MANILA and Washington may have to do public relations damage control if, as reported, US President Donald Trump skips the East Asia summit meeting in the Philippines of ASEAN leaders and several heads of government in mid-November.
In an article by columnist Josh Rogin, the Washington Post reported yesterday that Trump will be in Manila Nov. 12-13 and meet with President Rodrigo Duterte and other leaders, but will not attend the East Asia summit scheduled Nov. 13-14 in Clark Freeport in Pampanga.
Trump could head for home Nov. 14 and miss interacting with leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and those of Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, and South Korea.
Rogin said State Secretary Rex Tillerson may sit in for the President. That could accentuate Trump’s known low regard for multilateral forums. His absence could also be interpreted as demeaning a region increasingly falling under China’s sphere of influence.
In Manila, except for the fact that his detractors are expected to give negative significance to Trump’s cutting short his visit, Duterte need not worry too much about the American leader not tarrying in high-risk Manila.
If the stars would be in their proper places on Nov. 10, Duterte and Trump could still have a one-on-one in Vietnam, when they are scheduled to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Their meeting again in Manila could then be just a follow-up.
The opposition could capitalize on stories about Trump’s reportedly being advised to be careful not to be viewed as too chummy with Duterte, who has been assailed for alleged human rights violations staining his bloody drug war.
Human rights groups are set to gear up their advocacies and stage protests while ASEAN and other world leaders – with the international press in full force — are in town.
But Duterte could try reaping plus points by parleying photos with the US leader as a kind of “Good Housekeeping” seal, especially if Trump repeats his “good job” comment made in their last phone conversation where the drugs issue was mentioned.
• China catches Du30 on rebound
TRUMP’S abbreviating his visit could color perception of how he regards the firebrand Philippine leader who has declared his own pivot to the left toward communist China and Russia, two of the powers attending the Clark and Manila meetings.
Duterte’s infatuation with Beijing and Moscow grew unhampered late last year while the US under a lameduck Democratic president did virtually nothing to catch up with the other suitors of Manila.
One interesting new focus of this courtship is Marawi City where the US and China have been competing to show their noble intentions by contributing to the herculean rebuilding of the devastated Muslim community by the shore of Lanao Lake.
Although it has chipped in $15 million, the US is under pressure to keep ahead in donating rehab funds and heavy equipment for Marawi. In other areas, China and Russia have also given military materiel, including munitions and sea craft, for the Philippine armed forces.
It is intriguing that days ago, the Philippines – long tied to a mutual defense treaty and related agreements with the US – signed a security contract with Russia days before Trump’s visit.
US Ambassador Sung Kim is doing his best (to the extent of even twitting like his President), but his Chinese counterpart Zhao Jianhua has had a head start, cultivating the goodwill of Duterte from the time the former Davao mayor won the May 2016 presidential election.
Zhao caught Duterte on the rebound as the latter was smarting from supposed slights by Americans. The President was then publicly berating US Ambassador Philip Goldberg and threatening to curse then President Barack Obama to his face if their paths crossed.
The Philippines is the last stop in Trump’s five-nation, 12-day swing through the region that his predecessor Obama sought to embrace as he pivoted to Asia. Trump has dropped that pivot idea.
• Group backs revolutionary gov’t
AS CLARK prepared for the summit, media colleague Ding Cervantes reported from the Freeport that a group led by Bishop Nilo S. Tayag has launched a “Rebolusyong Duterte for a Revolutionary Government” movement.
The decision to start the movement was reportedly made Sunday in an assembly in Gerona, Tarlac, aimed, according to the group, to free Filipinos from the “bondage of repression by illustrados and their oligarch masters.”
The group’s statement urging President Duterte to declare a revolutionary government was signed by Tayag as “lead convenor and founding national chairman.” He claimed some “Filipino Guardians” were members. He was former head of the Marcos-time Kabataang Makabayan.
Cervantes checked with Abel C. Pablo, the group’s press bureau chief, who said that Tayag was the same activist who figured prominently in the 1960’s as chairman of the Kabataang Makabayan.
The statement had the name of retired Gen. Danilo Lim, national chairman of RAM/Guardians, among the signatories. Others were those of Gerona Councilor Ronjie Daquigan, identified as coordinator for Central and Northern Luzon, lawyer Rodel Manzanilla as chief for finance and logistics, and Pablo as press chief.
A number of times, Duterte had threatened to declare a revolutionary government to cut short his campaign for “pagbabago” (reform). His plan had been criticized as a shortcut to one-man rule.
The statement claimed: “More than 300 factions of the Filipino Guardians can only be unified through the leadership of Digong (Duterte) and through his guiding ideology as well as the Rebolusyong Duterte for Revolutionary Government.”