“The succession of controversial comments (from President Duterte) and a real climate of uncertainty about the Philippines’ intentions (vis-a-vis the United States and China) have created consternation in many countries, not only in (the US), and not only among governments,” US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russell told Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. on Monday. “There is growing concern in other communities and the expat Filipino community, in corporate board rooms as well. That is not a positive trend,” he said.
Russell had come to Manila, together with Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Kelly Magsamen, to seek a clarification of what DU30 meant when he said in Beijing last week that he was “separating” the Philippines, economically and militarily, from the US, and aligning it with China and Russia “against the world.” It doesn’t look like he got it. Yasay was not consulted before DU30 made his statement, and was in no position to clarify it. Returning to Davao on Saturday, DU30 said “separation” did not mean “severance” of diplomatic relations. But he did not say exactly what it meant.
From Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Yasay on the telephone before the meeting at the Foreign Office. Kerry was in Manila three months ago and had expressed support for DU30’s decision to hold direct negotiations with China, instead of insisting on the ruling of the Permanent Counil of Arbitration at the Hague, which held that the so-called nine-dash line, which China invokes to support its claim on almost everything inside the South China, had no legal basis. The content of Kerry’s conversation with Yasay was not released to the press.
The search for a clarification
Russell tried to assure Yasay that there remains “a deep wellspring of respect and affection between the United States and the Philippines,” and that the US supports DU30’s “independent foreign policy,” if by that he means decisions based on the government’s own assessment of its own national interests, its desire to honor its own Constitution and pursue autonomy, independence and self-reliance. He assured Yasay that the US strongly supports the government’s drive against illegal drugs, as shown by the active assistance extended by the Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies in trying to prevent the entry of drugs from overseas.
But he expressed concern about the high loss of life in the war on drugs, now reported to exceed 4,000 dead suspects. Russell underscored the importance of due process and respect for the rights of citizens “as an important part of protecting communities.” Such concern about the drug killings has prompted DU30 to call Barack Obama “son of a whore” and tell him to “go to hell.”
He also cursed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and flashed the middle finger at the European Union for expressing the same concern. He once likened the drug victims to the victims of Hitler’s Holocaust, although he publicly apologized to the Jewish community for the slur. Aside from foreign governments and international institutions, nearly every major Western media organization has attacked the killings.
Advisers in need of advice
DU30 needs sober and sage advice, but those who should provide it seem to be the first ones in urgent need of it. They seem to have a skewed view of things. For instance, a column in the Inquirer on Monday, by my young friend, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, said, among other things: “America reserved the right to define who should be our friends and who should be our enemies. We managed to open diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1974 only after Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger did so. It was US strategic consideration and not Philippine national interest that defined out foreign policy for us.”
Where, in heaven’s name, did he get this? We normalized relations with Beijing on June 9, 1975 (not 1974) before the Carter administration normalized relations with Beijing on Dec. 15, 1978. One of the major issues involved China’s support for the CPP/NPA/NDF: Marcos wanted it cut, and Beijing agreed to cut it. In contrast, today’s coalition government under DU30 expects the PLA to support the building of a socialist state, along with the communist parties of North Korea, India, Peru, Germany, Australia, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia.
RH, population control, and foreign policy ‘independence?’
Some other Cabinet members trumpet their support for DU30’s “independent foreign policy” by aggressively pushing the Reproductive Health Law and other population control measures, which have become the primary exports of the Obama administration. They denounce the Americans for their unpunished crimes during the colonization of the Philippines, but they want to impose measures that will result in colonizing the souls of the Filipinos. Proof that only intelligence, not stupidity or foolishness, has its limits.
Russell narrated what he told Yasay, but he gave no indication of what Yasay said in reply, and whether or not he and Magsamen were satisfied with it. In his own press interview, Yasay said he had told his interlocutors that the Philippines only wanted to “expand its trade and investment relations with other countries who share the same principle,” or words to that effect. He was ecstatic about the successful trip. DU30, accompanied by a party of 522, came home with a $24-billion package in investment and credit facilities, prompting one supporter of the President to quip: “How much did the US pay Spain in 1898 to relinquish the Philippines under the Treaty of Paris—a measly $20 million?”
Yasay was clearly not responsive. Russell and his Pentagon colleague did not come to ask him why DU30 would like to expand ties with China; this was not only HIS right and prerogative but also a genuinely good move that promised enormous trade, investments, technological, cultural and other South China/West Philippine Sea, which the previous administration had tried to feed on a diet of so much animosity and belligerence. DU30 deserves every credit for it.
But one very important question must be answered. Should the desire for improved relations with China come at the expense of good relations with the US? Did DU30 have to make his China visit the venue and platform for declaring his “separation” from the US?
“It should be addition, not subtraction,” Russell said. “We don’t want countries to have to choose between the United States and China—but we do want countries to have choices, to have autonomy. To make their own decisions in keeping with democratic values and keeping with international law.”
A lifetime experience
The Chinese gave DU30 the most lavish reception he has ever received in his life. He could never forget it. They made him feel like he was the most important person in the world. I wasn’t there to witness the event, but I was part of the Marcos presidential entourage that opened diplomatic relations with China in 1975. It was also a lifetime experience. Aside from being received by Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou En Lai, we were officially attended to by Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, who later became the leader of China after Mao and Zhou.
So warm and infectious was the hospitality that President Marcos, who was an absolute teetotaler, (he neither drank nor smoked) was forced to drink the Chinese mao tai for the ceremonial toast, after our host said, “Between two enemies a single drop of mao tai is too much, but between two friends, not all the mao tai in the world is enough.” Once raised, the toasts continued without let-up, and by the time we were in Shanghai, the wine had begun to show in the abstemious President’s face, and he began to hum along with the Chinese.
That visit became such an important part of Philippines-China relations that on my last trip to Shanghai a few years ago, I suddenly found myself receiving special attention, after someone said that he recognized me from the official photos of that visit in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. I am curious to find out if those pictures are still on the wall.
Bongbong’s and Imee’s presence
DU30 got an added boost from the presence of former Senator Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos and his sister Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, who received a rousing ovation from the Filipinos and Chinese in the audience. This led DU30 to refer to Bongbong as the future Vice President—-should he win his current electoral protest, he added. (Bongbong was leading the vice presidential race in the last elections, until he was mysteriously overtaken by Leni Robredo, the Liberal Party candidate whose presidential standard bearer had lost to DU30.)
But the financial package from China is what would probably make DU30’s visit more memorable than any. It beats Cory Aquino’s historic visit to the US in September of 1986.
Cory’s US state visit
She flew into Washington D.C. to a massive welcome by the US government and the press as the new “icon” of democracy. On Capitol Hill, where she addressed the joint session of Congress, the gentlemen wore yellow shirts or neckties and yellow roses on their lapels, while the ladies had something yellow around them. Yellow was Cory’s political color; the Congress looked like a costume ball.
In her speech, believed to have been ghost written by the future chairman of Smartmatic, Lord Mark Malloch Brown, Cory said, “Has there been a greater test of national commitment to the ideals you hold dear than that my people have gone through? You have spent many lives and much treasure to bring freedom to many lands that were reluctant to receive it. And here you have a people who won it by themselves and need only the help to preserve it.”
Cory received prolonged applause throughout her delivery and a standing ovation at the end. After a day or so, a resolution was moved in the House to grant the Philippines $200 million in increased economic aid. But when the measure went up to the Senate, Senate majority leader Bob Dole called it the “biggest honorarium in history,” and led the Senate to vote against it, 51 to 43.
DU30 did not have to deliver an eloquent speech to get his package. All he had to do was talk about “separating” from the US and the Chinese applauded, while the members of his Cabinet tried to sink in their seats, since there was no space under the table where they could hide their heads.
The Japanese state visit
It now remains to be seen how the Japanese government will receive him on his current visit. The Japanese are not like the Chinese; they are such sticklers for protocol, beginning with the manner of speech and dress. On Marcos’s last state visit to Japan, we were billeted at Akasaka Palace and had to observe imperial protocol. We had a minor crisis on the first day, when we were advised that we would have to wear a morning suit for the first activity, and no one had bothered to pack one for the President. In fact, there was no one on the President’s staff who seemed to know the distinction between black tie and white tie, tails and morning suit.
But DU30’s more important problem will certainly come from his dialogue with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who would like to listen to his grievances against the US. Perhaps DU30 could ask Abe: As the Prime Minister of the only nation that was atom-bombed twice by the Americans during the Pacific War, how is he able to remain America’s strongest Pacific ally? This might change his view of the world, and he might come home a much different man.