THE President has been adversarial not only to the US but also to the United Nations, particularly the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and the International Criminal Court (ICC). He has freely expressed his disgust not only by making ad hominem attacks against their top officials. He even went to the extent of unilaterally pulling out of the ICC and threatening to cut off diplomatic ties with countries with seats in the UNHRC that voted to support the resolution to conduct an inquiry on our country. Recently, and despite the President initially forgetting about it — an indication perhaps that he was simply throwing a presidential tantrum but was taken seriously by his executive secretary — we have come to know that there is in fact a document ordering government agencies to terminate or abort any process of procuring loans and grants from these countries.
In addition to the US, the President is also on record to have uttered derogatory comments against the European Union (EU), Canada, Australia and Iceland. While the audacious display of bravado by the President was cheered by his loyal supporters, it shocked the diplomatic community not used to being openly challenged with verbal violence from national leaders. The shock was magnified by the fact that the international landscape is used to seeing the Philippines as a well-behaved member of the community of nations.
This perception of being a country of good standing has been shattered by President Duterte’s adversarial stance. What endeared him, however, to many Filipinos is the fact that he imaged this in the context of protecting our sovereignty as an independent state. Our being an obedient member of the community of nations is perceived by many as having emanated from the fact that we have not asserted ourselves in the face of the powerful countries and their interests. And the people cheered because what the President promised was a no-nonsense independent foreign policy that will stand for our sovereignty.
This is the line of argument that populates the discourse of the President and his loyal supporters against the US, the EU, the UN bodies and the ICC. They perceive these countries and organizations as having disrespected our sovereignty, by meddling in our affairs, particularly in the manner the President has carried out his war on drugs. This is the logic that led him to pull out of the ICC, refuse to cooperate with the HRC, and block foreign aid from countries that voted against us.
This is why many diehard Duterte supporters (DDS) turned livid when a major committee of the US Senate passed an amendment that would ban Philippine government officials who had a hand in what the US senators have labeled as the arbitrary detention of Sen. Leila de Lima.
One thing that the President and the DDS need to understand, however, is that other parties in the world community of nations have reserved the right to make their own moves. While we can freely ban human rights diplomats from entering our country, other countries can have the same right to ban our officials from entering theirs. While we can decide to boycott official development assistance offered by other countries as a sign of our displeasure, they can at anytime in the future decide to impose restrictions on, if not totally cut off, that development assistance.
Only those without any clue about international relations among and between countries would express disbelief that a country like the US can impose a restriction on another country, and express outrage about the blatant intervention into the latter’s sovereignty. Anyone familiar with the realities of diplomacy and foreign relations knows that bilateral development assistance is an instrument of foreign policy. As such, the donor country can intervene in another country’s affairs not only in terms of the policy conditionality attached to the development assistance, but also in the pressure it exerts should the recipient country act in such a way that the donor country deems to be against its policies and standards.
There was a howl of protest both from Duterte allies in government and among DDS about the US move against officials who are involved in the case of Senator de Lima. Many accuse the US of meddling, as if it is not a norm that we willingly exposed ourselves to when we accepted US development aid. What is ironic is that this noise comes from people who did not have a problem with China’s incursion not only in our exclusive economic zone but even in our territories. Many people are already livid that the US would consider denying entry to our officials, and treat this as an affront to our sovereignty, yet they cheered when Hong Kong actually denied entry to former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario.
And now, some senators are supporting retaliatory moves against the US. Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go suggests that we refuse entry to the US senators who had a hand in the decision to ban some of our officials from entering the US. Not to be outdone, Sen. Vicente Sotto 3rd even raised the idea that those involved in the impeachment of US President Donald Trump should also be barred from entering the Philippines.
Some people need a heavy dose of reality check, if not of rationality and sanity. Have Go and Sotto ever thought that a threat only works if these US officials would even care, the same way some Filipinos are so affected by the proposed US ban? Ignoring the US would have been a more pragmatic reaction, more so when the President has projected that we have pivoted away from it anyway. Many DDS, both inside and outside government, have turned into US haters, even as they now consider China as the new apple of their eye. It is therefore odd why they would even bother retaliating if the US doesn’t matter to them anymore.