Duterte’s Separation Is Actually An Urgent Warning Against Nationalist Rhetoric

Duterte's separation

America doesn’t need anybody. We can shed allies left and right, especially weak ones who take more than they give. Especially the ingrates who don’t give the U.S. credit for all it has and continues to do. Especially a place that has sent countless citizens to join in the American dream, many of whom have maintained connections to people in that former nation. Especially the Philippines. Especially after Duterte’s separation from the U.S.

America has lost now, I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world — China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.” – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a few hours ago, to China’s Xi Jinping.

Because China and Russia were struggling so much that they really needed all the wealth, resources and influence that the Philippines wields. That’s right, the man deemed Filipino Trump has become, like Trump will likely be for a majority of Americans, the spiteful ex-girlfriend we never really liked and whose exit cries are almost laughable.

Like all such break-ups, the ex wants to be friends but without the benefits.

I announce my separation from the United States, both in military, not maybe social, but economics also.”

What is this? After nearly 120 years of history that’s actually in a really good place for once, why does their new president seem hellbent on cutting all U.S. ties?

Perhaps it’s in response to tough guy talk from Trump. Perhaps it’s in mimicry of it. Or perhaps it’s just another case of populonationalist rhetoric gone mad. If so, the greatest threat is that Manila will inspire the rest of Asia to cut off their faces to spite their nose, just like the Brits did and the rest of Europe is ready to do in one form or another.

Yup, Duterte’s separation can be summed up in one way: Populonationalism strikes back.

Filipino-merican Ties

The Philippines used to be an American colony. But that wasn’t our fault, I mean, we didn’t roll in there and subjugate the natives. They were a Spanish colony before the Spanish-American War. So yes, we took them over, but only really after defeating the Spaniards in a war that, well, might not have been that necessary but we’d learned so much fighting ourselves and the natives and America was finally at the point where it could really branch out and the Spanish empire was fading …

So we got into an unnecessary war of imperialism and took over the Philippines. But of course that wasn’t it — no, the Philippine-American war followed, a nasty jungle bloodfest forgotten between the Spanish-American war and WWI, mostly because it was a rebellion that paled in comparison to the Civil War or was a revolution that failed and quickly. The Filipinos thought they would get a chance to rule themselves but we shut that down. Sure, tens of thousands of Filipinos were injured and killed (some estimates reaching into the hundreds of thousands) but we helped them escape state-enforced religion and taught them all English, the current global language.

Okay, it was called “benevolent assimilation” but that wasn’t that bad. I mean yes, we took them over but that was over a hundred years ago. In 1901 we replaced our US military government with a civilian one and we gave them their independence in 1934 (after a 10 year conscious uncoupling). The Japanese took them over during WWII but after the war everybody accepted that the Phillipines were independent (Treaty of Manila). And the Filipinos who worked with American troops to defeat the Japanese were accorded full US military benefits.

That was nullified by Congress the same year but we stayed good friends. Kept a military base there and many of the veterans, while not given their military benefits, became US citizens. Thus the reason L.A. has a Filipinotown sign on the side of the 101.

The Philippine Revolution

The actual revolution was a failure renamed the American-Philippines War. But there was a slower, more gradual and mutually-beneficial one. America had bases there until 1991 when we peacefully and calmly pulled out. The American and the Philippine armies have trained together, run exercises geared at making both militaries better. The U.S. has invested heavily in the Philippines and they’re big trade partners. Sure, it’s not the biggest nation but it’s been a good strong ally and contributor, from the Thrilla in Manila to Manny Pacquiao and even some things not related to boxing. Like, they’ve helped us find and fight terrorists. As of 2012, we have a smaller force stationed there indefinitely to assist their army in fighting the Al Qaeda splinter, Abu Sayyaff.

The Philippines had been recently considering a stronger military relation to the US following local skirmishes, like with the Chinese over Scarborough Shoal. The former Philippine President Benigno Aquino II signed a 10-year agreement with Obama in 2014 called the EDCA – Enhanced Defence Co-operation Agreement. So why are we breaking up now, after all out in-fighting is done, after what has become a strong, mutually beneficial relationship? Two words — Filipino Trump.

Duterte’s separation — Like a Taylor Swift Song But Without the Beauty

Duterte is everything Trump pretends to be. A real hard-ass who ran everything he’s ever run with an iron fist. While mayor of the city of Davao, he endorsed the killing of drug users and criminals regardless of inconvenient shit like “judicial procedure” or “legal process.” Condoned vigilantism through his rhetoric but taking no responsibility for such actions. The groups attacked drug abusers and petty criminals and street kids.  He won the presidency with only about 39% of the vote but in a multi-party system it was enough (one of the strengths of the much-derided 2-party system).

A man defined by gaffes and puffed self-importance, heartless bravado and all the reliability of a flame throw leaking gasoline, it’s extremely apt that he first won international attention as the Filipino Trump. His whole career in public office, Duterte’s been the subject of human rights scrutiny and probes, mostly because he couldn’t give half a shit about human rights. In his short presidency he’s already been called out by the UN’s version of the ACLU. In response he threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the UN and start a new union with China and some African nations.

Duterte is a real winner. He once tweeted about a rape victim that he understood why she was raped because she was so beautiful and the mayor, himself, should have gone first. His daughter the mayor of the city of Davao (where he’s served as mayor) before and after him, then tweeted she’d been raped but her dad, Rodrigo, said she was just a drama queen.

Duterte later said it was “gutter language,” the Filipino version of locker room talk.

But Duterte ran on a campaign of liberating the Philippines from outside influence and bringing their power back. He said they would be great. That they would create a new Asian world where the U.S. and its allies no longer have any power over them.

He called our ambassador to the Philippines “gay” as an insult, like a 5-year-old boy on a playground circa 1986. He called Obama “son of a whore” a month ago, causing Obama to cancel a visit he was scheduled to have as part of his Asian tour (unprecedented for a man who’s been the consummate international statesman), and just did so again. He’d been threatening to break up with the U.S. for a while and now seems to really be taking it seriously; at least he’s made the declaration out loud, the geopolitical equivalent of posting a breakup note on Facebook (leaving U.S. State Department scrambling for a response it was so unexpected). So yes, the Trump threats of China and Russia will now seem very real. And he might be the one to bring these powers together in a stronger way, but only in the way that a gang of similar thugs with little regard for women and the downtrodden might join together to destroy society.

This would be a rotten unholy alliance, like the droogs from “Clockwork Orange” but without the highbrow classical music, content to swarm the streets hopped up on spiked milk, beating homeless men and raping hot devotchkas. And it’s tough to figure out who would be who — Trump doesn’t have the brains or class to be Alex, that would be all Putin. If anybody Trump’d probably be Dim. Duterte would be Georgie. China would be Pete but wouldn’t betray Russia. And the rest of us would be fucked.

Fighting Against the Law and Order President

The Philippines’ trade minister has already cast some shade on Duterte’s proclamations because, hell, the Philippines have been all but propped up by the US, especially after some hellacious natural disasters. Even Duterte has already backtracked less than 24 hours after the statement, saying he didn’t really mean it. This would be the future under Trump — making bold proclamations that demean and reject our allies, then scrambling to fix it the next day when his gaffe was actually made policy. People say he shouldn’t be given the nukes but giving Trump the most powerful microphone in the world could be even more dangerous, certainly for U.S. interests.

Duterte isn’t an aberration. He is a symbol of a growing frustration wherein the confused average citizen usher in a strongman to reject the rest of the world, not realizing that our unheralded global peace and comfort is due almost completely to our international cooperation. As if the clusterfuck that is Brexit right now wasn’t enough of a lesson, we’re seeing in the Philippines what happens when you elect a brash, hard-talking man who likes to imagine he’s the only person responsible for his greatness.

At this moment this has been smoothed over but look for our international alliances to continue to unravel, especially as one American candidate talks about reneging on all of the agreements we’ve made with the rest of the world and the populace blames other nations for the fact that American quality of life, while far ahead of practically everybody else, isn’t where many of our citizens think it should be. God forbid he becomes president; only then would we realize how much we actually depend on other nations, especially the Asian ones our anti-trade folks like to demonize, for our quality of life.

Duterte has been president for about half a minute and already he’s insulted our complete state department and president and threatened to break with us. They’re a strategic partner in Asia, a key to maintaining our presence in that growing corner of the world and in combating terror. But they’re also a proud nation and as such, it’s easy to copy the vehement insistence on isolationism being spat out by the fatbacks creeping to the top of all the big players. Especially Trump.

Hell, after all the disrespect Trump and the GOP have heaped on our current president and his current opponent for president, how can we expect the rest of the world, especially the wagging-dick nations, to act any differently? Duterte’s separation is just the beginning of what will be a tough tour of duty to keep our world united and (relatively) peaceful. And a glimpse of what happens when an asshole with an overinflated ego and a disdain for procedure gets to make calls for a whole nation, including the requisite backpedaling that saves deals but destroys confidence. Make the Philippines Great Again indeed.

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Ryan Ariano

Born and raised in Baltimore, Ryan has been kicking around the west since the first Clinton White House. Having worked all over SoCal in the surf industry, Hollywood, marketing, journalism and finance, he now hangs his hat just outside Jackson Hole where he can fulfill an addiction to ascending and descending mountains.

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