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It’s ON! Between Duterte and America

I’ve written a couple pieces of the smoking hot issue in Pivotland, Philippine president Duterte’s swerve toward a pro-PRC foreign policy, and what the U.S. and pro-American sector of the Manila elite are going to do about it.

The first piece, Reports of death of US-Philippine alliance may be exaggerated, addresses the fact that Duterte’s freedom of movement is constrained by the need to keep the Philippine military happy, and notes that ex-prez and retired general Fidel Ramos, who facilitated Duterte’s entrance on the national political stage, is signaling dissatisfaction with Duterte.

The second piece, Duterte Plays the ‘Mamasapano’ Card, covers a Duterte counter-attack: a threat to relitigate the death of 44 Philippine National Police commandos at Mamasapano in Mindanao, a 2014 special ops fiasco conducted under the aegis of the United States which a) exposes ex-president Aquino to serious legal jeopardy b) posits that the US alliance is doing a better job of killing Filipinos than the PRC can ever hope to do.

The US seems to be embedded in a colonial mindset when it comes to the Philippines, something along the lines of “we’ve been selflessly looking after the Philippines for a century, and that thug Duterte won’t be allowed to screw that up during his brief (maybe curtailed) presidency.”

It takes a pretty superficial view of Philippine history, one that accepts the US self-definition as the Philippines’ security savior while ignoring the distortions and shortcomings of the colonial and neo-colonial relationship.

For me this tunnel vision was typified by the US media crowing over the formal delivery of a refurbished C-130 transport to the Philippine government by outgoing ambo Philip Goldberg. Message: here’s the US making provisions for Philippine defense at the same time Duterte’s selling out the country to China.

To me, the inadvertent message was 1) here’s the US blindly stroking the pivot fetish while Duterte tries to solve the Mindanao insurgency that has cost at least 400,000 lives over the last century, win his drug war, and find a place for the Philippines in Asia that doesn’t give primacy to the US preoccupation confronting the PRC and 2) the U.S., in my opinion, pretty much has a policy of keeping the Philippines flat on its behind as an independent military force by trickling out second-hand gear to the Philippine military while the sweet stuff is dangled in front of it during US joint military maneuvers and port calls.

But the United States is trying to find political leverage wherever it can and the Western media will, I’m sure, put its shoulder to the wheel to help out.

Philip Goldberg sat down for a 45-minute exit interview with Rappler. As befitting Rappler’s origins in the Soros/Omidyar network of pro-US globalization advocacy, the interview was a stream of softballs about what to do about Duterte’s disregard of the awesomeness of the American relationship, an awesomeness that is acknowledged by virtually all Filipinos who inexplicably (and, if the US has anything to do about it, temporarily) at the same time give Duterte approval ratings of over 80%.

It’s worth watching if you have the patience. Goldberg is a smooth cat, and the Rappler tonguebath gives you no inkling of the fact that he intimately familiar with the wet work of end-arounding national governments to cultivate secessionist movements, you know, like what he did in Bolivia (declared persona non grata as a result) and Kosovo, and like that thing in Duterte’s home province of Mindanao, which in my opinion probably the main reason why Duterte wanted him out of the Philippines.

Goldberg also discretely plays the economic threat card, concern-trolling that anti-US attitudes will dismay “foreign investors”.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in subsequent weeks. As far as I can tell, the biggest U.S. factor in the domestic Philippine economy is the call-center industry. I doubt US corporations are interested in actually pulling their operations out and subjecting them to the English-language mercies of India, but certainly a call from the State Department or White House would convince them of the wisdom of at least making the threat.

And I also wonder if expected President Hillary Clinton will find it necessary to drop the hammer on Duterte, in order to demonstrate to a rather dubious Asia that there is no alternative to loyalty to the pivot.

I expect the next few months, in other words, to be very interesting.

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Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

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