The expletives of President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte are meant to drive home the point that our current relations with the US remain fragile as ever. Despite the long years of alliance, even preceding those that the US has entered into with its war-time enemies, Philippine-US relations remain so shaky that a slight tremor could cause it to collapse and expose the hollowness upon which that so-called “special relations” is built.
Such is the unique characterization of Philippine-US relations; that it remains unstable for the fact that it is not a relationship grounded on the basis of sovereignty of two independent states, but built to allow one to serve as proxy to advance the interest of the other. President Duterte’s harsh words, often loaded with insults, is not just telling of the general frustration of the Filipino people who always get a raw deal in keeping that “special relations” with the US.
Many political analysts try to downplay the impact of what the President said like his admission of being annoyed at US Ambassador Philip Goldberg for his comment about the Australian missionary who was raped and murdered in a prison riot in Davao and the UN for criticizing his administration of the extrajudicial killings of drug pushers. However, they failed to analyze that Duterte simply reacted to the ambassador’s comment as meddling in our elections. The President was also irritated, for instead of a rapporteur sent to discuss with him their concern, the UN lashed out at his policy, which to him was uncalled for, much that it amounted to a public indictment of his administration for human rights violation. He said, if the UN can give him one bad point, he can cite 10 bad points against the international body like its inability to stop the senseless killings now happening in Syria and Iraq.
As observed, the recalibration of the country’s foreign policy is telling that soon after Noynoy Aquino was elected President, it saw the gradual erosion of the country’s sovereignty in favor of realigning it to the US orbit. We have practically been marshalled to the new US call of containing China. Instead of defining the country’s relations with other countries along the traditional mode of pursuing our national interest through alignment, the Noynoy Aquino administration virtually substituted our foreign policy with that of the US, equating it as integral to our national interest.
This one could easily discern as that when the Aquino administration signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) allowing the return of the US military bases; insisted on a multilateral approach in resolving our dispute with China over the South China Sea; and by bringing our case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) to decide on our claim despite the consequence that a decision could effectively narrow down our option to reach an agreement with China. The docile Noynoy Aquino administration’s primordial concern was to give justification to the US presence in this part of the globe. In fact, the return of the US bases is now used as leverage to ensure the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea “enforced” by its regular navy, different from the reason why it pressured us to sign Edca.
Moreover, US officials consider the blunt statements of the President as an expression of personal sentiment that could be set aside to favor the overriding factor of national interest. They try to hide the truth those incidents that gave rise to the occasion for President Duterte to speak out as an expression of our national interest. The foreign policy statement of the President has never been the venue for him to express his personal sentiment.
Many forgot that the May 16, 2002 incident where an American named Michael Terrence Meiring accidentally blasted himself with a bomb which he kept or was tinkering inside his hotel room at the Evergreen Hotel in Davao City was the turning point in Duterte attitude towards the US. He saw how the condescending behavior of the FBI in their treatment of local officials when they spirited out Meiring from the Davao City hospital without the courtesy of informing them.
What caught Duterte’s ire was his suspicion that Meiring was involved in false flag operations to destabilize the government. His suspicion was heightened in April 2003 when two deadly blasts occurred at the Davao International Airport where 21 people were killed, 148 wounded, and was closely followed by the bombing of Sasa Wharf, killing 17 and wounding 56. Somehow Duterte continued to nurture the suspicion that the US was involved in the covert operations to boost the bargaining leverage of the MILF for secession. While there was no clear evidence linking the US to the spate of bombings, it was obvious that the US was exerting pressure on the national government to sign the proposed Bangsamoro law.
Duterte could not hide his displeasure to the conduct of the US that the Sangguniang Panglungsod of Davao supported by the majority of the Barangay Captains passed a resolution banning the holding of any US Balikatan Exercise in Davao City or to allow its territory to station US drones. In other words, the US already had a forewarning of what to expect from the Duterte administration; that he would be different from his predecessor who exhibited the most menial form of docility by making the Philippines as the one fighting for the US interest, and not the US fighting for our interest as an ally.
In fact, when Washington felt threatened that Philippine-US relations might just be derailed by the seemingly uncontrollable mouth of President Duterte who called Ambassador Goldberg “bakla,” it hastily sent State Secretary John Kerry to prevent further deterioration that could jeopardize the bilateral relations that were strengthened in their favor by the Noynoy Aquino administration. However, the fence-mending visit of Secretary Kerry did not stop President Duterte from giving more of his nasty remarks. After unexpectedly receiving a check worth $32 million to help the country’s law enforcement, he jokingly told Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, “bastusin pa natin itong buang na ito para magbigay pa.” Unfortunately, the remnants of the hypocritical yellow administration failed to get the cue that the check was an endorsement by the US of Duterte’s relentless drive against illegal drugs for which they are harping now of human rights violations.
The US should have anticipated that the incoming Duterte administration would be seeking to redefine our relations to one that would fine tune our national interest, instead of being retooled as proxy to US interest in the region. Specifically, when President Duterte sent a special envoy to China to deal with the problem left by the Noynoy Aquino administration that was a clear signal the country would be abandoning the decision of the PCA and in lieu would seek a bilateral approach to reach some kind of win-win settlement of our dispute with China. Some say, that decision has turned table for China to make concessions if only to prevent President Duterte from entertaining doubts to the delight of the US.