So much for Duterte’s political correctness and what it means for the US-Philippines relationship
So much for political correctness when the Philippine’s president Rodrigo Duterte branded the former U.S. President Barrack Obama with profanity in September 2016. This has canceled his planned meeting with Obama in Laos where he expected to be challenged on human rights issues. What Duterte has finally gained though was not having to confront that topic.
Duterte’s congratulatory note to President Elect Donald Trump seems to indicate an attempt to re-improve the U.S.-Philippines relationship since his spree of anti-American rhetoric in the past few months. Following the U.S. election result, Duterte also said, “The United States presidential election is a testament to the enduring traditions of its democratic system and the American way of life. The two-party system gives American voters freedom of choice based on party platforms, not just on personalities.” Caution, however, prevails on the continuity of this new attitude toward the U.S. administration, particularly when his past statements toward the U.S. have been very confusing.
Duterte has very recently cancelled an order of some 26,000 police assault rifles from the U.S. after rumors that Washington stopped the sale. According to Reuters, a U.S. senator had planned to block the arms purchase over concerns about human rights violations. This may not be as surprising because Duterte did promise during his election campaign that he would kill the alleged drug dealers and drug users in the Philippines and there has been more than 3000 killings already since his presidency in June 2016.
Duterte’s earlier comment about separation from the U.S. has also been troubling Washington because the U.S. has been the Philippine’s strongest ally. Since Duterte’s visit to Beijing in October 2016 to sign a deal worth $13.5 billion and possibly to diminish the resentment over the Philippine’s territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, it becomes somewhat apparent that the Philippine’s president is looking to China to replace the U.S. as a major ally for the Philippines. Daniel Russel, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, however, suggested, “it would be a mistake to think that improved relationship between Manila and Beijing should come at the expense of the United States”.
It is critical to understand the relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. that has institutionalized over the years before an attempt to speculate on how this relationship could transform with Duterte’s ongoing anti-U.S. rampage.
- The U.S. is the largest investor in the Philippines with a direct investment over $4.7 billion and the country’s third largest trading partner;
- The U.S. has provided to date over $143 million in assistance to the Philippines in relief and recovery funds to battle natural disasters;
- The U.S. has granted the Philippines preferential duty free access to the U.S. market which also makes the Philippines among the largest beneficiaries of the Generalized System of Preference (GSP) program;
- The U.S. has designated the Philippines as a major Non-NATO ally;
- The 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty offers a security partnership between the two countries;
- An estimated 4 million U.S. citizens of Philippine ancestry live in the U.S.;
- Over 220,000 U.S. citizens live in the Philippines;
- An estimated 650,000 U.S. citizens visit the Philippines each year;
Clearly, Duterte’s diplomatic and political demeanor worries and confuses U.S. officials. A U.S.-Philippines joint military exercise due in October 2016 have been postponed to late November 2016 after Duterte suggested earlier that the joint exercise with the U.S. would be the last of such partnership.
On the human rights matters, Washington could decide to cut military aid to the Philippines or make it subject to careful judicial procedures. Consequences could also manifest into discontinuation of GSP privilege. Manila, however, has suggested that the Philippines could sustain without U.S. assistance, particularly when the Philippine’s latest approach toward China indicates that the country may seek assistance elsewhere.
It’s too early to say that Trump’s victory will mean a continuity of the current U.S. foreign policy toward the Philippines, however, potential U.S. repercussions will not be a surprise should Duterte’s actions toward the U.S.-Philippines partnership escalate for the worse.