Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is among the world’s most honest politicians but his rhetoric is often steeped in metaphor, sarcasm, innuendo and humour. Because of this, it is easy for those who seek to wilfully defame Duterte or those who simply do not understand him, to level accusations of “flip-flopping”. The reality however is that Duterte’s policies have been remarkable consistent whilst his leadership has been remarkable for its consistent popularity among Filipinos in The Philippines and among OFWs (overseas Filipino workers).
Duterte’s main goals for his country are as follows:
–Modernise the economy so as to improve the material wealth and well being of the people
–Protect and support OFWs – thus reversing the policies of his predecessor
–Increase economic and in some cases security connectivity with fellow Asian countries including ASEAN partners, China, Korea (South), Japan and even beyond to India, Russia and Turkey.
–Secure democratic autonomy for Muslim Mindanao
–Fight the war on narco-terrorism
–Neutralise NPA terrorism
–Neutralise Daesh style religious terrorism
–Remain neutral in any China-USA conflicts in south east Asia
–Seek and maintain a win-win cooperative approach in the South China Sea
–Modernise tax regulations
–Improve health and educational standards
–Respect the separation of church and state
–Enact major constitutional reforms in a federal and parliamentary direction
Of these major policy goals, the most complete has been the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) whilst full constitutional reform (aka Charter Change) is the key area on which the clock is currently ticking the fastest.
But when it comes to foreign policy issues, creating what Xi Jinpig called a “golden era” of relations between China and The Philippines has been Duterte’s major accomplishment. Notably, Duterte has achieved this whilst developing a warm personal relationship with Donald Trump and at the same time expanding positive economic ties with Japan and South Korea.
In China, The Philippines has not only a major trading and investment partner but also has a partner in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). BRI can help The Philippines to re-connect with the ancient trading routes that once made the islands that are now The Philippines economically prosperous and culturally rich places.
If The Philippines modifies its constitution to remove draconian restrictions on foreign direct investment (FDI), the country has every opportunity to experience an ‘economic miracle’ in the way that Malaysia did in 1980 when Dr. Mahathir Mohamad modernised the domestic economy and expanded foreign economic connectivity.
Chinese investment and cooperation can help immensely to modernise a Philippine economy that Duterte seeks to open and reform before the end of his term in 2022. Duterte clearly understands this which is why he continues to ignore the racist elements of Philippine politics who seek maddening conflict with China. Duterte instead continues to prioritise cooperation on a win-win basis.
Whilst Duterte’s opponents who could not even protect human life nor the natural environment of The Philippines clamour over the legal position of uninhabited rocks in the South China Sea, Duterte sees a bigger picture in which China-Philippines cooperation will help lead to more economic opportunists for the Filipino people who have been let down by multiple leaders for well over thirty years.
As Duterte has said multiple times, death and destruction is the only logical conclusion to a policy of hostility directed against China. By contrast, cooperation, pragmatism and mutual respect are the trilateral keys to opening up doors of immense potential that should have long ago been flung open in a win-win partnership between China and The Philippines.
It is for all of these reasons that it can be expected that Rodrigo Duterte will have a highly successful forthcoming meeting with Xi Jinping in China.