By Getsy Tiglao
It’s ironic that the man Western media has branded as uncouth and foul-mouthed is turning out to be the country’s best diplomat.
In just a year in office, President Rodrigo Duterte has built friendly and productive relationships with both Japan and China, two competing superpowers in Asia. His independent foreign policy has revived nationalism – much to the chagrin of the globalist elite – and refocused attention on our natural allies, our fellow Asians.
Both Japan and China are wooing Duterte, who has emerged as an important diplomatic player in Asia even with the contentious disputes over land and maritime claims in the South China Sea. Duterte’s power comes from his strong leadership and this is something that world leaders recognize immediately.
In October last year, China pledged $24 billion worth of investments and financing to the Philippines. China, “a good friend” to the country, said Duterte, has also been active in helping the government in its campaign against criminality and terrorism. Recently, it donated to the armed forces thousands of rifles and millions of ammunition, a welcome move especially after US Senator Marco Rubio blocked gun sales to the Philippine police.
This year Japan is the one promising to help the Philippines build its social infrastructure with a $9-billion package of economic assistance over the next five years. The commitment was reaffirmed during Duterte’s two-day official visit to Japan this week, the second under his term.
It is to Duterte’s credit that he has been able to maintain good diplomatic relations with both Japan and China, balance their key concerns and strategic interests, even as he seeks increased cooperation and assistance for the Philippines.
While he is still prickly when it comes to the Philippines’ relationship with its former colonial master the US, the President appears to have dialed down his criticisms, even thanking them for providing technical assistance in the fight against the Islamic State militants in Marawi City.
But irrepresible still, Duterte was also quick to point out that the sniper rifle that killed ISIS emir Isnilon Hapilon came from China.
Last August, Duterte had a good meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Western media, which has been engaged in a massive campaign to malign Duterte with their exaggerated reports, were disappointed that Tillerson discussed counterterrorism and North Korea with Duterte instead of the much-ballyhooed subject of human rights.
Asian leaders don’t care that Duterte peppers his speech with cussing and hyperbole, which of course, he reserves for the entertainment of the local Filipino audience. Neither, it seems, does the US, especially under the Donald Trump administration. It is only the critics of Duterte that are still hammering on this useless point while underrating his performance as president.
For instance, Duterte’s notable pivot toward Asia is now reaping tremendous benefits. As pointed out by newly appointed presidential spokesman Harry Roque, Duterte’s Japan visit resulted in $6 billion worth of new trade deals and joint ventures.
Crucially for a developing economy like the Philippines, the business agreements are in the strategic industries of power and renewable energy, iron and steel, shipbuilding, transportation, and agribusiness. The new business deals are more than three times the amount signed during Duterte’s first trip to Japan last year.
Meanwhile, Japan’s $9-billion economic assistance to the Philippines includes soft loans to fund construction of the country’s first subway, an underground fast-train system from Quezon City to the airport in Parañaque, to be built with Japanese tunneling technology.
“We want our relations with Japan to grow even more. Japan is our friend, closer than a brother; Japan treats us as a sovereign equal,” Duterte said. The two countries, he added, “are building the golden age of our strategic partnership.”
It is a partnership that seems to have deepened last January when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Duterte in Davao City. Abe and his wife Akie were invited for breakfast in Duterte’s modest home, sat in the small kitchen table and ate sweet rice cakes and munggo soup. Duterte even showed Abe his simple bed with the very quaint mosquito net.
Duterte has been described as a bit reserved and formal when you first meet him, but warms up fast and loves telling stories in his very own folksy manner. This is why his speeches appear to be rambling ones since he disdains the teleprompter and prepared speeches, which he finds “corny.”
This is the authenticity that has endeared Duterte to millions of Filipinos, his massive and loyal support base that is the envy of global leaders everywhere. In Tokyo, where PM Abe returned the “home invite” by hosting a dinner in his house for Duterte, the Japanese leader recalled that a video clip of his Davao visit was posted in his Facebook page and received an unprecedented 1.3 million hits.
The viral video was due to Duterte’s Filipino supporters, said Abe, as he joked, “I would like to encourage Japanese to pay more attention to my Facebook account.” Like Duterte he paid tribute to the “deep, warm, and family-like and brotherly relationship between Japan and the Philippines.”