Philippines gains a jet ski hero
Rodrigo Duterte swept to victory in the Philippine presidential electoral on 9 May. This is clearly a matter of genuine concern.
While many in the US balk at the prospect of seeing Donald Trump ensconced in the White House, the Philippines definitely will have Duterte, the tough-talking former mayor of Davao City, in Malacañan Palace.
Duterte was lampooned for earlier comments that he would ride a jet ski to plant a Philippine flag at the disputed Scarborough Shoal within the country’s EEZ, but which has been occupied by China since 2012.
Or what about the concern over Duterte’s connections to the communist New People’s Army, with which the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been at war for decades? Duterte admits to paying revolutionary taxes to the NPA.
Or what of Duterte’s promises to unleash death squads to conduct extrajudicial killings in order to reduce crime and corruption? It’s all a bit scary, really.
Duterte could put the US in a bind. Washington has gained access to five Philippine military bases via the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), and these are essential if the US is to counter Chinese moves in the South China Sea. Will Duterte reverse or suffocate EDCA?
How about the South China Sea? Apart from his promised jet ski exploits, Duterte has sent mixed messages regarding how he will deal with the territorial dispute with Beijing. The 71-year-old Duterte stated, ‘I have a similar position as China’s. I don’t believe in solving the conflict through an international tribunal.’
He has flip-flopped, at one point calling for bilateral talks with China, and later promoting multilateral discussions by bringing in the US, Japan and Australia. Malcolm Davis, senior analyst for defence strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), told Shephard in a recent interview that Duterte is ‘throwing a spanner in the works’ by his disinclination to support the pending ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Davis also said, ‘The Chinese will probably exploit this and calibrate their actions around this to take advantage of the fact that Duterte doesn’t have a good understanding of the issues…I think, in effect, his rise to power in Manila has probably benefitted Beijing’s interests more than anything else.’
At the moment, to my eyes (and ears) it seems Duterte is simply showing political inexperience via the numerous wild comments he has already made.
Will Duterte continue to invest in the armed forces? Davis said, ‘I think that Duterte will probably be seeking to be friendly to the military…’ The AFP has a history of attempted military coups, so he can’t throw them to the wolves without being bitten in the bum.
Philippine Fleet commander RAdm Ronald Joseph Mercado said this week, ‘But I am confident that the next set of defence officials or national leadership will continue with our modernisation programme, the way that we need the AFP to protect our people and our country.’
As one who likes to shake things up, he has already promised to sell the presidential yacht and donate aircraft/helicopters of the 250th Presidential Air Wing for use as air ambulances.
‘But at the same time, it’s his foreign policy that’s the real bull in the china shop. We simply don’t know what he’s going to do next, which is rather alarming,’ Davis warned.
Yes, ‘china shop’ is a very good analogy. How Duterte handles the South China Sea issue in the coming month or so once the court’s decision comes out will be pivotal in assessing whether he really is a loose cannon.