In a radical move for any Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte announced his “separation” from the United States during his state visit to China last month. He let loose with more anti-American vitriol later in Japan, where he likened the United States’ relationship with the Philippines to a master holding a dog on a leash.
Spanning 70 years, the Philippines’ “special relations” with America have made us its strategic military outpost in Southeast Asia, serving as its all-in-one launching pad, training ground, and rest-and-recreation paradise. Economic policies imposed by the US government, its transnational corporations and America-led multilateral institutions have reduced us to an import-dependent, export-oriented, debt-driven, and foreign-investment-led service economy that can’t even provide enough jobs and food for our people. Our armed forces are among the most backward in the region and utterly dependent on the United States.
The fear among nationalists and progressives is not that Mr. Duterte wants to cut this US-made leash. It’s that he’s offering it to China, who will only be too glad to hold it.
Remember, China is no longer a communist state. It is driven by the same modern-day imperialist forces that have pushed America to the top of the capitalist food chain—the need to monopolize markets, control resources and cheap labor, and secure these through military action, if necessary. In fact, China’s expansionism in the South China Sea stems from its rise as an imperialist power.
Mr. Duterte should understand that if we want to break away from being a neocolonial country, we should not only curse the master. We should also get rid of the leash.
He is right in wanting to abrogate the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and other agreements allowing the stationing of US troops and facilities in the country. The same policy should apply to Chinese or other foreign militaries. The immediate aim should be to demilitarize and reduce tensions in the South China Sea and come up with acceptable arrangements with China without diminishing our gains from the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
On the economy, Mr. Duterte should abandon the neoliberal economic dogmas of his economic team and adopt a more patriotic and socialistic approach to development. We should build a self-reliant, vibrant and equitable economy controlled by Filipinos. New funding and expertise from China or any other country should be geared toward state-owned, state-run projects in power generation, oil and gas production, mass transportation, water distribution, communications and data infrastructure, and other key elements for industrialization. There should be joint ventures to develop various strategic industries like steel and metals, food production, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, information and communications technology, and agricultural equipment, among others. Such cooperation should ensure technology transfer to local players. Local industries should be prioritized and protected from being undermined by powerful foreign monopolies.
Increased trade and foreign investments should not end up enriching the same old oligarchs and their new foreign partners at the people’s expense. Rather, these should strengthen the capacity of Filipino firms, especially small- and medium-scale enterprises, to integrate with large industries and provide better products and services, in turn providing better jobs and higher incomes to our people.
Many other policy changes are needed to avoid the failures of the past and translate our newfound friendships into long-term gains for our country. It would be the height of irony for Mr. Duterte to reject US imperialism only to let us fall into the hands of an imperialist China.
(This article was published in the Commentary section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on November 3, 2016.)