Is Duterte Bluffing?
The Philippines president’s snub of the military alliance with the US might signal a desire for a more independent foreign policy and more Chinese aid, says Walden Bello
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. President Duterte of the Philippines was elected just over 100 days ago and his presidency is already proving to be as controversial as one expected. Up to 3,500 suspected drug users and dealers are said to have been killed by vigilantes at Duterte’s apparent urging, he has called President Barack Obama a “son of a whore”, and he recently threatened to cancel joint military exercises with the US. Next week, Duterte will visit China, to strengthen ties. This comes shortly after the International Court in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines and against China in a dispute over the South China Sea.
Joining us now from Japan, to discuss these issues is Walden Bello. Walden is a Former Philippine Congressman, serving three terms, during which time he co-authored two joint resolutions seeking the termination of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States. Also, he is the author of Capitalism’s Last Stand?: Deglobalization in the Age of Austerity.
Walden thank you so much for joining us today.
WALDEN BELLO: Thank you for inviting me, Sharmini.
PERIES: So, Walden, let’s begin with the issue that has perhaps attracted the most attention worldwide, during Duterte’s first 100 days in office, which is the extrajudicial killing of up to 3,300 drug users and of course dealers as well. What do you make of this?
BELLO: Well, it is certainly an issue that has very sharply divided the country. The opinion of many is that the president is directly behind the killings, given the fact that he supports the killing of drug users and drug dealers without due process. A large percentage of those who have been killed, have been killed in police operations in which the police always say that they fired because the person was resisting arrest. But that is no longer very credible, given the large numbers of people who are said to have fallen that way. A large number, more than 1/3 are also due to vigilantes and there’s also an emerging common feeling that these vigilante groups are actually police units that are out-of-uniform. The president has, in his speeches, he has called for killing drug users and drug dealers, he has also made a point to say that he does not believe in rehabilitation – he doesn’t think that works. He even had this very famous speech. A monitory speech, as you might say. When he got elected and he was in an urban, poor neighborhood, he told residents that if you see any drug users around, you should probably just kill them because it would be too painful if you were to ask their parents to kill them.
So the problem here is that his campaign seems to have the support of many Filipinos despite the fact that people like me and others say that you have to have due process — that you need to respect basic human rights. There is a sense among many that when it comes to criminals, they don’t have rights. And that is a reflection of Duterte’s own beliefs. This is the situation that we have, at this point, a really polarized country between those who support this very bloody drug war campaign all the way, and those, like me, who oppose it and say that people have the right to be respected and that due process is very important for any society.
PERIES: Walden, Duterte just very boldly invited a UN Special Rapporteure to investigate the deaths of these drug dealers and drug users. As you know, when the UN intervenes in these kinds of matters, its with the consent of the State. So I assume the invitation is in consent of the State but this will also require the cooperation of many of the citizens to carry out investigation of this sort. What do you think the Special Rapporteure might find when he or she gets there?
BELLO: Well, first of all, I think that invitation has to be issued formally. And this is something that always dogs these pronouncements because the process of an invitation is oftentimes not carried out in formal terms after he announces it. So, that’s the first thing. Will it, in fact, be a formal invitation that will allow the UN to that? Secondly, if in fact the UN Special Rapporteure comes, then he or she will really need to be very innovative, in terms of the way that he or she can obtain the information. But I think that there will be a lot of people who will cooperate, especially, the families of the victims. In terms of the police and the security forces, I think that might be a bit more difficult. I think they will have a common story, but if you have a good investigator that could really assess the evidence, look at the circumstantial evidence and discover patterns in killings, then I think it would be a very very useful investigation.
PERIES: I’m speaking with Walden Bello and we’re going to continue our discussion on the Philippines and the new President Duterte who has served 100 days in office, thus far, under some very controversial issues surrounding him. So join us again, we’re going to take up the South China Sea in part two.
PART 1 END
PERIES: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
I’m speaking with Walden Bello who’s joining us from Japan and we’re speaking about the Philippines and President Duterte’s 100 days in office.
Walden recently President Duterte threatened to cancel joint military exercises with the US. Later he [inaud.] to carry on with it from what I understand. But there is a military forces agreement in place between the Philippines and the US which Duterte wants to cancel because he says there’s no benefit to Philippines in this agreement and he’s also headed to China after the decision in The Hague which was ruled in favor of the Philippines when it comes to the conflict over territory in the South China Sea. Alright Explain all of this to us. What’s really going on and what is this new gesture towards China and what does that mean in terms of geopolitics?
BELLO: First of all, we kicked the bases out in 1991, 1992 and that was one of the high points of the nationalist movements at that point in time when our senate refused basically to enter into a new agreement with the United States. But in 1999 under the pressure of Washington, we had something called the Visiting Forces Agreement which allowed American troops to come in and train together with Filipino unites. In 2014, the Philippines and the US agreed on a new agreement which was called Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement which basically would allow the US to set up military bases in non [Manila] Philippine bases.
So what we now have is you have an escalating presence of US troops that has been allowed through this agreement and that’s something that people like me and others who have the national interests of the Philippines at heart, we felt that this agreement was getting the Philippines national interests to be very compromised and that it’s really the US objectives of containing China that was being served by this agreements and this is the reason that I and others have really opposed these agreements.
PERIES: Now Duterte has said that this military alliance is all about the US. It has very little use or value to the Philippines itself. What did he mean by that?
BELLO: Well you know first of all I think his anti-US statements emerged when he felt that the US was criticizing his war on drugs policy, the extrajudicial killings. And that’s when he started ranting against the United States. Some people say that he in fact has [shown] anti-American feelings from his student days, when he was exposed to the anti-imperialist movement and the left in Philippines.
The situation is this. Basically there is a contradiction here because on the one hand he threatens to cut off ties and on the other hand, his aides say that well he’s not really threatening to cut off ties. He’s really not about to leave a military alliance with the United States. So there is that basic question that we have right now, how serious is he really with this whole rhetoric? I guess in fact, he written an article where I said, it’s very easy to act to on your beliefs. The president can basically–if he does not believe in the value of an agreement anymore, he can just give Washington notice and 100 days after that notice, the military agreement will be null and void.
So basically, if he wants to he has the power to be able to nullify the treaties. The big question that we have is, is he willing to go through with that or is this just bluff? This is the situation at this point. The procedures for termination are not put into motion but the rhetoric of saying that we want to cut off ties or we threaten to cut of ties is quite loud. So that’s the big question is, is he really this serious about this.
PERIES: Okay so this kind of snubbing of the United States and declaring these public statements and not going through the process of registering and his discontent and then dislodging from these kinds of agreements. He’s made this sort of a public controversy around it. But what other implications of this in terms of the geopolitical issues in the South China Sea and particularly concerning this declaration in The Hague recently. I imagine that this was actually the case that was registered by the previous government. Now the decision has come down in favor of Philippines. What does that mean?
BELLO: Let me put it this way, I think that the target, that’s one, to establish closer ties with China. There’s the element of aid there. There’s also the fact that I think he’s attracted to China’s authoritarian system and I think he’s attracted by the fact that whenever the United States State Department says something about human rights and defense in China, the Chinese government basically says, it’s none of your business. I think that’s the kind of diplomatic stance that appeals to Duterte.
At the same I think he really wants to get more aid from China and it’s known that he’s quite close to the Chinese ambassador. But in many ways healthy that he’s opening up to China and maybe going in pursuit of a more independent foreign policy. I think that’s positive. But the big question is will he in fact push through and say that okay there’s going to be a seat change right now. I will really be independent and I’m going to leave this military alliance with the United States. That’s what his aides and he himself have said, that he’s not willing to leave military alliances. So I think there’s a degree of confusion right now on exactly where he wants to go. As far as Washington is concerned, Washington basically says well we’ve received normal formal notice from the Philippines that it wants to revise this, that it wants to leave this, it wants to tear up this agreement. In the meantime, the [inaud.].
PERIES: And if Duterte favors a military alliance with China over the United States, what are the implications in terms of the conflict going on in the South China Sea right now in terms of territorial issues.
BELLO: Well this is interesting because I think that China would basically play Duterte for all he’s worth on this issue. It is my [inaud.] basically to keep Duterte being open to their site, might be less aggressive in pushing their claims which most Filipinos, especially after The Hague rulings favoring the Philippines and consider it quite unjustified, the claims of China. But at the same time, I think Duterte knows that the Chinese especially holding fact to their claims and he also know that a lot of Filipinos really feel that the disputed areas in fact belong to the Philippines, that we have this 200-mile economic zone. So Duterte has to make sure that he doesn’t trample on the feelings of Filipinos that they are being bullied by China because I think that if he comes to close to China to the point where people feel that he’s abandoning or de facto abandoning our rights to these areas called the West Philippine Sea, then I think he knows that his popularity is not going to less.
PERIES: Walden you said earlier that president Duterte has actually appointed some progressive left people to his cabinet and his government. I’m wondering of what they think is going on and his ordering of the extrajudicial killings and some of the more conservative elements of his presidency thus far?
BELLO: On the one hand, you know the Communist Party of the Philippines and others that belong to a certain sector of the left have condemned the extrajudicial killings. But at the same time, they’re negotiating to basically end the conflict with the government. They hope to have a peace agreement with the government and they have people very close to the Communist Party or the National Democratic Front in key positions within the government at this point in time. So you know I would say that for the condition on the left it’s been a very conflictive. They have these conflicting feelings. On the one hand they know that they cannot justify these extrajudicial killings. But on the other hand there is this sense that there might be some openings in terms of social agendas that might be fulfilled by the Duterte government. So I think they’re very conflicted with that.
Now other sectors of the left have been much more solid in terms of their condemnation of the extra judicial executions. Basically saying that yes there might be some of these positive things but they’re all overwhelmed by this policy of extrajudicial execution of drug users.
PERIES: Alright Walden, I thank you so much for joining us today and I hope to have you back very soon because I think the new President of the Philippines is posing some very challenging issues for the world. Thank you so much.
BELLO: Okay thank you too.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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