Duterte puts back the Asia into the Philippines

Manila Bulletin Published: 2017-05-11 14:41:24
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Duterte puts back the Asia into the Philippines

By Getsy Tiglao

The Philippines is slowly shedding its pseudo-American skin in favor of its authentic Asian self. It is disconcerting to some, this newly exposed reality, but to many more Filipinos, it is a real political epiphany.

Without preamble, President Rodrigo Duterte acquainted us with our damaged culture. Most Filipinos were too enamored with the United States (many still are) to notice the lopsided relationship. He had to curse his way through our Hollywood heads for us to take notice.

He removed the country away from the ambit and influence of the United States. He flirted with its rival Russia. But ultimately he situated the Philippines alongside Asian countries, including the powerful but misunderstood China. In hindsight it was pure common sense: why not be friendly with our Asian neighbors when we are Asian ourselves?

The new "Asian Philippines" was clearly seen at the just-concluded 30th ASEAN Summit where a Barong Tagalog-clad Duterte confidently engaged fellow members on their particular needs and concerns. The ASEAN members were probably pleasantly surprised to find the Philippines — known as the lapdog of America in the regional bloc — was now making decisions in the context of regional cooperation and its own interests.

The President was on full diplomatic mode during his opening speech but it was still pure Duterte. He was sympathetic when talking about the betterment of Filipino lives and focused when discussing priority programs such as his anti-illegal drugs campaign. The irrepressible mischief also came out as he took a jab at his main detractors, the European Union and the United States.

Talking about the ASEAN's dialogue partners, which included the EU and US, Duterte said that while relations with them are valued "they can be much more valuable and stronger if we learn to respect each other's independence and treat each other as sovereign equals."

The usually voluble Duterte was probably chafing at the restrictions imposed by protocol. However, he did manage to repeat the oblique criticism: "Dialogue relations can be made more productive and constructive if the valued principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the ASEAN Member States is observed."

The mainstream media, foreign wire agencies, and other pro-US groups pressured Duterte, this year's ASEAN chairman, to issue a tough statement against China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. He refused to be bullied. Indeed his position is based on political pragmatism: What's the point and what good will this do?

To the chagrin of the anti-China groups, here is what the ASEAN, through its Chairman's Statement, said about the South China Sea disputes: "We took note of concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments in the area. We reaffirmed the importance of the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities, and avoiding actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursuing the peaceful resolution of disputes, without resorting to the threat or use of force."

ASEAN was just being ASEAN. It remained steadfast in its policy of non-interference, anchored on its belief that dialogue and diplomacy are the best tools to settle conflict. This is the Asian way that Westerners have never understood, what with their preference for threats, sanctions, and other strong-arm tactics in conflict resolution.

The Western powers used to be able to rely on the Philippines to be their spokesperson in the regional forum as well as in other international bodies. The surrogacy reached its zenith in the unabashedly pro-American and anti-China administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.

Is it then any surprise that the Western media gave the pro-American Aquino such good press, despite his weak leadership and massive crimes (Luneta, Yolanda, Mamasapano, DAP, to name a few). And that President Duterte, who is proving to be a very competent leader and well-informed on global events such as the North Korean crisis, is unfairly tagged by foreign media as a mass murderer?

Western media such as the New York Times have become too institutionalized and beholden to corporate interests that they cannot see the realities on the ground. Witness their shocking failure to understand the appeal to American voters of Donald Trump. In our case, the NYT probably still sees the country as the little colony that should always abide by the U.S. line.

Duterte was right to change Philippine foreign policy into one that is more akin to its Southeast Asian neighbors, who are all friendly towards China and are benefitting from its investment capability. We are the only ones in the region not moving forward, and this is because of the heavy baggage we carry as the long-time lackey of the United States.

Duterte has shocked us into realizing that we are Asians, not Americans. And that the real enemy is not China but the Western powers and their media behemoths, which continue to treat with scorn our country's sovereignty and independence.

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