by Richard Ryan C. Villegas*
Abstract: The maintenance of a strong foreign policy between nations is if their leaders have strong relations. As for the Philippines and the United States, their foreign relations stood the test of times from the Commonwealth Period up to the present. It recently encountered setbacks when President Rodrigo Duterte made unnecessary remarks on outgoing US President Barack Obama due to the latter’s comments regarding the former’s campaign against illegal drugs. It resulted on Duterte declaring on national media that he is cutting our ties with the Americans thus, forging an independent foreign policy which included a possible alliance with China and Russia. This commentary aims to provide guidance as to what possible direction will Philippine foreign policy with the US go especially that US President -elect Donald Trump has high regards to President Duterte. And, it also analyzes what could happen at the time that both leaders personally meet and discuss matters in relation to maintain and strengthening the ties of decades old ally nations.
When President Rodrigo Roa Duterte assumed the presidency last June 30, 2016, the main focus of his administration is his campaign against illegal drugs. As it commenced thru Oplan Tokhang and Double Barrel respectively, it received a variety of approvals and criticisms. It is estimated that more than 6,200 people have been killed over the last six months in connection with Duterte’s high-profile drug war. Many of those suspected of involvement in the narcotics trade have been killed by vigilante groups. Approvals from people who wished to see change in the society in their very eyes from a new government. Criticisms from Catholic Church, the members of the opposition from both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and lastly, the United Nations and the United States for violation of human rights. While the criticisms against his anti-drug campaign are mounting, his unorthodox style of delivering press statements also developed. This is primarily that he wanted to show the people and the world that the country would not just bow down to the dictates of the more politically and economically powerful nations like the US.
With the tirades of Duterte against the US, many would have thought that the partnership between the Philippines and the US would be affected. It was further intensified when he said that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) will be terminated and when he visited Chinese President Xi Jinping and had bilateral talks. He even announced as well that the Philippines might realign itself with China and Russia.
His mistrust of the United States is said to have arisen from a 2002 incident in Davao when as mayor, the US authorities spirited away an American undercover agent when local police tried to investigate a suspicious explosion at the man’s hotel room. His wariness about the US may also partly relate to why he has leftists and former communists among his close associates, although they are but part of the wide political spectrum of his supporters. However, his resistance to intervention may be due to his own instinctively independent leadership style, as he has recently criticized not only the United States but also Australia and the UN when officials issued unfavourable responses to some of his off-colour utterances.
Many thought that the decades-old alliance between the Philippines and the US would go to an end after a flurry of explicit comments from Duterte towards Obama, Former US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg and the UN regarding criticisms towards his anti-drug campaign. Despite the fact that Duterte kept on changing statements and the contrasting reiterations from Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, some are already questioning the direction of Philippine Foreign policy under him.
After Donald Trump’s victory over Hilary Clinton for the US presidency last November 9, 2016, Duterte was one of the world leaders who called to congratulate. When both leaders talked over the phone last December 2, 2016, Duterte was told by Trump that they should fix “bad relations.” Duterte even quoted Trump that he was doing good and to go ahead with his programs. With such favorable comments, Duterte said he considers Trump a “kaibigan” [friend]. The conversation also included and invitation from the US President-elect to visit the Washington, D.C. or New York for some coffee. According to Duterte, Trump even told him that his fight against illegal drugs is going “the right way”.
This statement from Duterte drawn a lot of questions from his supporters and his critics especially on the direction that he was heading to on our foreign policy with the US. For his supporters, they believe that his projection to the world is a powerful leader who will put national interest alongside strengthening ties with longtime allies. On the other end, his critics would tell that he is just befriending Trump because the latter is also a “tough guy” who cannot be dictated upon just like him.
With Trump’s oath taking as US’ 45th President, Duterte said that he will not attend the inauguration because the Philippine Ambassador to the US will grace the occasion as the nation’s representative.
As the saying goes that in diplomacy, you have to be friends to all and enemies to none. Both presidents have their own brand of leadership. They could be similar in their approach to the press in certain issues. Duterte, for instance, has labeled as “stupid” human rights advocates who are critical of his anti-narcotics campaign and has badmouthed the Catholic Church for opposing the distribution of contraceptives. Trump, meanwhile, has labeled some journalists as “dishonest” and has made inflammatory statements against illegal immigrants, Muslims and Mexicans. With all these traits from the two leaders, we could just see another phase of Philippine-US relations unfold.
 Duterte plays by his own rules, Nikkei Asian Review.com, retrieved January 15, 2016, from http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Policy-Politics/Duterte-plays-by-his-own-rules
 “Duterte Says He May Cut US, Australia ties”, Rappler.com, retrieved January 15, 2016, from http://www.rappler.com/nation/politics/elections/2016/130271-duterte-cut-ties-australia-us.
 Duterte: Trump said I’m ‘doing great’, CNN Philippines.com retieved January 15, 2016, from http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2016/12/08/Duterte-Trump.html
 Duterte: Trump says Philippines tackling drug problem ‘the right way’, CNN Politics. Retrieved January 16, 2017, from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/03/politics/trump-duterte-phone-call/
 Duterte won’t attend Trump inauguration, PhilStar.com, retrieved January 16, 2017, from http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/01/15/1662933/duterte-wont-attend-trump-inauguration
*Richard Ryan C. Villegas is currently a candidate for Doctor of Philosophy in History from the Univeristy of Santo Tomas. His research interests include military history and Contemporary Philippines. He has contributed an article in Luz Y Saber, the Faculty Research Journal of Colegio San Juan de Letran and in the Romanian Journal of History and International Studies regarding the 1947 Military Bases Agreement.