The latest news about President Duterte severing military and economic ties with the U.S. has taken a toll on me. Actually, it's been a gradual process.
I first heard of Duterte a few years ago, when he made headlines for deporting a misbehaving foreigner. I actually admired him for that. I had written about the entitlement and preferential treatment that many foreigners in the Philippines receive. It always bothered me. I was also deeply saddened by the hopelessness and lack of pride that seemed to permeate life in the Philippines.
Well, as a westerner from one of the most liberal places in the world (California), people might be surprised to learn about the ways I appreciate a "strong arm" character like Duterte. The great irony is that in the west, people look at Duterte in horror...but in my experience, most of the westerners who love (and live in) the Philippines...ones who really know the Philippines...actually appreciate him.
The same can be said for many OFWs (overseas Filipino workers). They are out in the world...they see how safe and functional other countries are, and desperately want that kind of change at home for their families.
All of them know how bad the situation is in the Philippines...that the poverty and corruption knows no end, and that the wheels of justice turn verrrry slow (if they turn at all). I very much thought of the Philippines like the wild west, and Duterte as the sheriff who was appointed to get things under control (I also had a chance to experience Davao, the city he was mayor of for 20 years. Being there, and seeing the genuine love the people had for this man was powerful.)
On top of all this, these foreigners and OFWs just realize that Filipino culture is quite unique - and that what works in the west isn't always going to work in the Philippines.
Duterte's landslide victory came as no surprise to me - I love the country dearly and have spent the last 3 years documenting and exploring much of it. I interviewed and listened to Filipinos at all socio-economic levels - from Governors on down to to the humble fishermen. When I looked at the people as a whole...not just the elites and educated people at the top, but ALL the people...it became clear that the vast majority were ready for change. He was the only candidate really offering that.
To be fair, this happens all the time with world leaders...it's a tough job. In the U.S., people were ready for change and tired of Clinton when Bush came into office, then tired of Bush when Obama came into office...and now guess what millions of Trump supporters are foaming at the mouth for?
Anyhow, I'll never forget the time I was walking along the road in the southern Philippines...it was election season, and Duterte stickers were plastered all over the place. A huge work truck drove by with some young Filipinos riding on the top. One smiled, waved, and yelled out "Hey Joe, vote for Duterte!!" His enthusiasm was unmistakable. There was hope in the air.
Good question. Even though Duterte has only been in office a short time, there really seems to be a massive shift in the country. Hope and morale (from the majority of the people) are high. Of course that makes me happy. I like that, through Duterte, the people of the Philippines (people I care deeply about) finally feel like they have a voice. I like Duterte's spirit of independence, and that he stood up to the U.S...I think it was probably needed to help my country, the world, and Filipinos themselves start to see the Philippines in a new, more independent light.
...But then he kept hammering away at the U.S. and other world leaders. It went on and on...and eventually I couldn't help but feel like it was just a media stunt. People like to call Duterte the "Trump of the East", but as was previously pointed out, that's unfair. In the world of politics, Trump is untested. In my opinion, Duterte has already proven that he can make things happen.
However, I do believe that they are both masters of publicity...their crude and shocking behavior keeps both of them at the top of worldwide headlines. After all, it is true what they say...any publicity is good publicity. They are both making a name for themselves in the history books...every single day. The genius is that they've done it with little or no marketing budget at all. I think both of them thrive on people believing that they are far less intelligent than they actually are.
Eventually, I did feel that the anti-U.S. rhetoric was taken too far. I feared it could turn Filipinos against actual American citizens, and vice versa. To me that is both unfortunate and unnecessary.
Look, I'm the first one to admit that the U.S. is not perfect. However, when I think about the possible ramifications from a move like this, well...that worries me. Of course I don't want to be vilified in the Philippines, a country I love (just because I happen to be born in the U.S.), but I would also hate to see how much of the world might start to view the Philippines as a result of decisions like this.
For better or worse, the U.S. still has a lot of global presence, and Hollywood movies and propaganda have ripples of influence that are far reaching. It pains me to think how the Philippines might start to be demonized like North Korea has...eventually becoming mocked and ridiculed in movies and on television. To some degree, with the Philippines, this is already happening now.
Again, our relationship may not always have been perfect, but the last few years have showed me just how deep and profound the Philippine/U.S. connection is.
I was fortunate to be invited to the Bataan Death March Memorial by the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office this year. I had the opportunity to meet the last remaining survivors of this tragic, historic event. These Filipino and American soldiers fought and died side by side, for an ultimate victory to make the world a better place. I took most of the pictures on this page at this event.
I was just a few feet away as the Philippine President, U.S. and Japanese ambassadors stood and saluted the fallen heroes of this war. Allies and enemies standing together 74 years later - this was intense. A military helicopter roared by overhead and dropped thousands of rose petals from the sky. Along with many others, I shed a tear on that day.
Sure, some could argue that Japan only invaded the Philippines because of its connection to the U.S., but let's face it. The Philippines is clearly a strategic piece of the so called "South China Sea" puzzle. Japan would have likely come for it eventually. On top of the added security, the U.S. provided much needed infrastructure and supplies to the Philippines.
To this day, the Philippines is the most pro-American country in the world. I read somewhere (supposedly reputable) that in the Philippines, the U.S. has an approval rating of over 90%. It might seem unlikely, but after all my personal experiences in the country, I actually believe it! I know Duterte's approval ratings are equally as high, but I'm still shocked that a valuable, long-standing economic and military alliance could be so quickly tossed aside - without the support of the majority of the Filipino people.
What happened to all the campaign talk about riding a jet ski out the Spratlys to plant the Philippine flag?
I wrote a post denouncing anti-Chinese sentiment in the Philippines during the Spratly Islands conflict, so I definitely wouldn't call myself anti-Chinese, but something has been bothering me. Duterte keeps hinting that the U.S. does not respect Filipinos or the Philippines, but I wonder...does he think that the Chinese people or government will respect Filipinos more?
From my experience in the Philippines, many Chinese people have been downright nasty to Filipinos in a way that I have virtually never seen from Americans. In fact, part of me wonders what Chinese leaders are saying about Duterte behind his back as he walks away from these high profile meetings.
Also, what about the millions of Filipinos who live in the U.S. and countries closely allied with it? What kind of strain could that put on Filipino families and/or the 30 billion dollars sent home each year as remittances (if you're counting, that's one trillion, four-hundred forty-five million pesos)?
Duterte may have more in common with China personally, but the Filipino people have far more religious and cultural values in common with the U.S. in my opinion. Basically, I just wish things hadn't progressed this far. With Hillary Clinton heightening fears about Russia, the timing couldn't be worse.
Duterte could have made some waves by standing up to the U.S, distanced himself from them, then continued playing both superpowers in order to get the best deal for his country. It's risky, but he still could have maintained his country's independence and sovereignty while holding on to, what in my humble opinion is, the alliance that just makes more sense. He could (and should) make it clear that the U.S. is not to meddle in Philippine affairs.
Still though, in my heart of hearts, I want to believe that Duterte is operating from a place of deep love and concern for his people and his country. Perhaps he knows something that we don't, and we'll just have to trust in the process. After all, Singapore was hit with a lot of international criticism over the years, and it's now one of the most safe and functional cities in the world.
At this point, I think it's clear that President Duterte knows he will be in the history books. Let's just hope it's for the right reasons.
- Nathan Allen
"Like" my page if you want to follow along...for the record, I am not connected to the Philippine or U.S. government in any way, shape or form.
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