Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s visit to China this week makes no attempt to replicate President Rodrigo Duterte’s effort to “separate” the Philippines economically and politically from the United States, and align it with China and Russia “against the world.” But some analysts have already suggested that Najib’s visit is nothing short of a domino effect of DU30’s initiative. For Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, DU30’s ‘pivot’ to China has put him in the company of strongmen strongmen Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jiping, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, among others.
DU30 will be in Kuala Lumpur next week to pursue his whirlwind tour which has so far covered Laos, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, China and Japan since the Asean summit in September. He and Razak could then exchange notes fresh from the latter’s trip to Beijing. Where DU30 signed 13 trade and investment agreements worth $13.5 billion with President Xi Jinping, and got billions more in soft loans, Razak and Xi were expected at the end of the day to sign a number of contracts on various things including infrastructure and defense equipment.
Where DU30 and Najib differ
Both have grievances against the US, but they are not exactly the same. DU30 has taken offense that some allies—-like US President Barack Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and leaders of the European Union—-have been critical of the summary killing of 4,000 suspects and counting in his ongoing war on drugs. He believes this constitutes an unwelcome intervention in the purely internal affairs of his government. Thus he believes he should not be faulted for calling Obama the son of a whore and asking him to go to hell, cursing “F**k you” Ban Ki-moon, and flashing the middle finger at the EU leaders.
Razak’s grievance on the other hand stems from the US federal agents freezing more than $1 billion in US assets purchased by his relatives and associates out of funds stolen from 1MDB (Malaysia Development Berhad), the government firm. The corruption scandal and the US action which have made world headlines have threatened the Razak government and the economy with possible collapse, prompting 1MDB to embark on a fire sale of its power assets, which China General Nuclear Power Corporation, China’s biggest nucler energy producer, acquired for $2.3 billion last year.
Razak has not said the same things about his country’s relations with the US as the Filipino head of state has.
By talking of “separating” the Philippines militarily and economically from the US, without formally notifying the government that he is abrogating the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which could be terminated upon one year’s written notice, or the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement which could be terminated upon six months’ notice, or the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which could be terminated upon one year’s notice, or all of these at once in accordance with their respective termination clauses, DU30 has succeeded —- as far as some political observers are concerned—-in nixing Obama’s pivot to Asia and disrupting the balance of power in the Asia Pacific.
The view from Kyoto
Writing from the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, senior visiting research fellow Walden Bello says DU30 has kicked up a storm which constitutes a profound challenge to the post-World War II system of regional security in the Asia-Pacific. But he can’t say whether it is pure bluff or bluster. “It remains to be seen whether Typhoon Duterte will gather strength or peter out in the foreseeable future,” Bello writes.
For foreign affairs analyst Patrick Lawrence in The Nation, the oldest US weekly, “This is more than a diplomatic earthquake. It augurs a fundamental shift in the power balance in the Western Pacific. Yasuhiro Nakasone, Japan’s premier during the Reagan years, once called the country ‘a floating aircraft carrier’ for all the American naval and air facilities it hosts. The Philippines has been another such strategic asset since Teddy Roosevelt dreamed imperial dreams in the early 1900s. And now, as Duterte made explicitly clear…during a state visit to Japan he wants to ‘revise or abrogate’ a recent agreement that allows the United States to lease Filipino military bases, after more than a century of privileges only interrupted in the 1990s.”
No concrete action
“Fundamental shift” appears to be the phrase favored by analysts. It is what DU30 has promised, but it has not happened yet. While proclaiming his desire to pursue an “independent foreign policy” vis-a-vis the US, he did not mind confessing his dependence on China for economic loans. He has done nothing to translate his declared “separation” into reality.
As far as the military issue is concerned, DU30 has not formally notified the US that he is terminating the MDT, the VFA, and the EDCA. Without such notification, the US government will not know whether he is serious or not. His cursing Obama and telling him to go to hell does not and cannot unilaterally change the terms of the agreements nor declare that they no longer exist.
While the agreements are in place, DU30 cannot order the Armed Forces of the Philippines to boot out the American troops from the bases and let the drug rehabilitation centers operated by the Chinese take their place. Such an order cannot be given or obeyed. For its part, the Supreme Court may have to declare it unconstitutional and void.
The Americans cannot stop him from buying weapons from China and Russia, as he has begun to do. That would be his constitutional right and prerogative, whether or not it is practical or wise. Neither can he prevent the US government from refusing to sell him 26,000 N-4 rifles for the Philippine National Police, as the State Department has just announced, and which has forced him to curse again, calling the Americans “monkeys,” despite his solemn promise to God during his return flight from Japan, not to curse again.
Neither can he—-and I hope I am completely wrong here—-prevent the US from refusing to sell replacements and military spare parts to the military, if it should so decide. This would put at risk the entire weapons systems which the AFP had originally acquired from the US—-at such horrendous cost, not only in money terms, to the Philippine government. One can only hope and pray this does not come to pass. Otherwise, the monkeys could degenerate into lower animals.
A breed of autocrats
In his Financial Times article, Rachman describes DU30 as a president “who came to power through an election but whose swaggering style and scant respect for law is typical of the new breed of autocrats.” He identifies Putin as the leader of this group, to which belong Trump, Xi Jinping, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, India’s Narendra Modi, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, and others. In international diplomacy, these strongmen tend to bypass international institutions and international law and sort things out man-to-man, says the article.
The description seems to fit DU30 to a T. But categorizing him as a dictator or psychoanalyzing him and quoting medical experts to tell us what he really is serves only to hide rather than reveal what he really intends to do to this country. DU30 is in earnest in his effort to turn the Philippines into a socialist state with the help of his closest childhood friends, former classmates, dormitory roommates, fraternity brothers, and political allies, who now compose the inner core of his government. This is what should concern all our people, beginning with his supporters. Where Marcos waged a revolution to turn back the communist movement, DU30 seems determined to lead a socialist revolution.
This is spelled out in the organizing document of Kilusang Pagbabago (Movement for Change), the mass indoctrination movement under Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., which I wrote about in an earlier column and which is now being organized at barangay level throughout the Philippines. The postponement of the barangay elections to October next year will allow DU30 to appoint all the CPP/NPA/NDF barangay officials who will form the base of the Kilusan.
More communists in office
Seasoned communists are already entrenched in the Cabinet, even without the benefit of a peace agreement, which mandates a coalition government with the CPP/NPA/NDF. Until now, the popular impression in the media is that only four active CPP/NPA/NDF members have been named to sensitive government positions. The latest secret document from highly authoritative sources belies this.
The document claims that the apparently non-ideological Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea is a full member of the CPP.
Evasco, former priest, former mayor of Maribojoc, Bohol, DU30’s presidential campaign manager, in control of Kilusang Pagbabago and 12 strategic government agencies under his supervision as Cabinet Secretary was elected CPP Central Committee Member at the 8th CPP Plenum at Susung Dalaga in Bicol in 1981;
Rafael Mariano, Secretary of Agrarian Reform; elected CPP Central Committee Member at the 10th CPP Plenum in San Miguel, Surigao del Sur in August 1997; Anakpawis, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas; Pambansang Kaisahan ng Magbubukid;
Judy Taguiwalo, Secretary of Social Welfare and Development; Chair, Women’s Committee of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers; elected CPP Central Committee at the 9th Plenum in 1985;
Silvestre Bello III, Secretary of Labor; Chief Negotiator, GRP Panel; active National Democrat, Davao;
Liza Maza, chief convenor National Anti-Poverty Commission; elected CPP Central Committee Member at the 10th CPP Plenum in San Miguel, Surigao del Sur in August 1997; former Gabriela party list representative;
Peter Lavina, Undersecretary, Office of the Cabinet Secretary; NDF;
Joel Maglunsod, Undersecretary for Labor Relations, DOLE; elected CCP Central Committee Member at the 10th Plenum in San Miguel, Surigao del Sur in 1997;
Marcelino P. Escalada Jr., National Housing Authority administration; full member, CPP;
Ednar Dayanghirang, Administrator, National Commission for Indigenous Peoples; NDF;
Delfin Cabrera, Undersecretary, Office of the Cabinet Undersecretary; elected CPP Central Committee Member at the 12th Plenum in Sariaya, Quezon, in 2008; member, NDF National Council;
Terry Ridon, Chairman, Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor; elected CPP Central Committee Member at the 13th Plenum in Quezon City, 2012.
Time to draw the line
By striking a sharp contrast between his discontents with the US and his fascination with China, DU30 has succeeded in diverting public attention from the nation’s real struggle to the merely sensational one. The real struggle is between a morally righteous society and an amoral or immoral one, between our present democratic and republican Philippine state and the CPP/NPA/NDF’s projected socialist state.
Those who voted for DU30 and who are not communist should now organize themselves into one solid bloc and draw the line between those who want him to succeed as a democratic head of state and those who want him to turn the country into a dull and boring communist one. And they should insist that DU30 consult with and listen to them at all times on what is good and bad, what is just and unjust, what is legal and illegal, what is right and wrong.