IN his first address to the United Nations, which didn’t require actual travel to New York, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte surprised his countrymen – no, the world – no, the Galaxy! – when he brought up The Hague ruling on the disputed South China/West Philippine Sea and vowed that the Philippines will stand by its rightful claim.
Jaws dropped everywhere. Supporters and some critics applauded. The more avid ones used the speech as “proof” that PRRD was under no one’s thumb, obviously referring to accusations that he is a puppet dancing to Xi Jinping’s string pulling. It was also proof of our “independent foreign policy,” whatever that is supposed to mean these days.
Of course, arch critics like former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV were unmoved. “Don’t be fooled,” he warned.
‘A very presidential speech delivered by PRRD (he IS very presidential when he remains on-script) has been rebutted by a statement of the Chinese government that has serious implications about our legal claims and about how this administration is carrying out its foreign policy.’
When I first heard about the speech (I rarely watch the President speak these days because I usually am in bed by 10 p.m.) the first thought that came to mind was “What will China say?” Surely, something like this is a very public rebuke of sorts, which the big powers do not take kindly to. I had no doubt that the remarks weren’t part of a larger “script” with China and so I figured they would sting.
And have you ever tried to imagine what happens when you sting a dragon?
A few days later China did respond, which was no surprise, what was surprising was what its response contained. “We reject the ruling,” Beijing said, which it has said time and again, like most big powers do. But it added a reference to an agreement with PRRD that seems to imply a setting aside of the ruling in order to advance bilateral relations.
Many jaws dropped again, though the avid supporters have been silent. And Sen. Trillanes?
He must be going around town saying “I told you so.”
Did PRRD sell us out? That’s what the Chinese statement seems to imply. But when?
If ever he did say that, it could have been during the heady days of his first trip to China as President, held in October of 2016 just as America was about to go to the polls. It was during that trip that PRRD declared he was “divorcing the United States,” which was “a loser,” and committing the Philippines more closely to China. (I suppose an independent foreign policy wasn’t important then. And this was before Donald Trump’s surprise victory.)
Or it could have been as recent as June 12, when PRRD and President Xi spoke over the phone and the former pledged that the Philippines would never become a staging ground of anti-China activities.
Or of course it could have been somewhere in between. But did PRRD really agree on something like ignoring the ruling from The Hague as the Chinese say he did?
Interestingly, Malacanang (which is not a Palace) has been silent about this. Reminds me of a television commercial’s tag line: “Baka guilty?”
So this is where we are. A very presidential speech delivered by PRRD (he IS very presidential when he remains on-script) has been rebutted by a statement of the Chinese government that has serious implications about our legal claims and about how this administration is carrying out its foreign policy. And that rebuttal has not yet been countered by any official of the Philippine Government (or at least I haven’t seen any) which leaves many questions unanswered.
Lessons learned, too. One doesn’t try to play the big boys against each other unless one is willing to risk getting trampled underfoot. And believe me you wouldn’t like either China or the US angry at you. And I mean really angry.
Remember it’s ok with them for you to be a sonofabitch for as long as you’re their sonofabitch! Otherwise, watch out!