Sizing up Duterte’s foreign policy shift and the Laurel wartime dilemma



A propos my last column, I had intended to take up the issue of the shift in foreign policy of the country under the Duterte administration. This was the agenda of the Wilson Lee Flores-hosted breakfast forum in the Kamuning Bakery which I attended early last week. But most of the panelists on the occasion, in ventilating their views on the issue at hand, sounded like apologists of Duterte, particularly as pertaining to extra judicial killings and to the President’s propensity for foul language. As a consequence, I ended up tackling Duterte’s unbridled binge of killing supposed drug addicts and drug pushers for the umpteenth time.

Most of the panelists in the forum, whether wittingly or unwittingly, pursued the issue of foreign policy from their respective social perspectives. For instance, Gabby Bonifacio, whom I met before the start of the forum and who, at my gesture of mutual introduction between us, said he was “an ordinary mamamayan,” but who soon joined the group pressed to one another at the rather constricted table of panelists and got introduced as a descendant of Andres Bonifacio (something that baffled me since, as far as I could recall from readings I had made, the Katipunan Supremo had had no offspring with Gregoria de Jesus up to his execution by Aguinaldo; Gregoria did have descendants of her own but with the famous architect Julio Nakpil, whom she eventually married after Bonifacio’s death). Expectedly from his avowed revolutionary lineage, Gaby proposed the rooting of the country’s foreign policy on history. Are we to take that as a proposal for a combative foreign policy, as Andres Bonifacio’s stance was against Spanish colonialism?

The same historical approach was taken by Eugenio Daza who claimed descent from a revolutionary forebear who, it was alleged, took part in the infamous Balanggiga Massacre during the Filipino-American War in 1900. That incident which resulted in the worst casualties suffered by America until that time caused Gen. Jacob Smith of the invading American forces in Samar to issue his order to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness,” fiercely enjoining his men: “I don’t want no prisoners. I want you to kill. The more you kill, the better it will please me.” Thus were the folks of Balanggiga from age 10 upward subjected to one of the most gruesome summary executions in our country’s history.

Butch Valdes, former DepEd Undersecretary and Convenor of the Save the Nation Movement, expressed views many of which I agree with, particularly the very probable outbreak of a Third World War, given that the world is experiencing today its worst economic crisis, which creates a state of affairs in the global economy similar to that preceding the outbreak of the Second World War. On the question of our country, under the Duterte administration, striking up a radical shift in foreign policy, i.e., from alliance with US to one with China, Valdes forcefully intoned: “Yes, it’s true that we have to take sides. But there is only one side, the side of the Filipino people.” I could almost hear Dr. Jose P. Laurel, in proclaiming his innocence on charges of treason before the People’s Court, intoning: “I am neither Pro-American nor Pro-Japanese. I am Pro-Filipino.”

All told, all the panelists delivered a lengthy dissertation each on the subject of the Philippines doing a pivot in foreign relations under the Duterte administration. But whether or not their uniform contentions on the matter were of any value at all so as to influence government policy has by now become water under the bridge.
In last Wednesday’s top story of the Manila Times, Duterte is reported as making a pronouncement for all the world to hear, “I announce my separation from the United States, both in military and economics.”

The announcement was made in Duterte’s speech during the Philippines-China Trade and Investment Forum in Beijing, China. And the forum came right after the Philippine President met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

I shuddered at the Duterte announcement. Immediately, I sensed in it a parallelism with the dilemma Dr. Jose P. Laurel faced during a visit to Japan in 1943. Dr. Laurel had just been elected by the National Assembly President of the Second Republic of the Philippines, and in that capacity he was invited by the Imperial Family of Japan for a visit in that country, which invitation he accepted. Accompanying him in that visit were Benigno Aquino, father of Ninoy and grandfather of the just past president, Noynoy, and Jorge Vargas, Chairman of the Executive Commission that had formulated the constitution for the Second Republic and convened the National Assembly for electing the Republic’s officials. After the banquet held in their honor by the Japanese Imperial Family at the royal palace, Dr. Laurel, SpeakerAquino and Chairman Vargas were conducted to a room where then Japanese Premier Tojo, in the presence of top ministers of his government, read the instruction, in Japanese but translated in English by an interpreter, for Dr. Laurel to declare war on the United States and Great Britain.

Here is an entry from Dr. Laurel’s Memoirs detailing his reaction to the Tojo instruction: “It was a shock to all three of us; we did not expect this instruction and we were not prepared to meet it on the spot. I silently prayed and said the Pater Noster. After the translation by Hamamoto of the speech, I got up to say as politely as I could that I could not comply with the request. I said that my people would not approve of it; that I could not carry them; that I have never been a popular leader, the three powerful leaders of the country being Messrs. Quezon,
Osmena and Roxas; that even if I should be willing to do what they wanted me to do, I would be a leader without any following because the Filipinos were opposed to such a step; and that it would not be “decent” for the Filipinos to declare war against the United States that was their benefactor and ally and that only unworthy people could be expected to do that.”

In contrast to the Laurel instant seizure of anguish at the Japanese demand is the now reported virtual delight of Duterte in announcing his separation from the United States.

“…Time to say goodbye, my friend,” the Manila Times report quoted Duterte as saying, as if addressing the United States.

It must be noted that the establishment of the Second Philippine Republic was in fulfillment of a Japanese pledge to grant independence to the Philippines. In that incident with Tojo, Laurel realized he was being made to pay the prize for such pledge.

Dr. Laurel writes on in his Memoirs: “I realized I was in a most difficult situation. The atrocities reported to us, the Japanese feudal and cruel methods has created a deep hatred against the Japanese and I wished I had not
been in this predicament of leadership…”

“In the words of Tojo, our choice was between extermination and freedom,” says Dr. Laurel in his memoirs.
But defying this threat, Dr. Laurel maintained his position: to the end he did not declare war on the United States.

What concessions did Duterte have to give in making his declaration of separation from the United States, we may not know in the immediate sense. But as Butch Valdes, in the

Kamuning Bakery Breakfast Forum, had advised, we are not to take Duterte’s words at their face value. His statements are the form; the substance is subject to investigation.

So we take this Duterte plea to the Chinese: “So please, you have another problem of economics in my country. I have separated from them (US) so I will be dependent on you for a long time…”.

Compared to Laurel’s position in the incident with Tojo, how does this Duterte stance stand?


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  1. Stanley Forenza on

    Is it really a good way to run a government, where so much time is spent trying to clarify what their leader said?

    Duterte shows his true colors every time he speaks. No translation needed from PH government. He supports dictators and communists rather than democracy, human respect and decency.

    U.S. has made mistakes after 9/11 attacks, that is true. It was part of over-reaction to those terror attacks.

    Russia has invaded Ukraine and stole Crimea, shot down Malaysian airliner, hacked and stole data from computer networks, bombed civilians in Aleppo and so many more to list.

    Like my mother taught me, Duterte, watch your mouth.

  2. Roberto Saguing on

    An ordinary citizen here.
    So what is your opinion aside from lambasting that of the other panelist’s ? How can you improved the lot of the Filipino people – if you are in the position of the President? The problem with you is ever since nagmamagaling galingan ka.
    – How do you break free from the clutches of the oligarchy?
    – How do you break free from the neo-colonialism of the west in all aspects of our society?
    – How do you infused a high sense of national identity, and patriotism to our people who has been thoroughly infused with colonial mentality?
    – How do you extricate yourself from the danger of being in nuclear crosshairs of China and Russia in case the Syrian conflict goes out of hand?
    – How do you do all of this things in the face of our broken politics, Amboy leaders, and biased media?
    – How can you do this in the midst of internal strife (NPA,MILF,MNLF)

    Since you are very good, and constantly is critical of Duterte, and present yourself as a superior being and know-it-all, tell us Mr. Samonte how, and I that may yet vote for you as the next President

  3. Pres Rodrigo R Duterte personality is an ACTION MAN. HE do things immediately then make STUDIES of what he said. If it turns out that what he said is bad and have bad implications or not acceptable to the majority of the filipinos he will just say sorry and will twist the interpretation so as not to offend the majority…Hahaha !!! … He is entirely different to Pinoy who will not dare to say I’m Sorry even in very obvious cases.

  4. This is an abomination. There is simply no compare. Laurel was asked to declare war on the US while is country is still under Japanese occupation. No sane person would do it. Du30 is the President of a sovereign and independent PH when he makes a statement to separate from the US politically and economically. As the President of the PH, he has a right to set foreign policy. This is not kowtow by any means and you show your American sympathy clearly with your unthinking support for America that had lead your country nowhere since 1945 and the PH remains a despised satrap of the US in world opinion. Only President Du30 have the visions and guts to get out of this log jam which has immobilized PH society since the Americans colonized the PH in 1901.

  5. I hope this movement does well for the Filipino people. The red communist government of China is one that is not characterized as “loving” to its people and I hope the treatment of the Filipinos is much better. In China descent is not acceptable and often results in loss of life. I hope the wonder nature of the Filipinos will continue, however there will be pressure to remove the Catholic and other churches as they often bring a voice of the oppressed. I pray that the iron fist will not fall from within Du30 government as it already seems to be doing (much more so than you would typically see in a democracy). The US while starting off very rough in the Philippines went on to be a wonderful friend and big brother. I pray this divorce will be peaceful, but it is also understood that the US will pivot as well and that is to be expected and other allies of the US will naturally follow (EU, Korea, Japan…). This is normal when such a big move happens.