Government News Analysis

A meeting of minds

Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte: landslide election victory 9 May 2016; US President Elect, Donald Trump, landslide election victory, 8 November 2016. There’s no coincidence in these results; they’re both been delivered by electorates that are sick and tired of being neglected and dismissed by a corrupt and sleazy political class. This is the people on two continents saying they’re had it with the lies and the broken promises of a powerful elite that grotesquely lines its pockets at the people’s expense. In the Philippines, and now in the US, the people have spoken. And oddly in all this – through the mindsets of these two leaders – the chances are that US-Philippine relations will be quickly restored. And possibly be even stronger.

The Volatilian™ was not surprised by either win – we even had a small bet on Trump – but for those who opposed the campaigns of these two men it will take time to come to terms with what’s happened. The political class and its fawning mainstream media will remain in denial. They’ll remain out of touch with the pulse of the societies they’re supposed to serve. They’re not going to change. They haven’t since Duterte’s victory – still going after him like a hyena pack menacing an isolated animal – and they’ll continue to go after Trump.

But with Trump in the White House, the US administration will not be interfering in Philippine affairs; it will not be critical of Duterte’s war on drugs as President Barack Obama was. America has its own problems with illegal narcotics and Trump has said he will be doing all he can to stamp it out.

Nor will the Trump administration be “Pivoting to Asia” to enforce its massive trade club, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a grouping that would blanket some 40% of world trade and seriously damage the prospects of the Asean Economic Community, pitting the region’s TPP members and non-members (like the Philippines) against each other. Trump, who’s no lover of trade pacts – he wants to review and possibly take the US out of the North American Free Trade Association – has said he will not be pursuing the TPP.

US aid is also likely to be cut back under Trump. He’s promised to look closely at the financial-assistance programmes of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Of course, this could affect the Philippines which received US$163.3 million via USAID last year, as it will affect all beneficiary countries.

In light of this though, Duterte’s realignment to China, which has made its own financial-assistance pledges to help Philippine development, looks particularly timely.

Similarly, Trump is unlikely to commit his country to any new foreign military adventures and has been particularly critical of stationing US troops overseas to protect other countries. If those countries want America to defend them, he says, then they will have to pay the bill for that protection. In this region that would affect Japan, South Korea (its biggest client) and the Philippines.

So, again, Duterte’s realignment to China and his recent visit to Japan – where both countries’ leaders agreed to bolster Philippine defences by supplying equipment and training – seem to have preempted that situation also. Expensive war games with US forces will likely be cut back or ended under Trump – something which Duterte has already said should happen with respect to the Philippines.

In all that, the recent hostility between Washington and Manila should virtually evaporate, allowing them to pursue areas of mutual interest such as trade and investment.

The fact is, these two men are probably more alike than they care to admit. Duterte is 71; Trump is 70. Both men are fiercely pragmatic. They’re both nationalists – for Trump it’s “America 1st”; “Philippines 1st” for Duterte. The poor and marginalised of their countries – what Trump has referred to as “the forgotten people” – are their major concern. Conversely, those same people are among their most ardent supporters.

Each, and with good cause, has a loathing for the mainstream media which they rightly identify as political propagandists purveying a corruption of journalism and have warned them that there will be a price to pay for their dishonesty. Neither man, too, is a slave to political correctness. They both speak refreshingly plainly – like it or not.

Both want to rebuild their countries which, respectively, are suffering from decades of neglect. Duterte launched his infrastructure-building programme – PHP7 trillion worth to be spent over the next six years – shortly after entering Malacañang, the presidential palace. Trump has said he’ll do the same once he gets to the White House – his is for US$1 trillion over 10 years.

And both men are committed to cleansing the stench of corruption that permeates the political class at the centre of government and in the corridors of business – in Washington and Makati – like rotting waste on a landfill.  Trump wants to “drain the swamp”; Duterte has ordered an “ongoing purge”.

It’s not surprising, then, that Duterte was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Trump on his election victory. And the tone of his message bears out our belief that the coldness between the two countries of the past few months is about to thaw. He told the US President-elect that he “looks forward to working with the incoming administration for enhanced Philippine-US relations anchored on mutual respect, mutual benefit and shared commitment to democratic ideals and rule of law”.

For the Philippines, then, it’s a blessing that Hillary Clinton lost her bid for power. If she’d won, it would have been Obama v.2, and given how well Obama v.1 went in its dealings with Duterte, that would have been a disaster.

So now, as the progressive Left in both countries scratches its head and reaches for the Valium, Duterte and his administration can rest assured that there will soon be someone in Washington they can do business with.

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