Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has the unique ability to manage potential crises and disputes with major partners (China, the US, Korea, Japan and nearby ASEAN members) whilst taking unabashed aim at those whose relations with The Philippines are ultimately tangential however intrusive (much of the EU and Canada for example). This is why Duterte takes a highly professional tone in discussions with leaders including Xi Jinping, Donald Trump, Mahathir Mohamad, Moon Jae-in, Shinzō Abe, Lee Hsien Loong and Joko Widodo. By contrast, leaders who go out of their way to condescend towards The Philippines including former US President Obama, Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau and various little known EU officials often meet with Duterte’s scorn as he has a keen ability to heap excoriation on those who would treat The Philippines as though it deserves to be nothing other than a western colony.
The latest western country to meddle into the internal affairs of The Philippines is Iceland. With a population of around 359,000, Duterte’s 16 million supporters in the 2016 Philippine Presidential election dwarf the tiny population of the faraway Nordic island. This has not stopped Iceland from proposing a UN resolution to investigate Duterte’s war on narco-terrorism even though it would appear that Iceland’s leadership knows little about the problems faced by a Philippine nation of nearly 101 million people.
Just as Duterte threatened war with Canada when Ottawa refused to repatriate its rubbish that was unlawfully dumped on Philippine shores, Duterte is now threatening to sever diplomatic relations with Iceland. Just as an actual war between Canada and The Philippines was never a realistic possibility, The Philippines cutting diplomatic ties with Iceland is equally symbolic as were Duterte’s bellicose threats against Canada.
That being said, in both cases the symbolism was and is highly important. Just as was the case with unrealistic but head turning threats against Trudeau’s Canada, if Duterte takes decisive action against Iceland at a diplomatic level, it will send the entire world a message that The Philippines will not accord respect to nations which seek to enforce the rotten colonial mentality over an independent Asian country that is a proud member of the dynamic ASEAN group of nations. Beyond this, it would further demonstrate that whilst Duterte is fully capable of respecting other world leaders from both large and small countries, mutual respect rather than one-sided respect is the only situation in which Duterte is willing to work.
Materially, relations between Iceland and The Philippines very small to begin with and as such the severing of diplomatic ties (however temporary) would not cause harm to the economy or to people’s lives in either country. Severing diplomatic ties would however be an important illustration of how The Philippines exists as a sovereign country and not as anyone’s economic, physical or legal colony. A large Asian country with a potentially strong economic future should not and must not capitulate to the will of a globally irrelevant island off of northern Europe’s mainland.
Rodrigo Duterte has helped not only to provide safety for ordinary Filipinos but he has also restored dignity to a country whose best days are yet to come. These days will clearly arrive sooner rather than later thanks to the leadership of Duterte.