Wry & Dry

Trouble at mill: Philippines; Quisling president?

Younger readers will recall that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was not the portent of the first of the modern world's despotic states to fall.

The first despotic domino to fall was the corrupt government of the Philippines, led by Ferdinand Marcos in 1989.  That regime is best, but inappropriately, remembered for the lavish spending of Marcos' wife on expensive shoes [1].

Other revolutionary movements to swiftly follow were the student revolution in Tiananmen Square, China (June 1989); Solidarity, Poland (August); Hungary (September); East Germany (December); Czechoslovakia (December); and Bulgaria; Romania; Yugoslavia and Albania (all 1990).  In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and broke into 15 sovereign countries. All these movements were successful, with the exception of Tienanmen Square.

The Tiananmen Square 'incident' was ruthlessly crushed.  And all references to the incident have been expunged from Chinese history books.  Today, it is probable that no child born in China after 1989 is aware of the incident.  But most of those in the west are familiar with the below photograph, of one of the protesters halting a line of tanks...

Tank man

These revolutions have significantly been followed by the collapse of Arab despots in the so-called Arab Spring of 2010.  But that is another, and less happy story. 

W&D digresses.  Back to The Philippines.

The new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, aged 71, was elected on a policy of breaking the rampant drug problem in that country.  His use of extra-judicial killings in his previous role as Mayor of Davao City created much controversy, not surprisingly.  Human rights groups have documented over 1,400 killings allegedly by vigilante groups occurring in Davao between 1998 and May 2016; the victims were mainly drug users, petty criminals and street children.

Not satisfied with local government, Rodrigo went for the big prize, President. And in May 2016 he was elected, with some 40% of the vote.  This seemed to give him the opportunity to make bigger statements about which Donald Trump might only ever dream.  consider just three:

  1. On journalists: "Just because you're a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you're a son of a bitch".
  2. On Obama:  “Son of a whore. I will curse you in the forum [ASEAN].”
  3. On an Australian missionary who was raped and murdered when he was mayor: “I was angry because she was raped. That’s one thing. But she was so beautiful. The mayor should have been first.”

And last week in China: "America has lost now. I have realigned myself in your ideological flow.  And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world — China, Philippines and Russia."

He then declared 'military and economic separation' from the US.  And in return China promised the Philippines $24 billion in investment and soft loans.

Whilst all of this clowning around is, well clowning around, it has profound implications for East Asia.

Firstly, Duterte's seeming dissolution of the Philippines' relationship with the US and the implications for America's use of five military bases in the Philippines.  Readers will recall that it was after the Philippines closed U.S. bases in Subic Bay and Clark in 1991, that Beijing began asserting its claim to the Scarborough Shoal, a territory in the South China Sea that is claimed by both Manila and Beijing.  Helped by US President Obama's strategic constipation and impotence, that eventually resulted in China's 2012 exclusion of all Philippine fishing and law enforcement activities from the shoal, which motivated Manila to seek arbitration from The Hague international court.  Duterte now seems to be walking away from the Philippines' victory in that case.

Secondly, the largest foreign investor in the country is Japan.  And yet in a world where international diplomacy is measured in the most subtle hints, Duterte's first official overseas trip was to China, not Japan.  The Japanese were embarrassed, if not furious.

Thirdly, other East Asian nations (with the exception of Cambodia and Laos) are terrified of China's aggression in the South China Sea.  They know full well that China plays 'the long game' and can see their security interests being threatened.

One of America's oldest allies, a very pro-American country, one rescued by the US during the Second World War, with a military trained by the Americans now has a President saying in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing that he's sick of Americans and wants to get closer to China and Russia.

Tsar Vlad is laughing, Emperor Xi is laughing.  And Duterte is probably laughing at the discomfort he is causing the US.

At least Quisling knew exactly what he was doing when he collaborated with the Nazis.    

[1]  Imelda Marcos, former beauty queen and widow of Ferdinand, was reputed to own over 3,000 pairs of shoes.  But her extravagance was significantly larger: She also 'owned' a 175-piece art collection, which included works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Canaletto, Raphael, as well as Monet's L'Église et La Seine à Vétheuil (1881) and Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas, Alfred Sisley's Langland Bay (1887), and Albert Marquet'sLe Cyprès de Djenan Sidi Said (1946).  In 2015, a rare pink diamond worth $5 million was discovered in her jewelry collection.  On February 16, 2016, the government of the Philippines announced that her three jewelry collections, valued at about $21 million, were to be auctioned. 

She is still alive, aged 87, and lives in the Philippines, where she is a member of the House of Representatives.