• Duterte must do an Assad or he falls

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    MAURO GIA SAMONTE

    THE handwriting is on the wall. Duterte must fall.

    On December 27, 2016, Dr. Dante A. Ang, chairman emeritus of the Manila Times scooped the international media with a revelation of a blueprint for the ouster of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte recommended to the US State Department by former US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg. The exposé was made in a story datelined Lisbon, Portugal and carried by this paper on December 27, 2016 under the headline, “US ex-envoy plotting Duterte fall – source.”

    Serving to corroborate Dr. Ang’s account was the meeting at the time in the United States of three key anti-Duterte figures, women all, and all Bicolanas, incidentally: Sorsogonian billionaire (reputed to be the richest Filipino outside of the Philippines) Loida Nicolas Lewis, a consistent kingmaker both in America and in the Philippines who supported both Barack Obama and Noynoy Aquino in their presidential campaigns; Sen. Leila de Lima, Duterte’s arch critic, particularly on thousands of extra-judicial killings that have characterized the President’s fierce war against illegal drugs trade; and Leni Robredo who, as Vice President, surely stood to be the great beneficiary of a Duterte overthrow.

    It’s been months since Dr. Ang’s story stunned the nation. Over that period, the President appeared to have weathered the storm. He has stayed in place, propped up by a consistent high approval rating in the surveys.

    By contrast, Senator de Lima is now in jail after charges were filed against her in the Sandiganbayan for corruption; Vice President Robredo has come under an ouster threat of her own with the progress in the Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), of the vote recount petition by former senator Bongbong Marcos, her rival in the vice-presidential race who is protesting her election to the post; and Loida Nicolas Lewis, oh, well, she has not been heard of significantly lately.

    So, it has seemed the Duterte ouster plot went pfft. And the President proceeded with his announced pivot in foreign relations – from heavy alliance with the United States along with America’s close allies to strong friendship with China and Russia, on the opposite side of the world ideological conflict.

    On one occasion, he proposed to make a triad with the two world superpowers: “The three of us against the world.”

    So, all’s well that ends well it seemed for a small-time Philippine President pretending to world-class status.

    Then came May 23, 2017. While President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is in a close huddle with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the former’s state visit to Russia, the Marawi crisis suddenly erupts. Combined elements of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups lay siege of the city, holding hostage a big number of civilians, including a Catholic priest. The much-feared IS black flag is planted here and there in the Lanao del Sur capital – indicating, already, a successful takeover of the territory.

    To the ordinary observer, the Marawi crisis is just one more occasion for flaunting the terror might of IS, as has been happening not only in the war-torn areas of the Middle East but also in Europe and in East Asia. The IS terror has been so vastly promoted that when, subsequent to the Marawi crisis, a demented casino gambler shot up and burned the Resorts World Manila, the immediate impulse of people generally was to call the incident an IS handiwork (though there has not been any conclusive finding that it was not).

    Soon after it erupted, the Marawi attack struck me as akin to what, over the past seven years, has been raging in Syria – a civil war. Similar elements were at play, the IS and several other Muslim groups on the rebel side; a President vociferous against the United States while being favorable to Russia and with no qualms whatsoever about killing hapless civilians on the regime side.

    Conscious that a little less than a month before, US President Donald Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk missiles target strikes against an airfield of the Syrian government—the first openly admitted interference by the United States in the Syrian civil war—my impulsive reaction to the Marawi crisis was to parallel it with what has been happening in Syria. This must right away lead me to conclude that if, as widely pronounced by international political analysts, the IS in Syria is under manipulation by the United States, through some way or another, then the attackers in Marawi, brandishing as they have the terror-rearing black IS flag, must be under such manipulation as well.

    (To be continued tomorrow)

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