Sat, Oct 22, 2016 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: US’ ‘what if’ is Philippines’ reality

It is fascinating to watch from a distance the speeding trainwreck that is the campaign of Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump. Every day brings some new absurd statement, some threat to the constitutional democracy that is the US’ greatest achievement.

Trump is clearly playing to a distinct, partisan crowd, regardless of how his words might be taken by others in the US or elsewhere, whether it is his threats to build a wall along the US border with Mexico, his rants against China, his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, his insulting attitude toward women or his fascination with strongman tactics.

While the US elections are just under three weeks away, and “what if he wins” speculation remains just that, nations in Asia already have to deal with the fallout from the election of a similar demagogue closer to home.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte won the election in May by promising to save what he said — echoing Trump — was a “nation in crisis,” by waging war on corruption and crime, redistributing wealth and creating a fairer society.

Any hopes that the former Davao mayor was speaking rhetorically were quickly dashed by the brutal wave of extrajudicial killings of suspected or alleged drug dealers that has claimed more than 3,000 lives since he took office. Even more chilling was his casual dismissal of the murders of children caught up in action by vigilantes or police — like the five-year-old girl slain in late August when her father was targeted — as simply collateral damage.

However, more worrying for Taiwan and its neighbors is Duterte’s rush to embrace China and restrict, if not break, one of the backbones to the balance of power in Asia: the US-Philippines defense alliance.

Where his predecessor sought a ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration after a tense standoff in April 2012 between Chinese and Philippine ships at Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), with the court in July ruling in favor of Manila, Duterte has made it clear that he will not challenge Beijing over the shoal or other disputed islets.

While he initially said that he would raise the court ruling in his talks this week in Beijing, he later said he would not, and yesterday it was announced that China and the Philippines would resume bilateral talks on territorial disputes. Beijing has long demanded that such disputes be handled bilaterally rather than regionally, and it has blocked efforts within ASEAN to take a united stand on disputes and the need to respect international law.

Duterte on Thursday said that as the US has lost militarily and economically, he was realigning himself to China’s “ideological flow,” and that it would be China, the Philippines and Russia against the world.

Yet much like the Republican officials in the US who have been left scrambling to “clarify” each Trump pronouncement, Cabinet officials in Manila have been kept busy making excuses for Duterte’s outbursts and statements.

Philippine Secretary of Trade and Industry Ramon Lopez and presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella yesterday said that Duterte did not mean that Manila would break with the US or renege on its treaties and agreements with allies.

Abella said that Duterte was restating his position on charting an independent foreign policy and “finding common ground with friendly neighbors ... in the spirit of mutual respect, support and cooperation.”

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