July 2016

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz 

Duterte-and-Xi-Jinping-with-flagsRight after the Philippine Congress proclaimed Rodrigo Duterte president of the Philippines, Chinese President Xi Jinping didn’t waste any time writing a congratulatory message to him. Elated by Xi’s gesture, Duterte said, “I was honored, receiving a congratulatory message from a great president.”

Several days later, Duterte — who was seemingly buoyed by Xi’s expression of goodwill — remarked that he would not resort to violence. He declared that that his government was “willing to talk with China over the maritime dispute instead of waging a war.” “War is a dirty word,” he quipped. It must have sounded like a sweet melody to Xi. Indeed, he might have felt that his “China Dream” was just about to be fulfilled. But then… several days later, his world turned upside down! The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) had just handed China a stunning defeat to her claim to 90% of the entire South China Sea (SCS). It seemed like a bad dream, a nightmare! But then he must have realized that it wasn’t a dream. It’s very real.

Revelation

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua and President Rodrigo Duterte during courtesy call at Malacañang palace (PPD photo)

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua and President Rodrigo Duterte during courtesy call at Malacañang palace (PPD photo)

But what happened next revealed China’s true intent. In an extraordinary move, China went on a diplomatic overdrive and tried to bamboozle the Duterte administration into submission. That was a big – no, stupid! – mistake on the part of the Chinese. They just blew what could have been a productive bilateral relationship, which would have settled their territorial disputes once and for all. Xi would have gotten everything he wanted while Duterte would be happy with a railway in Mindanao. Would it have been an equitable trade? Not by any means. But Duterte’s wish would have been granted – “No war!”

In an article, “Man in the Middle: Rodrigo Duterte Gets a Taste of China’s Heavy Hand,” published in the Wall Street Journal, columnist Andrew Browne wrote: “On the afternoon of July 12, Mr. Duterte was irritated, according to one of his closest aides. He felt China was toying with him.

“A cabinet meeting had just received word live from The Hague of Manila’s stunning victory in its legal challenge to China’s claims in the South China Sea, and after noisy clapping and jubilant fist-pumping around the table the first order of business was to issue a public statement. A minister spoke up: He’d had dinner the previous night with the Chinese ambassador.

“That got Mr. Duterte’s attention. ‘Are you already a spy of the Chinese?’ he demanded, in a teasing kind of way, according to the aide who was in the room.

“The minister then relayed a long and detailed list of demands from the envoy about what the Philippine government should say—and not say—when the ruling came out. Anticipating a defeat, China was panicked at the prospect that Manila might issue a gloating statement that would add to its humiliation.

“Mr. Duterte turned serious. What irked him, said the person in the room, was more than just the presumptuousness of the Chinese demands. The president had met with the ambassador [Zhao Jianhua] himself earlier the same day to offer reassurances. ‘Didn’t he trust what I told him?’ asked Mr. Duterte.

“ ‘Between us guys,’ he remarked, ‘I would have said some of those things, but because the [Chinese] embassy wants me to say them, I won’t.’ ”

Diplomatic faux pas

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.

Given Duterte’s volcanic temperament, he must have felt insulted by China’s high-handedness in trying to force him to kowtow to Xi’s demands. But nothing could have been more insulting to him – he grew up a “kanto boy” in an environment that abides by the law of the jungle – than a disloyal underling, the “minister” who dined with the Chinese Ambassador, who handed him a list of what to say and not to say about the arbitral tribunal’s ruling.

Could that “minister” be Perfecto Yasay Jr., whom Duterte handpicked to be his Secretary of Foreign Affairs? Given Yasay’s professional and business background, he appeared to be his perfect choice for the job.

But as it turned out, Yasay wasn’t perfect after all. He committed a diplomatic faux pas that drastically changed the dynamics of what could have been an amicable – albeit unfair – settlement of the South China Sea disputes. However, it could have been a blessing in disguise because it gave Duterte a quick lesson in geopolitics. And as quickly, too, he became his own man, and not somebody’s puppet or patsy.

Boiling water

President Duterte and Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.

President Duterte and Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.

But Yasay — whose immersion into the treacherous waters of the South China Sea imbroglio has taught him never to jump into boiling water — has been rumored to be on his way out. But last July 19, Duterte doused cold water on the rumor when he released a video statement to clarify Yasay’s status. He said, “I would like to arrest a few rumors going around that Secretary Yasay of the Department of Foreign Affairs is on his way out. I would like to assure the Secretary that he is in good company and there is no truth to the rumor that there is a plan for his ouster, far from it actually.”

Duterte went on to say that he personally pleaded with Yasay to join his administration because of his competence and honesty. But here’s the twist: He said, “Although there’s a caveat. Actually, Secretary [Yasay] accepted the position on the condition that he will only serve for a few months, not even a year because he has contractual obligations to teach, professorial chair, well most universities in the western side… California, Hawaii and somewhere else.” He went on to say that Yasay has “his backing and full support.” But don’t they all say that when someone is just about to be canned?

Standoff

Former President Fidel V. Ramos confers with President Duterte upon his appointment as Special Envoy to China.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos confers with President Duterte upon his appointment as Special Envoy to China.

Last July 14, Duterte said he would send former president Fidel V. Ramos to China to start talks on the PCA arbitral tribunal ruling. In accepting the assignment, Ramos suggested setting aside the arbitral tribunal’s ruling to pursue a “settlement” with China. However, he said that the Philippines should first convene the National Security Council (NSC), which consists of the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House, and others who are chosen by Duterte. “There should be a National Security Council [meeting] first, so that the Philippine position can be defined,” Ramos said.

But the whole idea of setting aside the tribunal’s ruling brings to the fore a slew of questions that the NSC has to address, to wit: (1) Could the Philippines bring the tribunal’s ruling back to the negotiating table at a latter time? (2) Would the Philippines recognize China’s “nine-dash line” claim over the SCS? (3) Would the Philippines acknowledge China’s “undisputed sovereignty” over the SCS? (4) Would the Philippines agree to relinquish her exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to China who claims that it is within the area demarcated by the nine-dash line? And (5) Would the Philippines vacate and surrender Pag-asa Island, which is part of the province of Palawan? There are more; however, these, I believe, would be the core questions that need to be answered.

Duterte-blinkBut like all successful diplomatic negotiations, a middle ground has to be reached, and a compromise to be worked out. In other words, the parties have to agree to a “win-win” solution. Can this be achieved knowing that China had time and time again declared that she would not yield an inch of territory?

Indeed, Ramos has his work cut out for him. Let’s hope — and pray — that he’d be able to convince the Chinese that while there is plenty of room for negotiation, there are certain things that the Philippines can’t concede, which are spelled out in the Constitution. And this is the toughest challenge for both the Philippines and China. The question is: Who will blink first? Or, did Duterte blink already?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Permanent Court of Arbitration

Permanent Court of Arbitration

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), in a unanimous decision, delivered a “triple whammy” to China. In a press release, it said that the Arbitral Tribunal ruled that “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea falling with the ‘nine-dash line’.”

Secondly, the Tribunal reaffirmed that the rocks and reefs are not “islands” by virtue of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea’s (UNCLOS) definition, which says that an island must be capable of supporting human habitation. It says that only islands are entitled to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Thirdly, the Tribunal found that the Scarborough Shoal is within the Philippines’ EEZ and that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in her EEZ.

In regard to China’s reclamation and construction of artificial islands within the Philippines’ EEZs, the Tribunal concluded that “China had inflicted irreparable harm to the marine environment, and destroyed evidence of the natural condition of features in the South China Sea (SCS) that formed part of the Parties’ dispute.”

But while the Tribunal’s ruling is crystal clear and, without a shadow of a doubt, conforms with international norms as well as “freedom of navigation” exercised by all countries, China has from the get-go refused to participate in the arbitration proceedings and had rejected the Tribunal’s ruling.

China’s dilemma

Nine-dash line.

Nine-dash line.

Obviously, China’s miscalculation in asserting her “indisputable sovereignty” over 90% of the SCS, delineated by a “nine-dash line” of dubious provenance, has created self-inflicted problems for Chinese President Xi Jinping. In pursuing his “China Dream,” Xi hoped to extend China’s political and military hegemony far beyond China’s shores. But he made a faulty presumption that the United States would not interfere with China’s imperialistic machination. He should have gotten the cue from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she announced the U.S.’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy during her visit to Australia in 2011. She said that 60% of American naval and air forces would be deployed to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region by 2020.

Today, the “rebalancing,” as the pivot is referred to, is pretty much achieved after the U.S. Third and Seventh Fleets — combined strength of more than 200 warships and 400 warplanes – were placed under a unified command and control structure. With five of America’s 10 aircraft carrier battle groups operating in the Indo-Asia-Pacific waters, Xi should think twice before he’d send China’s green-water navy to face the U.S.’s awesome blue-water armada.

In an attempt to scare the U.S. and protect her self-declared “indisputable sovereignty” over the SCS, China threatened to declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the contested waters. But the question is: Does China have the capability to defend an ADIZ over a vast region? China’s airbase on Hainan Island is the only one that could provide the logistics necessary to defend an ADIZ over the SCS. But it’s not enough.

Diplomacy

With a military option outside the realm of probabilities – unless China is on a suicide mission – diplomacy is the only viable solution to settle the territorial disputes among the six claimants of the SCS. Using the Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling as a baseline for negotiations, it would level the playing field for all the claimants to come to an agreement on how to deal with their territorial disputes; thus, giving Xi Jinping a face-saving way out of a messy bind.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte wasted no time in tapping Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio (who played a crucial role in building the case against China), Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, and former solicitor general Florin Hilbay — they’re all part of the Philippine team that participated in the Arbitral Tribunal hearings — to study the landmark decision and formulate a game plan. Duterte also asked former president Fidel V. Ramos to initiate diplomatic talks with China.

From a geopolitical perspective, the Tribunal’s ruling has effectively extinguished any notion that China might have in reclaiming and building an artificial island around Scarborough Shoal. The shoal’s location is strategic to China because by reclaiming it and militarizing it — just like it did with seven reefs and rocks in the Spratly archipelago – she would be in a position to control passage through the Luzon Strait, which is the closest waterway for China to reach the Philippine Sea and Western Pacific. If China breaks through the strait, which is the weakest link in the First Island Chain that runs from Japan through Taiwan, the Philippines, and Borneo, it would push back the U.S.’s defense line to the Second Island Chain, which would be right at America’s doorsteps – Guam. Do you think America would allow this to happen without firing a shot?

Red line

In a meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping last March, Obama admonished Xi, warning him of serious consequences if China reclaimed the Scarborough Shoal. Following their meeting, China withdrew her ships from the area. Did Obama just draw a red line over Scarborough Shoal? It would seem like it.

An added geopolitical value of a Chinese-occupied — and militarized — Scarborough Shoal is that it would demarcate a triangular area bounded by the Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands, and Scarborough Shoal. This “strategic triangle” would then allow China to impose a “strategic strait” that runs through it; thus, controlling the maritime traffic in the SCS, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. A great number of this trade goes to Japan and South Korea, treaty allies of the U.S.

Benham Rise

Benham Rise

Benham Rise

It is interesting to note that the U.S. had been vying for the deployment of American forces to Batanes Island and Laoag Airport in Ilocos Norte. If the Duterte administration allows the deployment to these locations, it would counter any attempt by China to reclaim Scarborough Shoal and establish a “strategic strait” in the SCS. These two locations would also provide the U.S. with vantage points to control the choke point at the Bashi Channel in the Luzon Strait; therefore, it would prevent China from extending her naval power into the Second Island Chain, which would put the Philippines’ Benham Rise at risk to Chinese grab.

Benham Rise is a 13-million-hectare undersea landmass in the Philippine Sea, which is about the size of Luzon. The Philippines claims it as part of her continental shelf, which the UNCLOS had approved in 2012. It is rich in minerals and has vast deposits of natural gas hydrates (also called “flammable ice” or “Methane ice”), which could turn the country into a natural gas exporter. Actually, some Japanese and South Korean companies had indicated interest in jointly exploring Benham Rise with the Philippines. It is therefore imperative that the Philippines prevents China from making an entry into the Philippine Sea. We shouldn’t forget what she did to Philippine territories in the SCS. Should the Philippines suffer the same fate as she did in the SCS?

But preventing China from breaking out into the Philippine Sea is one thing; keeping the SCS open to international navigation is another thing. All nations – particularly those in the Indo-Asian Pacific region – have stakes in the SCS. Since the Philippines has the biggest stake, it would be natural for her to launch a diplomatic initiative with China. But she is not alone… and shouldn’t be. All other claimants to the SCS should – nay, must! – be involved in the negotiations. It’s only then that the territorial disputes in the SCS could be settled peacefully – and equitably — and to everybody’s satisfaction… including China.

Yes, the stakes are high, indeed. It’s time to talk; but let’s talk from a position of strength.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Dela Rosa forms his "Police Avengers" to fight the drug lords. ( Photo credits: pinoynewsalert.blogspot.com)

Dela Rosa forms his “Police Avengers” to fight the drug lords. ( Photo credits: pinoynewsalert.blogspot.com)

It must have been fate that brought President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte and Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald dela Rosa together 30 years ago in the aftermath of the EDSA People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship. Duterte was appointed acting vice-mayor of Davao City by then President Cory Aquino. Dela Rosa, then a fresh graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1986, was commissioned Lieutenant and assigned to the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary (PC) in Davao City. Their paths crossed and their lives have since been intertwined. Their personal relationship was also enhanced when Duterte stood as a principal sponsor at Dela Rosa’s wedding.

Dela Rosa (L) and Duterte (R) in the old days.

Dela Rosa (L) and Duterte (R) in the old days.

Over the years, they remained loyal to one another. In his Facebook account, Dela Rosa posted a greeting on Duterte’s birthday: “I never feared to enforce the law and prevent crimes because you are always there watching my back. To the greatest leader on Earth, Mayor RRD, happy birthday Sir!” Indeed, “Bato” – Dela Rosa’s moniker, which means “stone” – had nothing but warm words for his mentor and ninong. And when Rody ran for president, Bato posted, “Those who will cheat and will manipulate this May 9 elections, be warned! We will crush you!”

Born on January 21, 1962 in Barangay Bato, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, Ronald Marapon dela Rosa earned his moniker “Bato” not because of where he was born but because of his rock-like persona. It’s a reputation that he lived by. And when Duterte won the presidency last May 9, he picked his loyal friend Bato to become Chief of the 160,000-strong PNP, bypassing more senior police officers who were Bato’s upperclassmen at the PMA. Traditionally, they are the ones on the “short list” for promotion to the top police job. Yep, one-star police general Dela Rosa’s promotion earned him the four stars reserved for PNP Chiefs; thus, bypassing several two-star and three-star police generals on the PNP hierarchy.

Bounty

Duterte and Dela Rosa (CREDIT: KIWI BULACLAC/PPD)

Duterte and Dela Rosa (CREDIT: KIWI BULACLAC/PPD)

He took over the top PNP job on July 1, 2016, a day after his boss, “The Punisher” – Duterte’s street moniker – was sworn in as president of the country. On his first day on the job, Bato warned the policemen involved in illegal drugs that “they have 48 hours to surrender to him.” He didn’t waste any time going after them. Calling him “Bato” would be kinder than what I’d call him – a pit bull… on the loose.

On the second day, it was rumored that 20 imprisoned drug lords have put a P1-billion contract on his and Duterte’s heads. But instead of cowering in fear from the jailed drug lords’ threat to assassinate them, Duterte and Dela Rosa went on the offensive.

To put an end to the corrupt culture inside the New Bilibid Prison, where the drug lords are given VIP privileges, Duterte ordered the replacement of the correctional officers with commandos from the PNP’s elite Special Action Force (SAF), the equivalent of the SWAT teams in the U.S.

Face the music

Dela Rosa meets with three police generals named by Duterte for their alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.

Dela Rosa meets with three police generals named by Duterte for their alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.

A few days later, during his speech at the 69th anniversary of the Philippine Air Force, Duterte named and relieved five high-ranking police generals from their posts whom he said were allegedly involved in illegal drugs.

The following day, three of the five named police generals, who are still in active duty, reported to Dela Rosa in his office at Camp Crame. They professed innocence and sought due process. “They were very sad. I want to cry with them,” Dela Rosa said of the three officers. “My advice to them is face the music,” he said.

While it might take some time to investigate and prosecute the erring generals, one immediate result of exposing their alleged illegal activity is that it will serve as a warning to all police officers that coddling with drug lords will not be tolerated under the Duterte administration and Dela Rosa will see to it that nobody – regardless of rank – is spared.

Drug pushers surrender

Dela Rosa meets with PNP police officers at Camp Tolentino in Bataan.

Dela Rosa meets with PNP police officers at Camp Tolentino in Bataan.

In Camp Tolentino in Limay, Bataan, Dela Rosa was on hand to witness about 600 drug pushers who surrendered to the PNP. In a press conference that followed, he said that the PNP was ready to wage war against politicians involved in the illegal drug trade. In particular, he mentioned “local chief executives” with links to drug lords. He said they’re part of the Duterte administration’s goal, which is to stop – or suppress – corruption, criminality, and illegal drugs within six months. According to Dela Rosa, there are at least 23 local chief executives on the list that Duterte provided him. However, he said that it’s up to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to “handle” the erring mayors.

The question is: Why did Dela Rosa say it’s up to the DILG to “handle” the mayors involved in the illegal drug trade? Is it not a police matter? Or is it best handled politically by the DILG, which is a “political” body?

But going after the local chief executives would be like fishing in small ponds. More than likely all you’d be catching are the butete — tadpoles. Why not go fishing in larger bodies of water where bigger fish abound? And who are these “bigger fish” in the illegal drug trade? And who is the “biggest fish” among them? Could it be that there exist powerful politicians or political dynasties that condone – nay, protect – the drug lords in their political turfs, which makes one wonder: Are they untouchable? Is someone protecting the “protectors” of the drug lords?

Biggest challenge

Dela Rosa and Duterte

Dela Rosa and Duterte

This would certainly be Duterte’s – and Bato’s – biggest challenge. And this could be the root of corruption that Duterte detested so much. Surmise it to say, the bigger the amount of “dirty money” generated in illegal activities, the larger corruption becomes. And what could generate more “dirty money” than the illegal drug trade?

Needless to say, Duterte and Dela Rosa, working in tandem, are off to a good start. They have a goal and a timeframe… six months. All they need now is a plan that works. And this is where they can fail miserably or succeed modestly. I said “modestly” because I don’t think they can achieve their goal within six months. But it would definitely be a great start because the alternative is unthinkable.

We all know what Duterte wants. But what we don’t know is if he has the political will to go after the corrupt politicians who are involved in the illegal drug trade, some of whom might be his friends and political allies. It would clearly be a test of his leadership.

We also know that Dela Rosa has the ability to fight the illegal drug lords. He’s proven it when he was with the Davao City police force under the guidance of his mentor and ninong. But what we don’t know is if he has the gumption to fight them in a much larger arena where there are no rules of engagement, and where only those who are tempered with fire and hard as the Rock of Gibraltar survive. If there is one such crime-fighter that fits the mold, Bato is the man. He is a hard rock to crack, indeed.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Digong and Bato (CREDIT: KIWI BULACLAC/PPD)

Digong and Bato (CREDIT: KIWI BULACLAC/PPD)

With no major political organization behind him and no big donors to fund his campaign, President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte was propelled to power by people from all walks of life. He beat four other candidates, three of whom – Jejomar Binay, Mar Roxas, and Grace Poe — were funded by executives of some of the country’s top companies, including San Miguel Corporation, Araneta Group, and Aboitiz Group. Shunned by the major newspaper outlets – or was it an organized boycott? — Duterte waged an intensive grassroots campaign and used the social media to reach out to the ordinary people.

He hammered in a promise to fight – nay, kill – the criminals and drug lords, and stop corruption in government. He vowed to restore the death penalty by hanging. And for drug lords, he’d hang them twice – once to kill them and the second time to severe their heads. And with his reputation as “The Punisher” during the two decades that he was mayor of Davao City, no criminal would ever doubt that he was serious about his threats. And to make his point crystal clear, he appointed his most trusted police officer, Gen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, as the new Director General of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Dela Rosa, on his first day on the job, warned the policemen involved in illegal drugs that “they have 48 hours to surrender to him.” Indeed, Duterte couldn’t have chosen a better PNP Chief than Dela Rosa, who earned his moniker “Bato” – which means “Stone” – for what he is, a hardened cop who had served “The Punisher” well in fighting criminals. But calling him “Bato” would be kinder than what I’d call him – a pit bull… without a leash.

Digong and Bato

Duterte-and-dela-Rosa-crosshairsIt did not then come as a surprise when the drug lords put a P1-billion price on the heads of Digong (Duterte’s street moniker) and Bato. The bounty was offered by 20 imprisoned drug lords who’d pitch in P50 million each for their assassination.

But instead of cowering in fear from the jailed drug lords’ threat to assassinate them, Digong and Bato went on the offensive. To put an end to the corrupt culture inside the New Bilibid Prison, where the drug lords are given VIP privileges, Duterte ordered the replacement of the correctional officers with commandos from the PNP’s elite Special Action Force (SAF).

Poverty and corruption

Busaw family leaving in the center island under the Metro Rail Transit along North Edsa in Brgy. Pagasa in Quezon City taking a lunch break event if it is danger zone and air pollution cause of smoke vehicles........photo/boy santos

Busaw family leaving in the center island under the Metro Rail Transit along North Edsa in Brgy. Pagasa in Quezon City taking a lunch break event if it is danger zone and air pollution cause of smoke vehicles……..photo/boy santos

Duterte’s unorthodox ways and style have earned him the respect of the people, who have been waiting for a “messiah” to deliver them from the clutches of poverty and the evils of corruption. But election after election, pretenders and charlatans promised to eradicate poverty and stop corruption, only to make the lives of the common tao worse than before. But they saw in Duterte someone who is like them and thinks like them. He talks, looks, and walks like them; therefore, he must be like them… nay, he is them! It is an alchemy that created a harmonious relationship between the people and him. And, hopefully, that fusion would stand the test of time.

But Duterte doesn’t have too much time to deliver on his promises. He said he’d stop crime and corruption in six months. While that might sound quixotic – and it is in all honesty – his determination to put an end poverty and corruption gives the people a flicker of hope.

However, it is a challenge that ordinary politicians would fail the moment they take the helm of leadership. Indeed, a few days ago, Sen. Ping Lacson said that corruption couldn’t be eradicated in six months, not in six year, and not in 60 years! In a way, he’s right, corruption has been with us in the last 70 years since the Philippines gained her independence. But that’s putting it mildly. The truth is: corruption has been ingrained in our culture since the Spanish era. That’s more than 400 years! So, how can it be eradicated in six months? Impossible! But Duterte can at least start sending drug lords and corrupt politicians to the gallows. Only then do I know that corruption can be mitigated and could eventually be stopped.

Communist insurgency

NPA-CordilleraAnother daunting challenge for Duterte is the communist insurgency. The communist rebellion in the Philippines is the only one of its kind in the world today. While Duterte was known to have links with communists and leftists during the early years of his mayorship of Davao City, he is a self-described “socialist.” It would alarm some people — especially those who are in the upper strata of Philippine society – who brand the socialists as “communists.” But there is a large chasm that separates the two; although, politically, they find them themselves rooting sometimes for the same causes that benefit the common tao – particularly the poor.

And being leftist or socialist sometimes puts someone in league with those who have anti-American sentiments, which begs the question: Would Duterte veer the country away from the United States and bring the country closer to communist China?

I have been wondering myself where he’d lead the country? Would he terminate the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT)? Would he withdraw the case against China that is now before the United Nations’ Permanent Court of Arbitration (PSA)?

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua visits Duterte in Davao City.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua visits Duterte in Davao City.

Indeed, during the presidential campaign, he sent strong signals about his position vis-à-vis the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Early on, he wanted to initiate bilateral talks with China; thus, abandoning the multilateral negotiation that his predecessor, former president Benigno Aquino III, preferred. The Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua took the cue and hopped into a plane to go visit Duterte in Davao City. And even Chinese President Xi Jinping wasted no time in conveying his congratulations when Duterte was being sworn into office.

Wind of change

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Duterte.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Duterte.

But following his swearing-in, Duterte’s tone changed. He said he’s going to wait until the PCA made its judgment on the arbitration case, which many believe would be favorable to the Philippines. However, China had repeated over and over again that she would not abide by the PCA’s ruling. If that would be the case, the international community might treat China as a “rogue” or “outlaw” state, which would have a highly negative impact on China’s economic and political standing with the rest of the world. The question is: What are Duterte’s options? With his penchant for doing the unexpected in his unorthodox way, he just might surprise everybody with what he would do.

And to quote British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s famous “Wind of Change” speech to the South African Parliament in 1960: “The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.” Today, that “wind of change” is blowing through the 7,000 islands of the Philippines. And with that change, what used to be Duterte’s unorthodoxy yesterday would be the new orthodoxy today.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)