WASHINGTON DC, USA – US President Barack Obama has only a handful of months left in office, but facing the shock loss of a pivotal Asian ally in the Philippines, his White House is playing a long game.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says a lot of things. Most notably, the capricious 71-year-old has called Obama (and Pope Francis) a “son of a whore.”
This week he declared decades of US-Philippine ties over, although he later qualified that remark.
“We haven’t heard any specifics” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, “but those comments are creating unnecessary uncertainty in our relationship.”
On the face of it, Duterte’s casual desecration of a 65-year-old military alliance and his eager embrace of China are blows for US influence and for Obama’s “pivot to Asia.”
The United States risks losing presence and access to ports and bases in the heart of the South China Sea – a contested geopolitical hotspot.
Under Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino III, China and the Philippines were at loggerheads over the contested economically vital waterway – to the point that senior US officials worried about being dragged into a war with China.
A split would have regional ramifications. Duterte’s sinophile turn could further split the ASEAN regional bloc, which Washington has cultivated as a counter to Beijing’s designs on dominance.
China’s hardline territorial claims and confrontational stance had given Washington the upper hand.
“The region was in many ways coming to the realization that China is not a reliable long term partner,” said Lyle Morris of the Rand Corporation.
But Beijing is picking off cash-strapped ASEAN members like Cambodia and drawing them into its orbit with vast infrastructure spending.
Duterte’s recent visit to Beijing – the provocative setting for comments on dissolving US relations, bagged him billions of dollars in deals. (READ: What Duterte accomplished in China)
“A key motivator driving the Philippine president to mend fences with China is economic,” said Murray Hiebert of CSIS.
The souring with Washington could also hit counterterrorism operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has been linked to Al-Qaeda and has carried out bombings, murder and kidnapping.
Echoes of Estrada?
In its response, the White House has been wary of one lesson of Duterte’s whole political career – from mayor of Davao to president of the republic – he has a short temper.
Officials have limited public chastisements, particularly over Duterte’s war on crime, which has claimed about 3,700 lives in less than 4 months and raised fears about mass extrajudicial killings.
“He’s very very sensitive to criticism,” said Rand’s Morris “So any time we do – like with the extrajudicial killings – he gets really really upset and that forces him to make decisions that might not be in the best interest of the Philippines.”
Instead, the White House has largely been content to weather the storm as best it can and stress the relationship is bigger than Duterte.
As officials tweet about events around “Filipino American History Month” they point out that day-to-day contacts have little changed since Duterte came to office.
For all Duterte’s bluster, he has not followed through.
Even some Philippine officials admit they are as befuddled by Duterte’s intentions as their counterparts in Washington.
Many believe that his ability to carry out his “separation” may be limited by his own politics and popular opinion.
He would have to secure legislative support to withdraw from the mutual defense treaty, which underpins the relationship.
There is little sign that support is there. Despite being former US colonial subjects, Filipinos are overwhelmingly pro-American. (READ: Filipinos like the US even more than Americans do – Pew Research)
Within the armed forces – particularly the Navy and Airforce – there is already deep unease about his pivot to China. (READ: Duterte’s pivot to China won’t be easy for Americanized AFP)
In some quarters Duterte is being compared to Joseph Estrada – the populist former president who was ousted in 2001 amid mass protests.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
The Obama administration has begun to gently push back against the most egregious insults and actions.
It cancelled a planned meeting with Duterte in Laos and has warned ominously about “uncertainty” in corporate board rooms.
Aside from the war on drugs and America’s perfidy, Duterte’s favored topic of conversation is the economy.
Here, the United States has some leverage.
It is the second largest foreign direct investor to the Philippines – after the British Virgin Islands, an off-shore tax haven – according to Santander bank.
US-Philippines Trade ties date all the way back to 1797, when “the Astrea” was the first US vessel to return from the Philippines, loaded with indigo, hemp, spices and sugar.
Ultimately, that history and America’s trading clout may provide Obama – and his successor – with a port in this storm. – Rappler.com
TOKYO—Mind your manners is the unsolicited advice of officials here to President Duterte.
Japanese officials are wary ahead of the arrival of the outspoken Mr. Duterte. Their concern is not only about his foreign policy toward the United States, but also about his informal style.
They are paranoid about him chewing gum in front of the emperor.
Mr. Duterte arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon for a three-day official visit, his first as Philippine leader and as his recent remarks on foreign policy and freewheeling style have captured international attention.
For diplomats and political leaders, the main issue is his foreign policy toward Washington and how Japan can help mend those ties.
Tokyo is a major ally of the Washington, and has watched as Mr. Duterte increasingly voiced attacks on the United States and said he would scale back America’s military engagement with his country. And he has worried Japan and the United States by reaching out strongly to China.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida acknowledged Mr. Duterte’s remarks had triggered concerns and told reporters he planned to ask what his real intentions were when the two have dinner later Tuesday. He said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would do the same on Wednesday.
“I think it would be important that we fully communicate through these occasions and
directly hear opinions from President Duterte himself,” Kishida said.
But in a country where formality and politeness are highly valued, others are worried about the rough side of Mr. Duterte’s manners.
They are particularly concerned about his meeting with Emperor Akihito on Friday.
Japanese TV shows have repeatedly showed Mr. Duterte apparently chewing gum at meetings, shaking hands and at other public occasions.
In footage of a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr. Duterte wore a business suit instead of a formal Philippine “barong” shirt. He walked in with his hands in his pockets and chewed gum during the handshake and a signing ceremony.
The President doesn’t usually button up the top of his shirt, often wears slacks or jeans and has been seen without socks.
“When (Duterte) will make a courtesy visit to the emperor, his behavior during the event could have a major impact. I trust he understands the consequences and he would not do such a thing (as chewing gum), but I do hope the Philippine side to remind him of that particular point,” Itsunori Onodera, a senior lawmaker in the conservative ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told a Sunday talk show on Fuji TV. —AP
A day after softening his remarks about a “separation” from the United States, President Duterte on Tuesday lashed out again at the longtime Philippine ally and said Washington could forget a defense arrangement with Manila in his latest jarring statement about the future of the alliance.
“I am not a ‘tuta’ (lapdog) of any country,” Mr. Duterte said as he was about to board a plane for a three-day official visit to Japan, a fellow US ally and big Philippine investor that is becoming nervous about his apparent pivot toward Beijing, a rival power of both Tokyo and Washington.
“You have the Edca (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement), well forget it. If I stay here long enough, I do not want to see any military man of any nation (on Philippine soil) except the Filipino soldier,” he said in a veiled threat to revoke the 2014 executive agreement which allowed US forces, warships and planes to use military facilities in the country.
On the eve of his visit, the volatile Mr. Duterte told Japanese media that he didn’t intend to junk a Philippine alliance with the United States and that he was only seeking to build “an alliance of trade and commerce” with China.
Shortly before his departure for Japan, however, Mr. Duterte voiced outrage over comments made by a top American diplomat for Asia, US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, who criticized his anti-US tirades and his drug war which has claimed 3,700 lives in four months.
“The succession of controversial statements, comments and a real climate of uncertainty about the Philippines’ intentions have created consternation in a number of countries … Not only in mine and not only among governments, but also growing concern in other communities, in the expat Filipino community, in corporate boardrooms as well,” Russel said after his meeting with Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.
On Yasay’s advice, the President said he agreed to “just shut up” during Russel’s visit which was aimed at clarifying Mr. Duterte’s remarks in Beijing that he was separating from the United States and realigning with China.
But Mr. Duterte said he couldn’t hold back his anger when he read the Inquirer banner headline on Tuesday: “Duterte sparks international distress–US.”
“Son of a bitch. I’m just a small man, how can you be stressed with me? … What do I have to do with Africa? That’s international,” he said, holding up the front page of the Inquirer.
Mr. Duterte also brushed aside Russel’s comments that his fiery rhetoric and crime war were bad for business.
“These Americans are really crazy. Their style is to walk here. They think they are somebodies,” he said.
“Russel says ‘Duterte comments causing worries in business communities.’ Then you (foreign businessmen) pack up and leave. We will recover, I assure you. We will live and survive. We have gone through the worst of times in this planet,” he added.
Russel’s statement that Philippine-Chinese rapprochement should not come at the expense of the United States also piqued Mr. Duterte.
“These fools are really malicious. We didn’t talk anything in China except on the best way to cook siopao and chop suey. If China gives us something, thank you, if there’s none, then don’t,” he said.
The President also pooh-poohed a statement of outgoing US Ambassador Philip Goldberg that the United States was committed to defend the Philippines.
Subservient to nobody
“Who will declare war against us? China? What will they get? They (US) want to talk about the bogeyman war. Stop that shit. Nobody is interested in wars anymore. And if there is a fight, you fight your wars. Do not include mine,” Mr. Duterte said.
He said his aim was out to forge an independent foreign policy “that will not make me subservient to anyone.”
In his departure speech, Mr. Duterte vented his ire at the United States on several fronts—from its bombing of Manila at the end of World War II to US Embassy officials questioning his intentions when he once applied for a visa to visit a girlfriend.
“You know, I did not start this fight,” he said of his spat with Washington.
Mr. Duterte again slammed US and European critics of the extrajudicial killings and their meddling in his campaign against illegal drugs.
“You are a son of a whore … Do not make us dogs. Do not. As if I am a dog with a leash and then you throw bread far away that I cannot reach,” he said.
Uncertainty in relations
It is unclear where Mr. Duterte’s latest diatribe leaves US-Philippines relations.
Russel left Manila in a confident mood, while US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Foreign Secretary Yasay over the weekend, emphasizing strong and stable ties between the allies after Mr. Duterte’s comments raised questions about bilateral relations, the US state department said on Monday.
A state department spokesperson, John Kirby, said the phone call on Sunday prompted Kerry to feel the United States and the Philippines “can work through this.”
He said Washington had seen no practical action by Manila to move away from their longstanding bilateral relations. —WITH REPORTS FROM THE WIRES
MANILA » Super Typhoon Haima slammed into the northeastern Philippine coast late Wednesday with ferocious winds and rain that rekindled fears and memories from the catastrophe wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Haima, which has sustained winds of 140 miles per hour and gusts of up to 195 mph, smashed inland in Penablanca town in Cagayan province shortly before midnight, weather officials said. Many villages lost power and intense winds tore tin roofs off houses.
“We can’t go out because the wind is so intense, trees are being forced down,” Councilor Elisa Arugay told DZMM radio from Camasi village in Penablanca.
Officials were concerned because the powerful typhoon struck at night and is expected to hit towns and cities amid power outages. After Cagayan, Haima is forecast to blow across the mountainous province of Apayao and then lash Ilocos Norte province before exiting into the South China Sea Thursday morning.
The government’s weather agency raised the highest of a five-level storm warning in six northern provinces, which meant that powerful winds could inflict “very heavy to widespread damage” and whip up storm surges of up to 16 feet, enough to engulf shanties in many rural communities.
“We are possibly dealing with a typhoon that is even stronger than Typhoon Yolanda,” said Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, referring to the local name for Haiyan. “We must, therefore, brace ourselves for the possible effects of a typhoon of this magnitude.”
As Haima blew nearer, fierce winds began toppling some trees and rattling tin roofs. Many of the provinces are still recovering from powerful Typhoon Sarika, which left at least two people dead and displaced tens of thousands of villagers last weekend. The region was spared from a major disaster due in part to the storm’s speed, officials said.
In Beijing, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte urged people in the typhoon’s path to heed orders by disaster agencies, including abandoning coastal communities prone to storm surges. Duterte is on a state visit to China and is to fly home Friday.
“We only pray that we be spared destruction such as in the previous past which brought agony and suffering to our people, but we are ready,” Duterte said at a news conference.
A massive evacuation was underway in the northern provinces, especially in landslide-prone towns which often become isolated due to toppled trees and mudslides. Thousands of villagers, helped by police and army troops, clambered on trucks with their children and bags of clothes, sleeping mats and cooking pots to be taken to emergency shelters.
Haima, locally known as Lawin, was hurtling westward at a speed of 15 mph with a vast rain band 500 miles wide that could bring heavy to intense rain in Luzon, including its central rice-growing plains.
About 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, adding to the many burdens in a country that is also threatened by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and considered one of the world’s most disaster-prone nations.
In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines with ferocious power, leaving more than 7,300 people dead or missing and displacing more than 5 million others after leveling entire villages.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.
(Via ABS-CBN News)
LAOAG CITY – Ilocos Norte has a rich collection of beautiful tourist destinations. But according to many, a trip to the province is not complete without grabbing and taking bites of popular local dishes.
With this in mind, the owners of Herencia Restaurant have been offering their own twist to the usual Ilocano offerings that visitors, especially pizza-maniacs, will surely love.
Topped with mixed vegetables such as okra, long beans, tomatoes, eggplant, and bitter gourd, the so-called “Pinakbet Pizza” is a must try and good for vegetarians.
Others such as the self-explanatory “Ilocos Norte Longganisa Pizza” and the “Gamet Pizza”–a pizza topped with seaweed, onions, fresh tomatoes, and shrimp–also proved to be a hit.
Each serving, which is good for eight persons, costs more than P300.
According to Ericson Juan, one of the owners of the restaurant, they have been serving locally-themed pizzas for almost a decade now, and this is one way for them to attract more tourists.
“Nakita namin na krine-crave talaga ng mga tourist natin is something distinct flavor na Ilokano, na medyo native sa place natin.” he said.
Juan also said that their unique pizzas–said to be a testament to the creativity of Ilocanos when it comes to food preparation–have contributed to the booming tourism industry of Ilocos Norte.
Source: ABS-CBN News