Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 22 October 2016


Now I know how the Cubans must have felt when Fidel Castro, who overthrew the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and gained their adulation for it, declared himself a Marxist-Leninist two years later. Of course, they must have seen it coming, since he nationalized US-owned enterprises a year earlier, but still it must have come as a shock and a betrayal. It was like jumping from the frying pan of Batista’s excesses into the fire of Castro’s. By the way, Castro didn’t give up his leadership of Cuba until almost 50 years later, when he transferred the reins to his brother.

But at least Castro gave the Cubans two years before he showed his true colors.

Rodrigo Duterte has done that after less than four months in office as president. Shifting to his planned triumvirate with China and Russia (“the three of [them] against the world”) was never part of his campaign platform, however hazy that was. In fact, during one of the presidential debates held before the election, he said he would take a jet ski to China’s newly constructed air base in the West Philippine Sea and plant the Philippine flag there (to much laughter and applause).

What President Duterte said in Beijing on Thursday doesn’t jibe with his campaign speeches, and it doesn’t jibe with what he told us just before he left for abroad. But coming as it does just as the Social Weather Stations released the results of a survey taken last month, showing that Filipinos much preferred/trusted the United States over China, this Filipino cannot help but feel disoriented, in addition to feeling betrayed. And I think a lot of Filipinos will end up feeling the same way.

Probably he missed the survey, and maybe, just maybe, he could use the information from the survey as enough justification for undoing what he did in Beijing—announcing his “separation” from the United States and, I suppose, following this line of speech, his “marriage” to China, and possibly Russia.

Because the result of that survey, and others taken before it (the surveys started in 1994, and 40 have been taken) apparently show that this trust/distrust toward the United States/China is not a one-time feeling. They also show the magnitude of the trust/distrust, to wit:

Since the surveys started, the net trust (the percentage of people who had “much trust” minus the percentage who had “little trust”) in the United States has always been positive, ranging from a moderate +18 to an excellent +82. The latest was a very good +66 (76 percent much trust, 11 percent little trust).

In contrast, the net trust in China has been mostly negative; it was positive in only 7 of the 40 surveys. The highest positive net rating China got was a +17, and the lowest it received was a -46 (September 2015). The latest was a net trust rating of -33 (22 percent of Filipinos have much trust, versus 55 percent with little trust)—characterized as bad.

In summary, last month’s survey showed a positive net trust rating of +66 for the United States, and a negative trust rating of -33 for China. As many as 76 percent of Filipinos have much trust in the United States, and 22 have much trust in China. Or, 11 percent have little trust in the United States, while 55 percent have little trust in China.

Given that general attitude by the large majority of Filipinos, how can the President announce a “separation” from the United States, and a marriage with China, or a possible ménage à trois with China and Russia? Ridiculous. Whatever slights Mr. Duterte and the Philippines have suffered at the hands of the United States (and there are many) must be compared with the indignities heaped upon us by China, including the latest one which forced us to go to arbitration. And how can that major victory we won against China be so cavalierly given up?

And that is what his close economic advisers must think, too, because they have already made statements to the effect that President Duterte really didn’t mean what he said. The military advisers have yet to chime in, but as soon as they conquer their fear, I’m sure they will do so.

So, was this his usual hype, or (shudder) is Mr. Duterte following Fidel Castro’s footsteps?