POSTSCRIPT / April 28, 2022 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Duterte will skip US-Asean summit

Events have caught up with President Duterte, giving him a good reason to not attend next month’s summit meeting between US President Biden and the leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

President Duterte and other ASEAN leaders. Photo: Edgar Su/ Reuters

The summit, set for May 12-13 in Washington, DC, comes three days after Filipinos would have elected a new president (together with a vice president, 12 senators, some 300 congressmen, and a slew of local officials) and 52 days before Duterte’s successor is inducted on June 30.

In his “Talk to the People” TV program yesterday, Duterte said, “Sabi ko sa kanila na pangit na tingnan kung magpunta ako doon, alam kong may bago nang president. (I told them it doesn’t look good that I’ll be there as I know there’s already a new president).”

Besides, the President added, “If it’s a working conference, there might be agreements and commitments that will be made there… I might take a stand that will not be acceptable to the next administration.”

The US-ASEAN summit to be hosted by Biden falls within the interregnum between the May 9 national elections and the June 30 inauguration of a new president.

The summit was initially set for March 28 – which happened to be Duterte’s 77th birthday – but was postponed due to conflicts in the summiteers’ schedules, and Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 of its neighbor Ukraine. The war threatens to suck other nations into the fighting.

The summit also takes place amid tensions in the South China Sea, disagreements within ASEAN on how to deal with China’s expansionist moves, and the post-coup crisis in Myanmar, a member of the regional bloc.

Duterte’s known tight ties with China and Russia as well as his caustic attitude toward the US may not coincide with the thinking of the incoming president.

His PDP-Laban Party has been split and his half of what should be the ruling party has no presidential candidate – a point that strikes anyone looking for continuity of Philippine foreign policy when a new president takes over.

The “matter of principle” that Duterte again mentioned yesterday to explain what appears to be his avoiding of either a sit-down meeting with his US counterpart or his stepping on US territory, or both, has been the subject of speculations.

In his TV talk yesterday, Duterte confirmed that the last time he was in the US was two decades ago.

He said, “Pero noon pa nagsabi na talaga ako na ayaw kong pumunta and that has been about 20 years since then, hindi na ako nagpunta ng America (I already said before that I don’t want to go and it’s been 20 years, I haven’t been to America).”

His second wife, Cielito “Honeylet” Avanceña, a 52-year-old businesswoman, had worked as a nurse in the US for four years. Wikipedia says that they “have been in a relationship since at least 1996”. Their daughter Veronica (“Kitty”), was born April 10, 2004.

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The ASEAN was formed in 1967 by the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. Since then, its membership has grown to 10, now representing the interests of a combined population of 662 million, or 8.4 percent of humanity.

In April 2017, Duterte presided over the historic 30th ASEAN summit held in Manila.

Had the previous March schedule been kept with Duterte participating, his presence would have helped wash accusations that his rough relationship with the White House is inconsistent with his avowed foreign policy of being a friend of all nations that wish the Philippines well.

The US is not just a tested friend and trading partner, but also the country’s only treaty ally. The 1951 PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty needs updating in the light of present realities, but even in its present form, it still is a deterrent to aggression.

Duterte has often been pictured as anti-American. Lacking clinical data, some observers speculate that his apparent antagonism is the offshoot of personal hurts and not really of clear national interest considerations.

He often mentions Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin as his friends. In contrast to his keeping distance from the US, Duterte has visited China five times (in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 [twice]) and Russia two times (in 2017 and 2019).

After his first visit to Beijing in 2016, he brought home promises of Chinese aid and investments worth some $24 million. Many of those items are awaiting delivery.

His pivot to the left was made more dramatic by his announcement, made while standing on Chinese soil as a state guest, of his “separation” from the US.

In his first presidential trip to Vientiane, Lao PDR, to attend the ASEAN summits set for Sept. 6-9, 2016, Duterte was supposed to meet US President Obama.

But the White House cancelled the dialogue when Duterte, then preparing to depart Davao, criticized Obama and the US for reportedly planning to discuss the drug war and the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Obama’s deputy national security advisor told the press, “Having a meeting where all we were gonna discuss was a series of comments, frankly did not strike us as the most constructive way to approach a bilateral meeting.”

On Sept. 8, Duterte also skipped the scheduled US-ASEAN summit, claiming he had a migraine. (He later admitted he intentionally avoided the meetings as “a matter of principle”.)

He visited Russia in May 2017, but this was cut short by the terror siege in Marawi City. In October 2019, he went there again, spending five days in Moscow and Sochi during which he met with President Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Jordanian King Abdullah II, and chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov.

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