade and military agreements and treaties. Will these be unilaterally abrogated? If what he meant was not really separation, why did he use that word?
Here’s another Duterte statement—addressed to China–that needs clarification: “So please, you have another problem of economics in my country. I am separated from them (the Americans) so I will be dependent on you for a long time.”
The pivot to China and away from America is meant to herald a more independent foreign policy for the Philippines, so why is he saying that he’ll be dependent on China for a long time? Perhaps, he was only joking
that time. That’s the only plausible explanation for the contradiction between words and intent.
This statement of President Duterte needs no further clarification: “I realign myself to your ideological flow and, maybe, I would also go to Russia and talk to Putin and tell him there are three of us against the world — China, Philippines, and Russia.”
Russia and China are both communist countries and while the President is not one, he declared here that he is leaning towards their ideology. However, much more than realigning himself with their ideological flow, it’s his confidence that the Philippines can join China and Russia against the world that takes the cake.
The Philippines, he believes, is now strong and influential enough to take on any other country in the world except China and Russia. The Philippines is among the world’s Big 3? Wow! This should make all Filipinos proud.
While he’s most willing to go to Russia and meet its leader Vladimir Putin, he said he’d never go to the US. Why? “I will just be insulted there,” he explained.
The President is wont to curse and insult but he doesn’t want to be insulted. This is the reason why he likes the Chinese with their Oriental character which does not go around insulting people.
Going back to Cabinet members’ clarifying or explaining the President’s statements, I sometimes wonder if they are qualified to do so. A few months back, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said the President had rejected China’s urgings to ignore the arbitration ruling on the West Philippine Sea and go into bilateral talks instead. Well, we now know that the President really favors bilateral talks.
The President had made pronouncements on defense matters without consulting with his defense secretary, who went on to contradict him.
At a recent budget hearing, the finance secretary could not answer the question of Senate President Pro Tem on why the President wanted to cut economic ties with the US, and what are the ramifications of this new policy.
Secretary Dominguez said he didn’t know as the President made the announcement without consulting with him.
Oh yes, President Duterte is returning with agreements worth $13.5 billion from China. This will go a long way in making Filipinos more independent and survive without foreign aid, like what he has frequently said.
But, what if the President makes another pivot different from his recent pronouncements? Well, that merely means he’s still successful in confusing his audience.
This should pose no problem to his millions of rabid supporters, however. They’ll follow him whether he goes left or right, backward or forward.