President Rodrigo Duterte will develop friendship with United States President-elect Joseph Biden, some Malacañang officials believe.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said he sees no reason for the friendship between Duterte and Biden to not materialize.
Duterte “has been widely respected by state leaders, including President Donald Trump, as he manifests the same respect to — and has gained deep and genuine friendship with — them,” Panelo said.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. also hopes the Philippines will maintain close and friendly ties with the US under the Biden administration.
“It’s always good news that democracy has prevailed, and we congratulate again the incoming president and we look forward to having close and friendly relations with the Biden administration,” Roque said.
He shrugged off claims that Duterte had lost an ally in Trump and that Biden will likely confront the administration on its drug war.
Biden has promised to put universal rights and strengthen democracy at the center of his administration.
Panelo declined to comment on how the Biden presidency could affect the Duterte administration and the country.
“There are a number of pending matters between the Philippines and the USA on diverse subject matters, such as the Visiting Forces Agreement, as there have been several local commentaries on how the Biden Presidency will affect how the Philippine government will run its affairs, including its campaign against illegal drugs,” he said.
“All discussions regarding these are based on conjectures or surmises and we do not wish to join these commentators in such futile practice,” he said.
What he is sure of, Panelo said, is that the Philippines “is no longer a vassal state to any foreign entity and as such, it will not allow any co-equal power to disrespect its independence.”
Last December, Duterte threatened to bar American soldiers from conducting military exercises in the country if the US fails to deliver at least 20 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to the country.
The Visiting Forces Agreement was supposed to have been scrapped in August 2020, but in June the government froze the abrogation for six months amid “political and other developments in the region.”
Last November, the government extended the suspension for another six months.
A data scientist expects Biden’s leadership to have social and political impacts on the Philippines and the rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
David Yap, chief data scientist of Publicus Asia Inc. said during a forum on Monday the socioeconomic policies of the Biden administration will have “far-reaching and long-lasting effects to those of us here and the Asean.”
“American interests in the Philippines are anchored on the archipelago’s potential geopolitical role within the region,” he pointed out.
He said that it is still “unclear how President Biden will approach China both economically and geopolitically. Debate rages as to whether he will be tough or weak on Beijing.”
“Some argued that Biden will be weak on China, given that several of his Cabinet appointees are viewed by many to be keen on fostering stronger economic ties with the rising Asian superpower,” he said.
Yap said the appointment of Kurt Campbell as coordinator for Indo-Pacific suggests that “the containment is at the very least on the table.”
He added that many analysts argued that Campbell’s critical role in the Asia policy in the Obama administration, will help him “arrest the decline of the US influence in the region.”
Biden is likely to maximize efforts to improve trade relations with Asean to counterbalance the growing economic clout of China in the region.
“If Biden pursues this course, then Asean member countries must be prepared to take advantage of the potentially lucrative trade opportunities [that the US would offer in the near future],” Yap said.
He noted that China and the Philippines recently negotiated a $940-billion contract for a railway in Luzon. The deal is the largest government to government contract between the two countries.
China also signed over a $60-million grant for a bridge in Davao.
“While seemingly small or inconsequential in terms of monetary value, it is important to note that this bridge will connect Samal Island to Davao City — a major metropolitan city in Mindanao. And the hometown of President (Rodrigo) Duterte,” Yap said.
“China also sent its foreign minister to Manila over the weekend in a bid to reinforce Philippine-Chinese relation while the US transitions to the Biden administration,” he said.
“As expected, the Chinese delegation did not come to the Philippines empty handed.
Reports indicate that China is donating 500,000 Covid vaccine doses to the Philippines and extending a 500 million yuan for infrastructure development to the Philippine government,” he said.
Yap considered the Chinese “to be in a better position to offer assistance in infrastructure development, economic rehabilitation and the procurement of Covid-19 vaccine compared to the US.”
Don’t rock the boat
Political science expert Herman Kraft said the Biden presidency would not want to do anything to rock the boat as far as its relationship with its allies, including the Philippines, is concerned.
“It will not be in the interest of the Biden administration to shake or to rock the boat or to basically do something that might actually be detrimental as far the bilateral relationship between the Philippines and the United States is actually concerned,” Kraft, chairman of the Political Science Department of the University of the Philippines Diliman, said in an interview with The Manila Times.
However, he said that if the number of killings attributed to the administration’s war on drugs rises, allies of Biden in Congress might push the US leader to confront the drug war.
He noted that there had been instances in the past where the Democrats pushed for more action towards the Duterte administration.
“He (Biden) might not be interested in rocking the boat as far as US-Philippine relations are concerned but at the same time, with this kind of pressure coming from his own party, he might be placed in a situation where he might do something.”
Kraft however said that geopolitical considerations may halt the Biden administration from confronting human rights issues in the Philippines.
“The question here is how important is that to the Biden administration in comparison with or juxtapose again to the geopolitical context of what it wants to do in the Asia Pacific region?” he said.
With reports from Bernadette E. Tamayo