THE tune of the true terror taunts. Dr. Dante A. Ang’s “Duterte fall – source” headline story in the Manila Times of December 27, 2016, now appears to be the trigger for igniting, as in a nuclear fission, the series of reactions designed to cause the final atomic explosion.
Those reactions have begun. As the Manila Times itself has reported, China signaled the kind of action it would take in the event the Goldberg scenario for ousting Duterte gets underway. Says the Manila Times report December 31, 2016:
“The Chinese government expressed strong support for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, following a Manila Times report of an alleged plot by former US ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg to kick him out of Malacañang.
“In a news conference in Beijing on Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China was confident on Duterte’s leadership and would continue to support his policies.
“’As a friendly neighbor to the Philippines, China supports President Duterte’s policies and stands ready to help the Philippines speed up development by deepening bilateral cooperation of mutual benefit,’ the official was quoted as saying in an official transcript released by the ministry.
“’We believe that President Duterte will lead the Philippines to achieve greater development and prosperity’.”
The words in the statement are couched in diplomatic finesse, i.e., confidence in Duterte’s leadership, Chinese neighborly concern, assistance in Philippine economic development, etc. Even then, the essence of the message, not the manner of mitigating its damaging undertones, in the Chinese statement is what we must all be alarmed about. It is terrifying–already.
Might not the Chinese have otherwise bluntly threatened: “Just you touch Duterte and you’ve got instant retaliation coming from us?” If it had been stated that way, wouldn’t that have constituted foreign interference in Philippine internal affairs? Indeed, from the Philippine view. But it is not the Philippines that is being aggrieved by that statement but America. What, then, if the United States, in standing by its time-enshrined ideals of democracy, civil liberties, human rights, rule of law, due process, etc.—ideals which Duterte, in a consistent grand show of arrogance and impunity, openly defies, ridicules, tramples upon repeatedly—takes up the Chinese challenge?
This is the situation the nation is now faced with. The world’s two superpowers openly engage each other in confrontation over what should be only an exclusive concern of the Filipino people: to rid themselves of a burgeoning despot.
Duterte has only been in office six months and boasts of no significant achievements yet other than killing an estimated 6,000 drug users and pushers and imprisoning hundreds of thousands of surrendered drug dependents.
From the worker’s sector for instance, protests are increasing over his failure to deliver on election promises such as an end to endo and contractualization. By this, he has placed in great doubt his pretension to being a socialist. On the economy, his achievements remain largely on the planning board, but otherwise his extra-judicial killings and evident disrespect for the law and have already impacted severely on whatever industry there has remained in the country, Of late, a large foreign garment manufacturer in the Cavite export processing zone has closed shop, leaving thousands of workers suddenly unemployed.
Whatever big economic strides Duterte hopes to achieve, if at all, are hinged on the delivery by China on its promise of investments and loan assistance through the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), but that promise necessarily depends upon Duterte’s delivery in turn on what actually transpires from his wishy-washy handling of the country’s foreign policy: now he is anti-US, now he is not.
On the South China Sea dispute, Duterte has manifested at most an ambivalent attitude toward the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague declaring illegal the nine-dash-line claim China has over the vast area covered by the sea: now he sidelines the ruling, now he says he will tackle it later. The ambivalence seems comfortable enough for China, since the promised investments and loan assistance from AIIB—and, yes, whatever agreement there is regarding China delivering arms for use by the Philippine National Police (PNP)—are aces up China’s sleeve, for flashing out at the right moments.
Indeed, Duterte has done much more bad than good so that China’s motives become suspect when it takes up the cudgels for him in his worsening relations with the United States. If it were poker, China lays down its cards on the table, calling “all in,” although it is not yet the time to do so for Duterte; by so doing already, it is obvious it is merely making use of Duterte to advance an agenda Duterte himself may not even be aware of.
Certainly, not being the master tactician, his cozying up to China reflects his uninformed method of using the Asian behemoth for his own agenda, whatever that is. In one of my past columns, I asserted Duterte’s winning the May 2016 elections was through high-end machination which, according to an old hand in Philippine politics, only an organization like the CIA can afford to do. By that assertion, I was implying that in that election for president, Duterte was the American Boy. This view would be later confirmed by a friend who disclosed to me the process undertaken by Duterte before he finally agreed, though it was late in the day, to file his substitution for someone else’s certificate of candidacy. The convincing factor was US support. But then not long after his assumption to office, Duterte was increasingly cozying up to China. I thought, either Duterte was doing a Trojan Horse or a double cross. Either way, he was in for trouble. As gangland has no room for traitors, so, as Mao Zedong reminded President Ferdinand E. Marcos during the latter’s visit to China in 1975, “He who rides the tiger ends up in the tiger’s mouth.”
So, is Duterte now into payback time? Smarting from intense criticism of his illegal drugs war by his electoral benefactor, he makes good his otherwise feigned friendliness toward China. Or that is the way it appears. There may be some more compelling reasons, but we don’t know what they are. In any case, based on reasons we know, it is safe to conclude that Duterte’s relations with the United States have soured up to the extent that it comes in handy now—the Goldberg legacy of a “blueprint for the ouster of Duterte.”
Under these circumstances, Duterte and China have found themselves in some kind of symbiotic relationship, like you scratch my back, I scratch yours. If Duterte has found a new benefactor in China, China has found a convenient alibi in Duterte for intervening in what otherwise is an internal matter for the Filipino people. This makes it easy to tell why China’s Foreign Ministry calls a news conference in Beijing deliberately for the purpose of making a veiled threat to counter with whatever is necessary, the alleged US move to unseat the Philippine President.
Why a news conference in the seat of the Chinese government for issuing a stand for the Philippine president beleaguered by US belligerence? It is as if an attack on Duterte is an attack on China itself. Duterte has been his own man in conducting government such that he has hardly bothered about the consequences of his actions upon the Filipino people he is supposed to serve and protect. By salaaming to China, he has given the US’s main adversary in Asia just that kind of excuse to escalate hostilities in the region – hostilities that, because conducted in the war theater that is the Philippines, actually endanger neither Americans nor Chinese but Filipinos.
What staggers us now is not just the possibility, but a steadily increasing likelihood, of the Philippines being reduced to a battleground for a proxy war between China and the United States. In this development, the genuine aspiration of the Filipino people to depose the tyrant now and that tyrant’s intransigent resolve to continue imposing upon the people the horrors of his tyranny become just guises. The reality is the US-China War. With the United States perceived, by virtue of the Goldberg “blueprint,” as plotting his ouster, Duterte gets himself the good reason to turn to China for support. This was precisely the situation Syria strongman Assad was in—on the brink of ouster by civilian mass outrage—he turned to Russia for precisely the kind of support Duterte is potentially out to receive from China now.
It should not matter that the United States is behind the mass uprising against Assad. The Syrian people have all the right to seek succor for their salvation—from God and man. What matters here is that in the Syrian civil war, Russia provides help to the enemy of the people. It cannot escape responsibility together with Assad for the mass annihilation and destruction of the Syrian people.
In exactly the same manner, it should not matter that, if a mass uprising to oust Duterte does take place, the United States is, by virtue of the Goldberg “blueprint,” proven to be behind it. What matters is that for Duterte’s own intransigence in holding on to power, China provides him the means to embark on such carnage and destruction against the Filipino people, as Assad has been doing since 2012 against the Syrian people.
The question really that should confront China now is that in the conflict between Duterte and the Filipino people, who is the aggrieved and who is the aggressor? And of the two, for whom is China? Is China willing to embrace the ignominy Russia incurred in Syria for its support of Assad? If she is, then the Filipino people must be clarified early on, that if the Philippines plunges into such horrors as are the results of the continuing Syrian civil war, then China should be held solely responsible for allowing it to happen when she had all the liberty—and the power—to prevent it in the first place.