A DOCUMENT attributed to Ambassador Philip Goldberg, former US ambassador to the Philippines, is reported to recommend that the US play hardball with President Rodrigo Duterte, in order to teach him “fear of the Lord.” This has been described as a “blueprint to undermine Duterte,” which many promptly interpreted as “ousting DU30.” It was first revealed in the Dec. 27, 2016 issue of The Manila Times in an exclusive report filed from Lisbon, Portugal by its chairman emeritus Dr. Dante A. Ang. It was a journalist coup. Not even The New York Times, the world’s most prestigious newspaper, has the distinction of its chairman emeritus interrupting his European holiday in order to file an exclusive—and explosive—news report.
But the expose, for all its worth, has focused the nation’s attention on the perceived dangers to the DU30 presidency, without mentioning the clear and present danger posed by that presidency. Assuming the alleged Goldberg threat is real, DU30 has all the means to “neutralize” it, as he has the means to “neutralize” all the illegal drug personalities in the slums. But the uninformed and unsuspecting citizen does not even know the threats coming from the presidency. Nor does he have the means to prevent them. If Goldberg is the real author of the reported document, it appears that not even the highest US official in the country fully appreciates the real threats associated with DU30.
Not just the killings
Until now, local and international opposition to DU30’s war on drugs has merely denounced the extra-judicial killings. Completely overlooked are the evils they have created, which are more dangerous than the killings. From July 1, up to the latest, the reports mention over 6,000 victims, and counting. Over 973,000 drug users and sellers have surrendered, some 43,000 have been arrested; there are no published report on how many have been charged of any crime. Under the Constitution, any person arrested whenever the writ of habeas corpus is suspended should be formally charged with a crime within three days, otherwise released. The writ has not been suspended, but close to a million remain in jail without any charges.
According to one survey, 78 percent of those polled fear becoming victims of extra-judicial killing. But about the same percentage, if not more, say they are “satisfied” with the performance of the President who has authorized and defended the killings. The most common comment one hears from the fearful, yet “satisfied” with DU30, is that the war on drugs has brought “peace and order” to their neighborhoods. Indeed, it has allowed the police to break into private homes and execute suspects; some 5,600,000 homes have been visited by the police, about a million people interrogated and asked to “spy” on others under the new spy system called “masa masid.”
No large drug laboratories have been busted, no large supplies seized, no drug producers, manufacturers, financiers, distributors killed, arrested or surrendered, only unshod drug dealers—people “whose lives are unwelcome, whose death is unmentioned in the Times” (T. S. Eliot)—have been wasted. What is billed as a war on drugs has turned out to be no more than a war on human life, especially against the urban poor, which the Departments of Health and Education are now feverishly trying to intensify with their massive distribution of condoms among high school students. The illegal drug traffic from China, Africa and Latin America has remained untouched, and the danger of the big drug lords trying to eliminate their rivals in order to control the traffic seems imminent.
The state now the killing machine
The extra-judicial killings have produced not just a mounting body count in the streets, but above all—and this is the far greater evil—a killing machine under PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa, which continues to kill, and will not know when it has already killed its last victim. The state itself has become the biggest killing machine. Supporting it is the Evasco-instituted spy system, in which a citizen is compelled to spy on strangers, family and friends. The whole thing is driven by an ideology that proclaims killing as a state weapon, and every human life expendable. The result is a Reign of Terror which is perversely praised for the “peace and order” it has brought into our neighborhoods by our innocent and unreflective citizens. But as the Star Wars film “Rogue One” reminds us, do not confuse peace, which Augustine called the tranquility of order, with terror. This is what Goldberg’s purported analysis sorely missed.
Back to Goldberg. Is there such a Goldberg document? Chairman Ang vouches for it, and the extensive quotes confirm it. These include the following: “The political actors (the opposition) would need all the political weapons in their arsenal to replace the Duterte administration and replace it with something more to the opposition’s liking.” However, deposing Duterte “would be a challenge to the opposition.” The US government should employ a combination of socio-economic-political-diplomatic moves against DU30 “to bring him to his knees and eventually remove him from office.” All this should happen within a period of 18 months, according to the report.
Not a blueprint but—
But the State Department has denied it. Goldberg had not written such a “blueprint,” it said. Assuming the denial is to be believed, this could mean one of two things. Either the Times has quoted a “bogus report,” meaning a document written by somebody else and made to appear as authored by Goldberg. Or Goldberg is the author of the quoted report, except that neither he nor State considers it “a blueprint to undermine DU30.” I am more inclined to view it as a hard-hitting “country report,” perhaps an end-post report, which analyzes what could happen to DU30, in the next 18 months.
A distinction has to be made between policies intended to create a situation that would make it hard for DU30 to govern and actual political and military intervention that would, for instance, put the Seventh Fleet at Manila Bay, the 13th Air Force in Philippine skies, and boots on the ground, all of which nearly happened during Marcos’ time, in order to physically remove the government.
This is not to suggest that the US government is incapable of serious political mischief, or that it has no reason to want to see the early demise of the DU30 government. In many parts of the civilized world today, particularly in North America and Europe, many who have followed the DU30 drug killings have come to believe that DU30 may have already overspent his political capital and popular mandate. Only DU30’s rabid supporters at home seem to be unaware of it.
The opinion abroad
Very few people abroad, it seems, would be surprised if DU30 were taken out in an Arab-Spring type of regime change. Given the verbal insults DU30 has rained on US President Barack Obama, the US State Department, the UN Secretary-General, leaders of the European Union, and Goldberg himself, and his blunt threat to separate militarily and economically from the US and to align his government with China and Russia “against the world,” it is completely understandable if the White House, the State Department, the UN Secretary General or the European Union leadership shared this very sentiment.
But for the US, the UN or the European Union to initiate his ouster is clearly out of bounds. It would demand an extraordinary situation, similar to that which prompted the US to intervene against Marcos in 1986. At that time, the military mutiny had already begun, and the civilian population was already in revolt; all that was needed was for the State Department, the Pentagon, the various intelligence agencies and the leaders of the US Congress to support what was happening on the ground. President Ronald Reagan, a staunch friend and ally, remained determined to protect Marcos, but once the positions of all the others had converged, his concurrence became virtually ministerial, if not academic. This is the substance of what we read in former Secretary of State George P. Shultz’s recollection of what happened in the Philippines, in his memoirs, Turmoil and Triumph.
Status of relations
There are no precise prescriptions or proposed mechanisms on how Goldberg is supposed to want to topple DU30. All I can read from the report is an analysis, which we are free to accept or reject. But DU30 knows the great political disturbance and discomfort he has caused, so it is but natural for him to expect some consequences. Of course, he can hope that despite the turbulence of the past few months, relations with Washington could improve under Donald Trump, whom he tends to regard as a “soul mate” and with whom he already had a telephone conversation for seven long minutes. But until it happens, if it happens, Philippine-US relations, largely because of him, stand on shifting sandy earth.
In principle, no foreign leader calls the US President a “son of a whore” or the US ambassador a “gay sonofabitch” and gets away with it. The US is not the world’s lone superpower for nothing; it will not hesitate to use the levers and instruments of power in order to uphold and protect its own sense of honor and self-interest. Thus, if the US believes it has enough reasons to strike back at an aggressive government, it could and will most likely do so, without need of an alleged destabilization blueprint.
That the US has done nothing against DU30 until now could be due to a number of factors. First, the US has no real policy on the Philippines, in the same manner that it has a clear policy on Korea or Japan. Second, the US official establishment is currently in a state of transition from one administration to another. Third, US policymakers have yet to determine whether DU30’s unrepeatable conduct is induced by ideology, an enhanced rereading of Philippine-American history, a forced immersion into statecraft and diplomacy, or his admitted regular use of Fentanyl, a narcotic painkiller to treat various ailments of the body.
Evasco vs State
Whether or not the alleged Goldberg report is indeed a blueprint for DU30’s ouster as alleged, its publication and the media hype it is getting from DU30’s propagandists have given DU30 and his communist coalition partners a perfect excuse to intensify their attack on the US, and fast-track their proposed revolutionary government. By highlighting the alleged American plot to get rid of DU30, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., who has begun sporting a Mao-type headgear with a red star in front, has found a convenient smokescreen for his revolutionary agenda.
So far, Evasco appears to have outsmarted everyone, including the international critics. He has put together what threatens to become a “new communist party” within the old CPP/NPA/NDF and within the government itself. This would no longer be under Joma Sison or the CPP/NPA/NDF’s present leadership, nor even under DU30, but under Evasco himself. It will spring from the Kilusang Pagbabago (Movement for Change) which he heads, assisted by regional coordinators and other officers, who are all active CPP members. The KP will now molt or morph into a political party to become the engine and main apparatus of the revolutionary government. By means of this, Evasco and company plan to abolish the Constitution and the existing government.
If the US is a player, then the game is now between Evasco and the State Department. Clearly the threat to the Republic is far more serious than Goldberg’s reported threat to DU30.