Last Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte telephoned US President-elect Donald Trump from Davao to congratulate him on his incredible electoral feat. According to his aides, the two had an “animated and engaging” conversation. One of his aides (Bong Go) was so carried away that he said Trump, who assumes the presidency only on Jan. 20, had invited DU30 to visit him in Washington. The presidential spokesman had to intervene. What Trump actually said, according to Ernesto Abella, was that, if DU30 happened to come to Washington or New York at anytime, he would like to be informed.
For Trump and DU30, it was a major thing. It will be recalled that DU30 called Obama the “son of a whore” after the latter raised some concern about the extra-judicial killings, which DU30 considered his government’s purely internal affair. He also said “F***k you, Ban Ki-moon” and flashed the middle finger at the European Union after the UN special rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard, started talking about the killings. The insult to Obama came only after DU30 insulted Ambassador Philip Goldberg, who was already ending his tour. It was very much a one-sided affair.
What happened before
The discord peaked when Duterte, while visiting China last October, announced he would “separate” economically and military from the United States, and align his government with China and Russia “against the world.” With that statement—-even without any palpable action—-some political pundits saw DU30 as single-handedly scuttling the US pivot to Asia. They expected him to dismantle the two countries’ 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. That has not happened.
After that telephone call, none of these seems likely to happen. Where Lord Palmerston said nations have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests, DU30 clearly believes personal likes and dislikes decide the national interest. He did not like Obama, for poking his nose into his “domestic affairs,” so he vowed to “separate” from Washington. But Obama is going, and Trump not only wished him success on his war on drugs, but above all assured him he would not interfere in his domestic affairs. He also thinks he and Trump are two peas in a pod. So he looks forward to working closely with Washington this time.
DU30 also had a run-in with Goldberg. But Goldberg is gone, and his successor, Ambassador-designate Sung Kim, arrived in Manila Thursday, eager to work on expanding mutual cooperation and understanding. He is the first Asian-American ambassador to be posted here, after a long line of American diplomats who have distinguished themselves in the service and were later awarded important posts at the State Department.
New US ambassador here but no Filipino envoy there
DU30 is expected to receive Sung Kim soon so he could begin to function officially as the US ambassador. DU30 has to match this with the appointment of a new Philippine ambassador to the United States, a position which has been vacant since July. DU30 has announced the unusual “appointment” of two special envoys to Washington, but he has so far failed to fill the vacant post.
A qualified nominee must first be submitted to the US State Department for its “agreement” and to the Commission on Appointments for confirmation. None has been submitted so far. The Philippine Embassy in Washington continues to operate under a charge d’affaires (officer-in-charge). This appears to be part of the confusion prevailing in the foreign service at this time. There is no shortage of qualified career personnel, but it appears Malacañang is looking for a not so qualified political appointee for the world’s most powerful capital. A former undersecretary who is one of our top career diplomats was recently yanked out of this post in Europe before he could warm his seat to give way to a non-career appointee. This is an absolute scandal. To redress the grievance, DU30 should send the same diplomat to Washington.
Effusive meeting with Putin
DU30’s conversation with Trump came after his effusive meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Lima, Peru during the APEC summit. They had very warm words for each other and looked forward to building a strong and productive partnership. DU30 admires Putin as much as he admires Trump, and Putin and Trump admire each other. This makes it hard for DU30 to “separate” economically and militarily from the US and align with China and Russia “against the world” now.
To begin with, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin have not said anything about aligning “against the world.” There is no evidence they want to lead any kind of alliance against mankind. None of their high-profile initiatives are war-oriented; they are competing with the US peacefully, in a race for progress for all. China’s One Belt, One Road project, for one, seeks to involve as many countries as possible in global infrastructure projects. Russia is similarly inclined.
I had Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev as my guest on my weekly GNN (Destiny) cable-TV show yesterday (replayed this morning), and he made it very clear that Russia’s primary interest is to improve the level of knowledge and understanding between Russia and the Philippines, and open up areas of cooperation in various aspects of the economy, technology, culture and related fields. One eminent area of cooperation is nuclear energy where Russia is a leader, particularly in fast neutron reactor technology, and has supplied a large percentage of the reactors in operation around the world.
Nuclear energy from Russia
Given the proposals to revive the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, which was mothballed by Cory Aquino for political reasons, this could be the starting point of cooperation with Russia in this particular field. Apparently because of the nuclear energy scare promoted by “environmentalists,” DU30 tends to be equivocal on this issue. However, not just one geologist has argued in favor of the safety of the old Bataan plant. In fact, one said that in case of a major earthquake in Bataan, the safest place to be in would be inside the plant.
Antonio “Butch” Valdes of the Save the Nation Movement argues that DU30 needs nuclear energy to ensure abundant supply of the cheapest available fuel to support his ambitious industrialization program and be able to compete with other nuclear energy-fed economies.
For a long time, environmentalists were scaring us with the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident and the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US. But advances in technological safety have long outstripped that scare. Today the US and Russia are among the leaders in nuclear energy. A recent editorial of The New York Times celebrates “the great arch of Chernobyl” to show what Russia and the international community have done after the 1986 accident. At the Second Nuclear Summit in Seoul in 2012, which Obama, then-President (now Prime Minister) Dmitry Medvedev, then Chinese President Hu Jintao, and other world leaders attended, the statement they issued was that no substitute for nuclear energy has yet been found.
DU30 could also work with Putin in exposing the lie of those who want to control human fertility and reproduction, make the conjugal bed barren, and shrink the size of the global population to a maximum of one billion inhabitants. Here, Russians and Filipinos could work together, the one mainly for demographic reasons, the other for moral and religious reasons, but both for the common purpose of building a stronger human civilization. Russia is the only country now where the state is leading the campaign to encourage large families and to promote the clear distinction and complementarity between man and woman. Trump could also take America in that direction.
According to Khovaev, Putin has formally invited DU30 to visit Moscow and that he has agreed to come next year. This would make DU30 the second Filipino head of state to visit Russia in 40 years; Marcos landed in Novosibirsk in 1976 to open diplomatic relations with Moscow. Putin was due to attend the APEC summit in Manila in 2015, but had to cancel at the last minute because of the tragic bombing of a Russian passenger aircraft over the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, which killed all 217 on board.
A common problem
Russia and the Philippines share the same problem with illegal drugs; they should exchange expertise and work together. There was no time to discuss this subject extensively with Khovaev, but I assume that in that country the production, manufacture, financing and distribution of dangerous drugs are serious crimes, but drug addiction is a disease that should be treated. Whether alone or in cooperation with other governments, the DU30 government should begin to seriously consider this proposition.
Duterte rode into power on a solemn promise to “kill” all the drug lords and, in six months, make the nation “drug-free.” In five months, his “war” on drugs has killed more than 5,000 suspected drug dealers, detained over 800,000 “surrenderees,” and rained invectives on those who had dared to raise questions about the summary killings.
A PNP smoking gun?
But an official police document has just surfaced, tending to show that the primary purpose of the anti-drug campaign under PNP Chief Ronald M. de la Rosa, pursuant to DU30’s pronouncement to get rid of illegal drugs during his first six months in office, is not the rehabilitation of drug addicts, but “the neutralization of illegal drug personalities” everywhere. This document seems to be the smoking gun coming from the PNP itself.
Under the heading of the National Police Commission, the document was issued by PNP Chief De la Rosa, as Command Memo Circular No. 16—2016, dated July 1, 2016, and titled, PNP Anti-Illegal Drug Campaign—Project ‘Double Barrel.” A project in support of the Barangay Drug Clearing Strategy of the government and “the neutralization of illegal drug personalities nationwide.”
The command memo contains, among others, the following:
Mission: The PNP shall implement the PNP Anti-Illegal Drug Campaign Plan—Project “Double Barrel”–in order to clear all affected barangays across the country, conduct no let-up operations against illegal drugs personalities and dismantle drug syndicates.
Execution: The PNP intends to equally address illegal drug problems in the barangays and at the same time pursue “the neutralization of illegal drug personalities” as well as the backbone of illegal drugs network operating in the country.
The memo quotes a 2015 Dangerous Drugs Board National Household Survey, which says there are 1.8 million drug users in the country—38.36 percent unemployed. According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), as of February 2016, 26.91 percent, or 11,321 of 42,065 barangays (mostly urban), are “drug affected.” Kalookan, however, has 49.28 percent. A barangay is said to be “affected” if there is at least one drug user, pusher, manufacturer, marijuana cultivator or other drug personalities. Methamphetamine hydrochloride, or shabu, tops the list of illegal drugs (90 percent) followed by marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy, according to a 2015 survey.
Three transnational drug organizations are said to be engaged in the production, manufacture, bulk-smuggling and distribution of illegal drugs. These are the Chinese or Filipino Chinese syndicate, the African Drug Syndicate, and the Mexican-Sinaloa Drug Cartel. None of these have been killed, arrested or surrendered. “Double Barrel” involves Project Tokhang, which uses house-to-house visitations in drug-affected barangays, and Project HVT, which utilizes investigators, intelligence operatives, and tactical personnel from national support units and public safety forces.
What does the “neutralization of illegal drug personalities” mean? Does this not mean “killing?” This is what DU30 and Bato must now explain, even if neither Trump nor Putin nor Xi will ask them. Aside from some concerned Filipinos, Ms Callamard may have to do all the asking.