Being a proud leftist from the very beginning, and after emphatically declaring that he was the president of a sovereign state that has long ceased to be a colony and that he was nobody but nobody’s servant except the Filipino people who trusted him with the presidency, perhaps Rodrigo Duterte foresaw that the just concluded ASEAN summit meeting in Laos was a gathering of leaders that would dramatically change his perspective with regards to the country’s relationship with the US.
Duterte made the emphatic statement before he embarked on his first foreign trip to attend the meeting but what made it controversial and got the attention of the other ASEAN leaders was when he spewed expletives, of which he known for, at US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon if ever they will ever bring to fore and confront him about the deaths, alleged extrajudicial killings and human rights violation resulting from his war waged against illegal drugs, criminality and in the country.
It was in this context that Duterte was warmly received by the leaders of the ASEAN member-nations and borrowing Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella’s description, with Duterte “The tone of conversation between the nations seems to indicate that they recognize his influence, they recognize his political will, they recognize his firmness, they recognize his resolve.”
From the looks of it alone there is no doubt Duterte has made an impressive debut in the international scene and has gained outright the respect and admiration of his peers for being a fearless politician and leader who knows his law, can stand his ground and has a mind of his own.
What better proof it is than seeing the character of the person himself when, at the East Asia Forum of the ASEAN where President Obama, among others, attended, Duterte veered off from his prepared speech and instead pulled out and showed a picture of the killings of American soldiers in the past with him saying, ‘this is my ancestor they killed. Why now we are talking about human rights?’
This unconventional, unorthodox and bizarre act by Duterte made everybody in the room “quiet and shocked”, as described by one delegate.
“A picture is worth a thousand words”, as an English idiom says, and it was simply and unequivocally Duterte’s way of telling Obama, and the likes of him, to stop flaunting their ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude by meddling and telling him to conduct his crime war in the Philippines ‘the right way’, when the whole world knows that even to this day the Americans are not doing in their own country what they are preaching and cannot even stop Russia and whatever government is left in Syria from killing and displacing millions of its citizens.
Duterte’s keen observation of the ASEAN and its goals have made him realize that the collective strengths of the member-nations can make this organization a game changer and a force to reckon with in the future.
Unlike the Philippines, the other nation-members of the ASEAN, which used to lag behind, have developed and progressed sans the close ties which our country is known to have with the US since we gained our independence.
Thus, the ASEAN summit has opened up the eyes of Duterte that a nation’s growth and development does not necessary mean that we have to hold on always to the coat-tail of the Americans, as we had been pictured to have been doing all these years in foreign policy matters, but rather pursue an independent foreign policy, as Duterte himself declared upon his return from the summit meeting.
What this means is that the Philippines will no longer be influenced by the decisions of the US on how to go about in our international relations, as we were in the habit of following their wishes since time immemorial.
I think so much water has flown in just one direction for a long time under the bridge with the US-inspired foreign policy that pursuing the flow in another direction under Duterte’s independent foreign policy might yet be a boon for the country.
An independent foreign policy is not really a new deal. In fact that is what the Constitution requires the country to do in order to protect its national sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as promote its national interest and right to self-determination.
That Duterte is our president now and has been able to project himself in the international stage as a competent leader from this part of the world is something that we Filipinos should be proud of.
That the Philippines will host ASEAN in 2017 under Duterte’s watch is even a greater honor for the country, for in having a theme, “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World”, one can expect that Duterte will bring ASEAN to a higher level making it a formidable alliance of proud nations charting their own destiny, acknowledged and respected and, like Duterte said, ready and able to take its rightful place in the global community of nations.