POSTSCRIPT / September 22, 2022 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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How is Xi taking our cozying up to US?

NEW YORK – Hello, is China’s President Xi Jinping listening? Our President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has been telling everybody in this city and the neighbors in Newark that he cannot imagine the Philippines moving forward without its old friend America by its side.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. says he cannot imagine Manila's future without Washington as its partner. Photo: Ken Kobayashi/ Reuters

We can fine-tune policy, but not geography. Is it wise for Marcos, as he steps into the outside world, to give an impression of tightening our bonds with an ally on the distant side of the Pacific oblivious of the red dragon lurking close to home?

Hearing Marcos’ strong pro-US statements about holding on to dear America in these troubled times, we wonder to what extent he has allowed his family’s problems to color Manila’s official dealings with Washington – and how Beijing would react.

Marcos’ 100-day honeymoon as a new president isn’t over yet, but he’s already behaving like his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte who, 110 days after his inauguration in 2016, flew to Beijing to announce his  “separation” from Uncle Sam and his pivoting left to China.

Xi embraced Duterte. Having mastered the mayor’s psychology, he knew how to handle him  – and worked out his bringing home aid, grants, and investments valued at $24 billion. After five years, the promised imperial banquet turned out to be dim sum served with strings attached.

The reaction (to Marcos’ heavy bias for the US) of Xi or some high Chinese official, probably after the conclusion of his pilgrimage to the US, would help rebalance the picture and relationships.

Some people believe that Marcos does not have to make a quick pick for the jackpot – we’ve advertised ourselves as a friend to all and foe of no one. The President who talks for us in foreign relations can keep both China and the US close to his bosom without compromising national interests.

But that’s a tough balancing act considering the geopolitical environment dominated by the two giants on either side of the Pacific plotting to snare these fair islands into their sphere of influence.

Marcos needs all the diplomatic skills that he may have developed in his brief apprenticeship as top diplomat, aided by the perspicacious counsel of experts to navigate the treacherous strait between the two superpowers.

Yesterday, at the 77th United Nations General Assembly, Marcos called for a fair international system to help stop racism and hate against Asians and other ethnicities. He urged world leaders to reaffirm the values of transcending differences, upholding justice, respecting human rights, and maintaining international peace and security. (To human rights advocates, is that enough HR mention?)

He also urged the UN member-states to support the Philippines’ bid to the Security Council for the term of 2027-2028.

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We were amazed at Marcos’ public statements showing him leaning heavily toward the US than China. It looked too early in the game for him to open up that blatantly. Maybe he should first tread lightly? As we say, “Ang mabilis maglakad pag matinik malalim”.

But then, surely Marcos knows that in dealing with Americans it is usually better to say exactly what you think instead of beating around. After all, their government knows everything about us already.

It may have been the correct thing to say at the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. It is true anyway that many of the drivers of the Philippines’ early economy and strongest corporate benefactors to its government and society came from the US.

But he may have overdone it when he poured it all out. He said that he expected the Philippines’ long-standing relationship with the US to strengthen further, adding he “cannot imagine Manila’s future without Washington as its partner.”

He said: “Now, of course, this has evolved as time has gone on but the strength of that relationship continues. And we envision a further strengthening of those relationships.

“I cannot overstate really the role that the United States has played in the Philippines in every aspect of our lives. And so this is just a continuing evolution and I believe in strengthening that relationship between the United States and the Philippines.”

Recalling the working lunch hosted by the US-Philippines Society on Monday, he said:

“We talked perhaps more on the subject of geopolitics and explained that it is very clear to me in my vision for the way that the country will move forward that I cannot see the Philippines in the future without having the United States as a partner.

“And although I was referring to the geopolitics of it and I was referring to the political situation in the region and around the world, that certainly does continue to apply in our exchanges on the economic front.”

Marcos’ opening up could have been partly influenced by his family’s experience with the US and the complications of suits filed by the victims of martial rule and their getting a chance to hit back and redress the injustice through US courts.

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We failed to go yesterday to Manhattan to cover the noisy picket of anti-Marcos elements hounding the President in public places where he went. (You can watch them on YouTube and get a feel of the events related to the continuing anti-Marcos sentiments here).

Colleagues asked what we thought of Marcos’ performance in his speeches and presentations. Generally, compared to how Duterte would have handled the talking parts, if we give Marcos a grade of 93 for content and delivery, Duterte doing it would merit 35 percent.

The planting of cheerleaders in the gathering of Fil-Ams at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark was too obvious and annoying. Marcos tried being folksy by interjecting remarks a la Duterte, but he could not beat the mayor in that department.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 22, 2022)

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