As much as I would like to get out of the way of a careening train wreck of a Philippine foreign policy, it’s difficult to do so. I have been part of our foreign service for 16 years. With postings in New York, London, Belgium as press attache and as ambassador to Hungary and Poland, I can feel the embarrassment that career diplomats must be feeling about our present flip-flopping foreign policy.
Former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario has described the Duterte administration’s foreign policy as off-track. Former President Fidel Valdez Ramos has compared the Philippines to a listing ship of state with its skipper, President Rodrigo Duterte, going headlong unaware of the danger signs. Now, these are two men not known to be effusive with their public opinions. Something must have ticked off Del Rosario and Ramos to sound off with stinging rebuke of the President even after marking his first 100 days in office.
The US is confused and State Department spokesman John Kirby wants an explanation from the Philippines on what President Duterte means when he said his government is “separating from the United States.” Duterte’s new friends in the Chinese leadership headed by President Xi Jinping are of course quiet and not saying anything. Back in Beijing, though, they must be snickering and trying to suppress their laughter. They bundled off their four-day state visitor with lavish gifts of loans and trade deals after wining and dining him.
The Philippines looked a far cry from the country that won its case in The Hague arbitration court against Beijing’s sweeping claim in the South China Sea. In announcing his “separation from the United States,” Duterte’s Chinese hosts must be pleased as punch when the visitor issued the statement in Beijing near the end of his four-day state visit.
Is playing the China card against America a method in madness or a madness in method?
Playing his role in their ventriloquist-and-dummy act, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. is hard put at explaining the President’s Beijing statement of separation from the US. He said that what the President meant was a breakaway from the US influence and domination of the Philippines in foreign policy and military strategy. Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, on the other hand, put it simplistically as “a son leaving his parents’ home because he is getting married and starting his own family.”
More astute foreign observers do not see Digong getting married but a case of sleeping with the enemy while ditching a long-time ally, America. The more than half a million Filipino-Americans in the United States are also disturbed that Duterte is veering away from Uncle Sam. They find it disquieting that Digong has badmouthed the US and President Barack Obama while kowtowing to the Chinese who have seized Philippine territorial waters through gunboat diplomacy. The word “kowtow” is defined as a noun or verb that means to put one’s head to the ground while kneeling as a sign of obeisance. It’s Chinese in origin when China’s emperors ruled like gods with the power of life and death over their subjects.
The US which considers itself as a Pacific power has made known it’s now ready to face up to a rising China. The guided missile destroyer USS Decatur sailed closely to China’s man-made islands in the Paracels in a move to assert freedom of navigation in the vital South China Sea lanes. The Decatur’s defiant sail-by is sure to escalate tension between the US and China. The Philippines can learn from Vietnam, which has won over the US against former ally China in its territorial dispute over the Paracels. Without getting too vocal about China’s territorial grab, Hanoi played it cool to its advantage to have the US protect Vietnam without incurring China’s wrath.
How will the Philippines’ pivot to China be seen by the US? This is an unfriendly act and we could become casualties in the event a shooting war breaks out between these two world powers. Will Duterte side with new friend China, Russia and North Korea?
Duterte must be reminded we are bound as treaty allies of the US because of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the Visiting Forces Agreement and lately the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement validated by the Supreme Court. He cannot just cast these treaties aside without being liable under Philippine laws.