The unprecedented “lightning in a bottle” victory achieved by Donald Trump in the US presidential election on Tuesday introduces a new perspective on Philippine-American relations because of a change in lead players. It consequently augurs a fresh outlook in this strategic and vital trans-Pacific relationship, and new talks to advance and strengthen relations on several fronts.
President-elect Donald Trump will redefine according to his best lights America’s interest in the Asia-Pacific, just as President Duterte has striven to carve an independent foreign policy for the Philippines. Between their respective objectives, they should be able to find common ground and shared interests.
Trump must rebuild US policy from the ruins of Barack Obama’s major initiatives: (1) The US pivot to Asia and (2) the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Although grand in conception, these projects never really got off the ground because of Obama’s timid and indifferent leadership, in contrast to the resolute leadership of Presidents Xi Jin-Ping and Vladimir Putin. Obama does not have what Alexander Hamilton long ago described as “energy of will.”
Trump showed this kind of energy in his successful campaign that had to contend with formidable odds and the opposition of the US establishment, including key leaders of the Republicasn party.
The spat just last month between Obama and President Rodrigo Duterte was an unfortunate misunderstanding that was mainly driven by ill-chosen words on both sides.
It should never have deteriorated into threats of the abrogation of agreements, of our two countries going their separate ways, and of the revision of our vital security relationship.
With cooler heads in charge and judicious avoidance of bombast, the two presidents should quickly move to get our relationship back on track. They should not allow the looming shadows of China and Russia to distort or derail our historic relationship.
President-elect Trump was recently quoted as saying that he considers the Philippines as a major strategic partner of the US in the Asia-Pacific. It is a pity that sometimes Filipino leaders forget what strategic importance means in the larger scheme of things. They trade it for the small pleasure of being described by the local press as being “anti-American” and “nationalist.”
Before his departure for official visits to Thailand and Malaysia, President Duterte congratulated president-elect Trump on his election triumph. He followed this up with a declaration that he now wishes to stop quarreling with the United States.
This change of tone is timely and will be surely be welcomed by both countries. It will facilitate rapport between Manila and Washington, once president Trump takes office in January, and once he names his own ambassador to Manila.
Duterte and Trump are ideally suited for repairing the PH-US relationship, because they are leaders cut from the same mold. Both are outsiders who rose to the top of their respective governments on the crest of the populist tide sweeping the world today. Both won office by speaking for ordinary and working citizens, who seek a voice in their nations’ public life.
Curses and vulgarities aside, Trump and Duterte might just fashion a new and exciting chapter in our historic relationship.