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Is President Rodrigo Duterte Painting Himself Into a Corner?

President Rodrigo Duterte during his State of the Nation Address in July, 2016 (GMA News photo)

ith Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte digging in his heels and acting even more petulant towards the West in general and the United States in particular, one wonders, where do things go from here?

A UN-sanctioned arbitral tribunal recently awarded the Philippines a sweeping victory by declaring China’s 9-Dash Line claim in the South China Sea as baseless. But instead of capitalizing on that decisive win, Duterte chose to open bilateral negotiations with China hoping that the Chinese would reciprocate by allowing Filipino fishermen to fish in those disputed waters—an act effectively acknowledging China’s sovereignty and squandering the Philippines’ significant legal victory.

While there is nothing wrong with developing ties with Russia and China, it certainly is not worth it if it is done at the expense severing ties with the West. The United States, United Nations, and the European Union are far more important to the Philippines than Russia and China can ever be.

If the Duterte administration is now being called to task for its actions, it is because those actions fall outside generally accepted norms and practices that civilized nations adhere to. Mankind has after all refined over the course of millennia, what it means to be “civilized.” So that today, people across the globe adhere to a common set of principals such as those embodied in the UN charter. 

So when organizations like the United Nations, the European Union and the United States voice concern over certain practices of the Duterte administration, it is in the best interest of the Philippines that those concerns be addressed as quickly as possible. Our country, after all, is a UN member in good standing and not a rogue or renegade state.

Therefore, if the Philippines is to continue to thrive, it will need to count on the goodwill of all countries, not just China and Russia. To promote tourism and foreign investment, the Philippines has to show the world that it is a safe place to visit and invest in. And such confidence does not happen overnight—it is built up over decades.

So Duterte’s extra-judicial acts, brash pronouncements, and angry diatribes against the West could have negative consequences that will outlast his presidency by several decades. It would thus be Filipinos yet unborn who would suffer the consequences of his decisions and be forced to fix the damage he created.

More importantly, if China and Russia fail to deliver, where does Duterte go? Without the West, Duterte is stuck in the “Twilight Zone.” The Philippines then could become another pariah country like North Korea. And when the Chinese regime sees the Philippines’ dire predicament it will simply extract ever greater concessions from Duterte in exchange for their help.

This president needs to seek-out good advice, and not so cavalierly break his country’s ties with the West. Because breaking those ties, paints him into a corner with little or no options available. Published 11/4/2016

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