By Perry Diaz
In Philippine elections, presidential candidates are labeled according to their perceived political persuasion or ideological beliefs. However, political persuasion doesn’t really matter in Philippine politics because Filipino politicians change their political affiliations to suit their personal objectives. There are the “Amboys” (American Boys). There are the “balimbings” (political turncoats and opportunists). And there are the “Manchurian Candidates” (secretly aligned with China).
The Philippines, which is considered pro-American in every meaning of the word, has always been allied with the U.S., politically, economically, militarily, and culturally (there are five million Filipinos living in the U.S.) since she gained independence from Mother America in 1946. But “independence” from America hasn’t really been deeply rooted because of the interdependence of the two countries on matters of foreign policy, economics, and national defense, so much so that the Philippine government didn’t see the need for a strong navy and air force to defend her sovereignty and territorial integrity.
With three defense agreements that exist between the two countries – Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) – the Philippines feels safe knowing that Uncle Sam would come to her defense against foreign invaders, notably China. And this airtight fusion, which was sealed with the blood of Filipino and American soldiers who fought side by side during World II, has endured to this day. Indeed, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey taken recently showed that Filipinos trust America more than China. It’s a testament to the strong ties between the two countries.
It is in this regard that pro-American candidates win in elections. To be perceived as anti-American would be a “kiss of death.” Take the case of then Vice President Jejomar Binay who was accused of being a “Manchurian Candidate,” which might have been a major factor in his defeat.
Indeed, Duterte might have been the perfect “Manchurian Candidate.” The fact that he belonged to a minor – hardly heard of — political party and whose ideological beliefs are in the fuzzy shades of gray, Duterte marketed himself as a populist crime-fighter, which the people bought hook, line, and sinker.
Never mind that he had been suspected of allegedly masterminding the extra-judicial killings by the notorious “Davao Death Squad” or DDS – which was oftentimes referred to as the “Duterte Death Squad.” Never mind that he was once sympathetic to – or part of — the New People’s Army (NPA). Never mind that he had admittedly killed a convicted felon for raping and murdering an Australian missionary.
He skillfully – and cleverly — walked a political tightrope, avoiding slipping to the right or left, which if he did might have ended his campaign. He was a Don Quixote riding a motorcycle and carrying an assault rifle. And he threatened to ride a ski jet to the Scarborough Shoal and plant the Philippine flag. People could hear “Digong, Digong, Digong…” like tinnitus ringing in their ears. And they could hardly wait to see the 100,000 dead bodies that he promised to dump into the Manila Bay to fatten the fishes.
But if there was one person who is credited for making Digong run for president, it was former president Fidel V. Ramos, or FVR as he’s often called. While Duterte acknowledged that it was FVR who encouraged him to run, rumor has it that on one of his trips to see Digong in Davao, FVR brought with him a huge bag, which he handed to Digong. Apparently, whatever was in the bag, it convinced him to run. As the old adage says, “Put your money where your mouth is,” FVR might have done just that. But of course, it was just tsismis.
But on a more serious tone, FVR criticized Digong in an article he wrote for the Manila Bulletin titled, “Du30’s first 100 days – Team Philippines losing.” He said: “In the overall assessment by this writer, we find our Team Philippines losing in the first 100 days of Du30’s administration – and losing badly. This is a huge disappointment and let-down to many of us.”
On U.S.-Philippine relations, FVR – who was a West Point graduate – said: “Equally discombobulating are the mix of ‘off-and-on’ statements by P. Digong on Philippines-U.S. relations, particularly on security and economic matters.” He also criticized Digong for berating U.S. President Barack Obama, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and terminating RP-U.S. military exercises. “So what gives??” he asked. “Are we throwing away decades of military partnership, tactical proficiency, compatible weaponry, predictable logistics, and soldier-to-soldier camaraderie just like that?? On P. Du30’s say – so???”
“America has lost!”
In a media interview upon his arrival in Beijing last October 18, Duterte said, “The only hope of the Philippines economically, I’ll be frank with you, is China.” He described his visit as the “defining moment” of his presidency. “Maybe because I’m Chinese,” he said.
But what surprised the public was what Digong bluntly told Chinese and Philippine business people at a forum in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 20. “In this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States,” he said. He declared that he had realigned with China, saying: “Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also. America has lost!” Nobody could have been happier than Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli who was seated a few feet away from Digong at the podium.
The new triumvirate
With $13.5 billion in deals to be signed between China and the Philippines, Duterte couldn’t contain his exuberance. He told the audience: “I’ve realigned myself with your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to [President Vladimir] Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.” Is this the “new triumvirate” that would create a new world order… or should I say, disorder?
Whatever came to his mind to include his Third-World country in the company of China and Russia against the world, reminds me of someone who once said, “It’s like shooting a loose cannon. There is lot of noise, but no substance – and worst of all, no voice.”
Indeed, Digong has been trying very hard to amplify his dissatisfaction against the U.S. But the U.S. is not convinced that Digong has the courage to cut loose from Uncle Sam’s protective embrace. What is Digong going to do when the Red Dragon starts reclaiming the Scarborough Shoal? What is he going to do when China tows away the old and rusty BRP Sierra Madre that has served as the Philippines’ outpost to protect the Ayungin Reef from Chinese reclamation? What is he going to do when China evicts the Filipino settlers on Pag-Asa Island in the Spratly archipelago? What is he going to do when China declares an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the West Philippine Sea? What is he going to do when China declares a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) all around the islands, reefs, and rocks in the West Philippine Sea? What is he going to do when China declares the Recto Bank off limits to Philippine oil and gas exploration? And what is he going to do when China claims the Benham Rise as her territory?
In the final analysis, nobody had any inkling that Digong was the “Manchurian Candidate” all along! And with all the hoopla that his pivot to China has created, the people have to look back at his first 100 days in office – just like what FVR did – and ask themselves: Do we want Digong to pursue a China-centric foreign policy at the expense of a century of building mutual trust between the U.S. and the Philippines?