Who would have thought that a mayor could pull out a homer in dealing with Asian behemoths like China and Japan? Lacking national exposure, he brandished his sword and laid claim to a record never before seen in presidential history in the Philippines: 6th Asian nations in 117 days in office.
Derisively called mad man by his critics, there is serious thinking in his “madness.” Visiting Laos, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, China and Japan, PRRD has set the stage for a peaceful region, lights on for Asia and ASEAN and a face-to-face diplomacy that has never been seen from a David like the Philippines. There is rhyme and reason where he went and the key messages he called out in those visits. The Duterte Initiative has made the Philippines top of mind. Apart from Manny Pacquiao, foreigners meeting Filipinos have been asking about Duterte. Seriously, the “mad man” is a rockstar.
The call outs have been consistent: economic, illegal drugs, security in bilateral talks. Laos was Bud Dajo and getting the attention of the US (and Duterte got it big time). Indonesia (biggest Muslim country in ASEAN) was about illegal drugs trade, Mary Jane Veloso, AEC and comparing leadership notes (Widodo was Jakarta mayor before becoming president). Vietnam was “economic bilateral cooperation, including stronger partnership in economic, agriculture, defense and maritime cooperation, and war against illegal drugs.” Brunei was “trade and investments and developing our halal sector and micro, small and medium enterprises, support for the government’s anti-narcotics campaign” and the re-engineering of BIMP-EAGA. China is trade and security as well as exploring peace within the framework of the decision of the International Court. Japan is rebalancing in the region, among others.
There are four essential elements of a state: population, territory, government and sovereignty. The first two constitute the physical and material basis of a state and the last two, its political and spiritual basis. Of late, international recognition has been added. This is the recognition of the sovereign status of a new state by other states. Recognition has political dimensions in the community of nations. Recognition becomes the magnet that can attract investors and foreign direct investments. Recognition is also a reward for pursuing domestic policies that reform age old issues such as crime, corruption and inefficiencies in the system.
It is interesting to note that what appeared to be a faux pas on schedules of presidential foreign trips turned out to be a defining moment for the country as she grapples reframing foreign policy and rebalancing powers and influences in the region. PRRD was after all supposed to go first to Japan then to China. Critics were up in arms in the sudden change saying “a president does not mess up foreign schedules, just like that.” The sudden change can now be understood in the light of the declaration by PRRD, “Japan is and will always be a true friend.” A rare display from the bad mouth leader.
In the arrival speech by the president, he now tells the public why and what transpired said visit. This arrival speech was far different in tone and delivery. The words were carefully chosen for the important rebalancing strategy. Characterized as a “defining moment” in our ties, the president talked about common paths and shared objectives. He mentioned “maritime security and maritime domain awareness” as key priorities. Duterte explained that Japan will play an important role in maritime interests that need to be protected against “piracy, criminality at sea, terrorism and responding to disasters.” He likewise talked of shared objectives: democracy, adherence to the rule of law and peaceful settlement of disputes.”
Clearly, the Philippines is not pivoting to anyone. It is rebalancing the region in what appears to be Japan being the fulcrum. With Duterte’s deft move, Japan is now the countervailing force to China in the region. It has been 44 years since 29 September 1972 that China and Japan normalized diplomatic relations, two countries that spent much of the 20th century in mutual enmity if not at outright war. The anniversary comes at a low point in Sino-Japanese relations amid a dispute over an island chain in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu Islands in China. This was the other backdrop in play during the visit of PRRD to Japan. The Philippines, with its arbitral award, teaches Japan how to flex its muscles without wringing necks and that is the audacity of Digong, the trump card was never played and we got win-win in China and Japan.
From the China visit where we had the red carpet rolled out and a welcome ceremony unparalleled to none, “China has committed a total of USD 24billion to the Philippines. USD 15billion are in economic deals and USD 9billion in soft loans. To Japan who has committed to the Philippines USD 2billionin economic deals and USD 48million in soft loans.
Duterte finally made it known to all that an independent foreign policy should be “consistent with the Constitution, protective of national interests and beneficial to the people.” Clearly, Duterte has chosen to articulate in the visit to Japan what to his view is good for the country. PH-Japan relationship is “best viewed as exemplary partnership that can only gain strength in the years to come.” Notice the contrast with the US.
The Duterte Initiative will close out in the remaining days of the year with visits to Malaysia and Russia. And after these visits, one can put together clearly the Duterte Initiative. Clearly, that is purely Asia in orientation.
Interestingly, in a 1951 commencement speech at the University of the Philippines, then Senator Claro M. Recto said: “sentimentalism and emotionalism should not play a part in international relations. It is folly to expect any nation to ever sacrifice its welfare and security to pure idealism or to sentimental attachments. As Filipinos, we must look out for ourselves, because no one else will. That is the essence of our independence.”
Recto further pointed out, “but as long as we are an independent Republic, we can and should act as a free people and as Filipinos. As Filipinos we must profess and declare that the security of our nation is paramount, and as a free people we must profess and declare that, while the liberties of other peoples are important to us in this world of interdependence, our first duty is to our own.”
The Duterte Initiative has echoed this historical line: “the first objective of our government must be peace, for, as a small and weak nation, it is to our prime interest to explore with patience and sincerity every avenue of honorable and enduring settlement by negotiation and mutual concessions. If war must come, it must not be of our own making, either directly or indirectly.”
And the Duterte Initiative has rang the bells, as Recto did in 1951, “let us awake from the daydreams of adolescence, and cease to imagine ourselves as saviors of a world in distress, riding on our fanciful adventures for which we have neither heart nor strength, while we neglect the care of our own concerns. We have no manifest destiny to fulfill, no historical missions to carry out in the age of superpowers. Our aims are simple and well defined: to preserve the integrity of our national territory, to safeguard the independence and liberties of our people, and to promote their welfare by the enforcement of our rights and the fulfillment of our obligations. It is on this irreducible basis of national interest that we should build our foreign relations.”
In fine, I shall return has never been truly laden with good intentions.