Emily Rauhala has a good piece today on Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte beginning to see some invoices come in for his recent political maneuvering. His biggest immediate problem is the very clear break former president and prominent military figure Fidel Ramos is making with his administration. As Emily writes:

The news came after Ramos, who helped Duterte get elected, put out his second scathing critique of the president’s short tenure. In a piece published Sunday, Ramos accused Duterte of “unwittingly shooting himself in the mouth” and taking “101.5 million Filipinos” down with him by insulting allies.

“He may claim that to be more ‘insulting than friendly’ to our long-established allies is part of his God-given ‘destiny.’ But, this is obviously wrong, and full of S …. T!!!,” Ramos wrote.

This is a big deal, to be sure, and is a close to immediate fallout from what appears to be an attempt by Duterte to pivot towards China while activating elements of his “base,” to borrow language from current American political discussions. American military presence in the Philippines has sometimes been controversial, as it has in other territories, and in its post-Cold-War context dates back to then president Corey Aquino’s decision to close US Naval Base Subic Bay and Clark Air Base in 1992. The Philippines and the United States have a close relationship for many reasons, but that does not mean Filipinos owe or offer Americans unqualified support.

Today, American military presence in the Philippines is most clearly seen in Special Forces assisting the Philippine government in Mindanao and the continuing practice of joint military exercises between the military forces of both governments. Duterte has publicly stated he wants both of these arrangements to end… though he soon backed down.

It’s difficult to know, for sure, what his goals are. His eagerness to publicly state his willingness to abrogate international treaties and his subsequent immediate climbdown reflect a Trumpian approach to foreign diplomacy, defined by bluster and incompetence. In theory, the move to China is a good idea and a perfectly feasible option for an independent Filipino policy. Certainly it makes Beijing happy: splitting up the ASEAN nations has been a core part of their regional policy for some time now and a Filipino president rebuking the United States is music to the ears of Xi Jinping.

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