Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has had a fraught relationship with the European Union (EU) ever since stepping into office. The EU has been one of the most vocal critics of Duterte’s no nonsense approach to the problem of crime and terrorism which is related to the trading and use of dangerous drugs. As a result, so-called “aid” investment from Europe has steadily been withdrawn from Philippines.
In October of 2017, a semi-official EU delegation to Philippines which was bolstered by the presence of individuals from the US State Department/CIA linked organisation USAID, was profoundly criticised by Duterte who came down hard on their “bullshit” before threatening to throw them out of Philippines.
However, the official authorities in Brussels were quick to distance themselves from the semi-official delegation that stand accused of conspiring with opposition forces against the President. Now it has come to be known that the EU is testing the waters and seeks to officially invite Duterte to Europe. Thus far, Duterte’s most important foreign visits have been to China, Russia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Duterte cancelled a scheduled visit to the United States, calling the country “lousy” in 2017 due to the hostility of the US Congress to Duterte’s law-and-order administration. Were Duterte to visit Europe, it would be his first visit to a politically “western” bloc of nations since becoming President.
However, he and his colleagues must consider several important issues before confirming or rejecting a forthcoming invitation. As President Duterte has rightly said on many occasions, the “colonial mentality” is no longer of any importance to the Filipino people. Philippines seeks to engage respectfully with all willing partner nations, but under no circumstances will Manila allow former colonial powers or regions to speak down to the Filipino people.
If Duterte does go to Europe, he should set a clear list of economic/trade priorities to be discussed prior to his arrival. If European leaders and businessmen cannot fully agree to these terms before hand, there is little point in visiting. Furthermore, Duterte’s staff should make it clear that he will not compromise on his stance against crime and the related drug problem. If any European countries make trade deals contingent upon changes to the sovereign domestic policy of Philippines, Duterte should make it perfectly clear that such ultimatums will be totally rejected.
Furthermore, if Duterte does come to Europe, he should meet with local supporters including the expat groups of Filipinos. Duterte could use a platform in Europe to advocate on behalf of Filipinos in Europe, while highlighting their major positive contributions to many major European societies, contributions which often go underappreciated.
If a European visit can be conducted according to these terms, then by all means Duterte should visit the EU. However, if the EU seeks to offer only threats without the prospect of concrete deals, Duterte has no reason to go and should therefore say “no”. The choice is largely in the hands of EU leaders. They can either respectfully embrace a rapidly rising Asian power or they can languish by themselves with their colonial mentality.