In 1951 the United States of America and the Philippines signed a mutual defense treaty after years of colonization by the US. The Philippines after World War II became an independent nation and so America changed it’s “relationship status” with the Asian country.
Nowadays the Philippines find themselves positioned in the middle of one of earth’s most unstable areas: the South China Sea. China has been building military bases in what should be treated as international waters and it is coming into conflict with almost all the countries of the area, including the Philippines. America, obviously, backs the protests and outrage of the area’s countries and firmly condemns China’s behavior. As with Taiwan and Korea, once again Asia becomes the stage of the titanic China-US struggle for dominance.
For years the Philippines have relied on the US for defense, armaments and military training, so much so that a vast American military force is still present on the arcipelago. But something changed recently, something happened that changed Filipinos view of America’s presence on the islands. That something has a name: Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte has been elected president of the Philippines in June 2016 and has since made headlines all over the world for his, let’s say, “unorthodox” communication strategy. He’s bold and unafraid to criticize and flat out offend whomever he believes deserving. But a very important name was recently added to Duterte’s list of unpleasant people: Barack Obama.
Duterte is riding the wave of dissent, targeted at US forces in the country, that has been investing the Philippines for some years. The citizens are starting to perceive America as a colonial power and are becoming vocal about the issue. As Duterte himself put it: “I am no American puppet. I am the president of a sovereign country and I’m not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people…Son of a bitch, I will swear at you”. Quite the statement to direct at the president of the United States considering the ties between the two countries. And this is not all.
Duterte is now planning his first state visit. And it’s going to be in China. The same China the Filipino people have been furious at for the last couple years because of the South China Sea situation. Duterte wants to strengthen ties with its neighbor and maybe mend the wound that the aforementioned territorial controversy has created over the past couple of years. A country divided between fealty to America or China, this is what it looks like. But apparently, also a country who doesn’t really know what he wants as far as its foreign relations are concerned.
Obama is a “son of a bitch” and America a colonial power, causing thousands of Filipinos across the country to protest for the presence of US soldiers on national soil. Yet, America is still vital to the Philippines defense and military protection, 92% of Filipinos are extremely supportive of the US and Duterte himself recognized the utility of the defense “umbrella” America provides. The president first official visit will be to China, a hopeful future ally, but also what is perceived by Filipinos as the biggest threat to the country’s safety.
We’ll see whether Duterte will be a capable politician, managing a double, albeit unlikely, alliance in the region, or if he will definitely severe ties with one of the two key players in the area. One thing is certain: Neither him nor his people seem to be 100% sure what the right course of action should be. Who’s friend and who’s foe.