The Philippines is in the vortex of the heightening confrontation between the United States and China over dominance in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea by Philippine reckoning, with much US encouragement, as a matter of course).
Its natural placement in the Southeast Asia region makes it ideal for either of the antagonists in the SCS conflict to establish critical forward positions. China has demonstrated this strategic importance of the Philippine with its reclamation spree on the Paracels (Spratly Islands) and elsewhere in the waters fronting the Philippine west coast. On the part of the US, it has successfully extracted from the Philippines the awesome concession of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which effectively restores the usefulness of the US military bases dismantled by the Philippine Senate in 1991.
As President of the Republic of the Philippines, Duterte’s relation with either the US or China cannot be ascertained in isolation from the two world giants’ confrontation over the South China Sea. If, therefore, Duterte’s apparent animosity with Obama were to be considered a matter of foreign relations, then it should bear inevitably upon the US-China SCS conflict.
I distinctly recall that immediately after the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague, Netherlands issued its verdict on the case lodged before it by the Philippines against China, Duterte made his position on the ruling known thus: respect the verdict. By respect, he must mean that China’s claim to the waters of the South China Sea is illegal, as the PCA verdict puts it, particularly ruling that China’s so-called Nine-Dash Line has no basis whatsoever.
China, as we should know, had completely snubbed the PCA arbitration save for an initial manifestation giving notice to the arbitral body that it was not participating in its proceedings. But showing good faith on the issue, it has proclaimed its readiness to settle the problem bilaterally with each of the claimants on the South China Sea, meaning, to the exclusion of the United States which has been insisting in joining in such a settlement.
On the last day of the November East Asia Summit in 2012, US President Barack Obama virtually told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in the face, “…while we are not a claimant in the South China Sea dispute, and while we do not take sides, we have a powerful stake in maritime security in general, and in the resolution of the South China Sea issue specifically — as a resident Pacific power, as a maritime nation, as a trading nation and as a guarantor of security in the Asia Pacific region.”
Premier Wen Jiabao countered with the declaration that, as quoted by Xinhua News Agency days after, “…any attempt by outside forces to internationalize the issue will only make it more complicated and undermine peace and stability in the region.”
These antagonistic positions of US and China in the Asia Pacifice region, though a political question, actually constitute the world social development which must produce the fact of Duterte’s current headline-hugging cusses of Obama.
I ask: Is that thinkable? That one who immediately took up the US position of respect for the PCA ruling would now go against the nation which in the first place had schemed to get that position adopted by the United Nations through the PCA?
Moreover, as I observed in one of my columns in the run up to the 2016 presidential elections, the history of the Philippine presidency has always been one of installing a US boy in Malacañang – beginning with Manuel Roxas, the first president of the Philippine Republic and the one who awarded the Parity Rights to the Americans, all the way to the president just past, Noynoy Aquino, who awarded US the EDCA, among several other concessions of Philippine sovereignty. About the only exception in this regard is perhaps President Joseph Ejercito Estrada whose refusal to heed Bill Clinton’s admonition in November 2000 for him not to attack MILF Camp Abubakar resulted in his impeachment just two months after.
Whether for getting elected as president or for staying in Malacañang for your constitutionally-mandated term, the US hand is overwhelming. Could Duterte’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections have been any different?
To put it plainly, would Duterte have been elected president if the US did not allow it? Duterte’s stated position on the PCA ruling betrayed his subservience to US early on in his tenure. But by publicly cussing Obama now, is he not proclaiming to the world that in the matter of foreign relations he has come to be his own man? In fact, he has made statements to the press that he would be pursuing an independent foreign policy. Under the current situation in the South China Sea, such posturing cannot but be better said than done.
In the South China Sea conflict, either Duterte is for US or he is for China. It’s a good cause for conjecture, therefore, that Duterte appears to be inclining toward China. He issues indicators in this regard, such as proclaiming that his grandfather was really Chinese who adopted his lawyer’s surname when he got naturalized as a Filipino. A tale that sounds not too strange. In Cory’s time, she went deep into China to trace the roots of her Chinese ancestors, but look how she ended, a most ardent advocate of US interest in the Philippines, to the extent of lobbying for the retention of the US military bases in the country, though miserably failing in the effort.
You cannot be anti-US all for having Chinese lineage. On the contrary, your pretension to Chinese descent can in fact advance your actual pro-US agenda in the brilliant tradition of the Trojan Horse. By your badmouthing the US president, are you not in fact being packaged for eventual acceptance into the Chinese quite discriminating palate when time comes for bilateral talks between the Philippines and China on the South China Sea conflict? This must be true, or else Obama could be doing a Johnson this very moment.