PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte may eventually break ties with the United States and turn instead to China and Russia, countries that he says know the meaning of respect.
The latest of the President’s increasingly anti-American statements was made Tuesday night in a synagogue in Makati, and echoed by Malacañang on Wednesday.
“Eventually I might, in my time, I will break up with America. I would rather go to Russia and to China. At least even if we do not agree with the ideology they have respect for the people. Respect is important,” Duterte said.
Duterte repeated his apology last Sunday to the local Jewish community, for saying he was “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts just like Hitler exterminated six million Jews during the Holocaust.
The President made the parallel reference last week as he expressed frustration at being labeled “a cousin of Hitler” by critics.
In his synagogue remarks, Duterte pointed out that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never allowed himself to be chastised for criticizing American leaders.
“The problem is, I am very emotional because America has certainly failed us. Instead of being a friend, it’s their election time and they just, you know, go ahead and talk, reprimand another president in front of the international—is that good?” Duterte said.
The President also pointed out that he was unable to defend himself because the media have often misquoted him, refused to publish his statements in full, or gave “slants” to the stories about him.
“My explanation never reaches the front pages. It is not even given a slight—all they want—they don’t even know the feelings of the Filipinos or my feelings … They are worried of the feelings of EU, of Obama, and the [human rights advocates],” he claimed.
The Palace on Wednesday said the President was talking about the future.
“In the future, he might make moves. In the present, there is no move yet,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said when asked to clarify whether or not Duterte was keen on severing ties with the country’s treaty ally.
“He (Duterte) wants the Philippines to be on equal footing with others, whether they’re big or not, and he wants to respect them and he wants to be accepted. He just wants it on equal footing,” he added.
Abella also said Duterte only wanted an independent foreign policy in which “we are not to be held down by any treaty.”
He, however, clarified that the President’s remarks of severing ties with the US was not a “definite yes” or a “definite no.”
Duterte’s pronouncements may only be considered policy if and when these are followed by “official action,” he said.
In a Palace news conference, economic analyst Peter Wallace said he did not believe Duterte intended to break ties with the Western superpower.
“I think people in the White House are smart enough to know what he’s saying is not what he intends. I don’t see him trying to divorce from America. That does not make sense,” he said.
Wallace then criticized media, specifically foreign media, for taking Duterte’s statements literally instead of “interpreting” them.
He said that while Duterte’s way of speaking may not be “politically, internationally acceptable,” there is a need for people to “understand and accept what he is.”
A consultant on business strategy for major corporations, Wallace said he was not worried about foreign investments pulling out because of Duterte’s anti-US sentiments.
“I don’t see it affecting business particularly. There have been concerns raised by the foreign business community but nobody is withdrawing,” he said.
‘Veer away from security’
Duterte on Sunday threatened to junk the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between Manila and Washington, claiming the Philippine military did not benefit from technology transfer from the US.
For professor Bobby Tuazon, director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance,
Duterte’s anti-US tirades were “valid” sentiments that expressed “long-overdue” concerns, noting that the bilateral relationship had been more beneficial to Washington in terms of military exercises.
“It’s high time that the country’s foreign policy veers away from mere security objectives where relations are dominated by US interests – and begin allowing economic interests as its centerpiece,” he said in an interview.
Tuazon said expanding ties with other nations in trade, infrastructure investments and others would bolster the new administration’s programs in transportation and job-generating industries in the provinces.
“Minus whatever tough rhetoric couches his policy statements, the substance in Mr. Duterte’s presidential tirades on the US and EU remains valid – and is long overdue,” Tuazon added.
He noted that the Philippine military still lacks capability and equipment to provide a strong external defense despite years of war games.
But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana contradicted Duterte on the war games with the US, saying on Wednesday the President must have been “misinformed.”
“The President had said that our troops were not gaining anything from said exercises. According to him only the Americans are benefiting from it. But based on the information I’ve gathered from officials of the [Armed Forces] General Headquarters and Army, there are benefits,” he said.
Lorenzana said the US let Filipino troops use modern weapons, protective clothing and other equipment that the Philippine military does not have.
“Our soldiers are also being exposed to new systems, tactics and concepts in war fighting like joint landings, marksmanship, fire and maneuvers. Second, the trainings on humanitarian assistance and disaster readiness are very significant knowledge which helps us to react in times of calamities,” he pointed out.
Because of close military relations, the Philippine and US Armed Forces were able to immediately send their ships and helicopters to Tacloban when Typhoon “Yolanda” hit in 2013, Lorenzana said.