Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent trip to China made me realise that he could be the world’s Number One troll. He leaves his critics baffled and his supporters surprised and awed by his statements. You can call him what you want – a former Filipino actress even called him a psychopath – but he definitely makes people think. He is a provocateur and doesn’t care what others think of him. Members of both the international and local communities have been busy discussing his latest tirade, which seems to occur on a regular basis.
Trolls usually provoke others to test their patience and Duterte has definitely pushed some people over the edge. Senator Leila De Lima went berserk and kept going on a rampage in front of the media blaming Duterte for what she considers “attacks” against her by the Department of Justice and by pro-Duterte Netizens on social media.
Another one who seems to be on the verge of going on a rampage is former President Fidel Ramos. He has been intensely criticising President Duterte lately. His behaviour is quite odd considering he is said to be the one who convinced Duterte to run for President. It’s also unusual because although he occasionally criticised former President BS Aquino, Ramos wasn’t as harsh as he is now with Duterte. In fact, with BS Aquino, Ramos was careful with his words — as if he didn’t want to offend him too much. Suffice to say, Ramos could be butthurt over something. Some say it is his pro-American stance that is making him despise Duterte.
Ramos is not just randomly giving press statements about Duterte, he has been writing a series of articles critical of him and his polices. It’s a good thing hardly anyone takes him too seriously nowadays, partly because his own term as president wasn’t completely corruption- and scandal-free. Some people associate Ramos with his pet project the Centennial Expo at Clark Airbase that some say was a failure, first because of the excesses in construction costs for the project at the expense of the Filipino taxpayers and, second, it became a white elephant after sustaining losses. It eventually closed down in 1999. What Ramos envisioned for the place did not materialise. It was a microcosm of the Ramos administration – full of promise but only on paper. Ramos did not initiate real reforms that could leave a lasting legacy beyond his term.
But now Ramos is saying that the Philippines is losing under the Duterte leadership — as if Duterte created all the problems he is trying to solve today. In fact, the Ramos administration was also into patronage politics or the padrino system of governance. This system, which trumps all system in place, is what is keeping the Philippines from moving forward. It is what allows the Philippines’ endemic corruption to persist. When you allow your allies to get away with committing crime or when you celebrate the mediocre performance of your cabinet members, you allow corruption to flourish.
Speaking of getting away with crime, a lot of people have not forgotten Ramos’s role during Martial Law. Ramos headed the Philippine Constabulary under former President Ferdinand Marcos. Just because Ramos played a role in the ousting of Marcos in 1986 after he defected doesn’t mean that he should be absolved of his shortcomings during what some people consider to be the darkest chapter in Philippine history. He was never taken to account for the abuses committed by the police under his command back then. It’s too bad the history books gloss over his role in the atrocities.
Duterte’s speech in China has also annoyed a lot of his critics particularly when his statements “I announce my separation from the United States” attracted hearty applause from the members of the Chinese government. Duterte went on to say that America has lost both in the military and economic fronts and that he will talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin just to prove that America’s dominance in the world is over. I can imagine members of the US government reeling with anger at being discussed with contempt in front of the Chinese.
Like a professional troll, Duterte knows how to get under people’s skin. It’s amusing the way pro-American commentators are reacting to his banter. They are so predictably. Duterte’s statements are meant to get a reaction and his detractors are getting played.
To people who are smart enough to understand where he is coming from, Duterte does make sense. They may not have announced it formally the way Duterte did but a lot of countries are already dealing with and showing deference to China. They already value China’s role in the world order. In fact, Filipinos who chant anti-China sentiments don’t even realise that a lot of businesses in the Philippine are run by her Filipino-Chinese citizens. What’s really baffling is why there are still Filipinos who refuse to embrace their Asian roots. The Chinese have for so long been trading with Filipinos — even before Filipinos became Filipinos.
Filipinos shouldn’t fret about the idea of the Philippines wanting to break away from the clutches of old “allies” and seeking an independent foreign policy. The United Kingdom did a similar thing when it voted to break away from the European Union earlier this year. Some thought they were crazy to do that. Now some are calling Duterte crazy for breaking with the US. Duterte being crazy remains to be seen. One way of confirming that is in how the US will react to his trolling. Will the US stay despite Duterte’s tirade or leave in retaliation? Either way, Duterte doesn’t care because he’s got new powerful friends now.
[Photo courtesy ABS-CBN News.]