Carmen N. Pedrosa

With President Rody Duterte at its helm, the Philippines is poised to restructure relations with other countries. He said it best in his own words.

“We will be friends with every country provided it is in the Philippine interest.”

His visit to China this week is a dramatic application of that policy. So far, the visit has been going well with Filipinos and the Chinese reviving an ancient friendship between their peoples.

This was not the case with the previous administration. It had a bias towards the United States.

With China and the US competing for first place as the world power the Philippines was caught in between. This has been difficult because the US asserted itself as its former colonizer. We did what we were asked to. For a long while it was futile to think that we could get over the colonial rot of being America’s patsy in the region. But things change.

With the election of Rodrigo Roa Duterte, an obscure mayor from Mindanao as the president of the Philippines, Filipinos expected that seeming futility was broken. Among these changes he promised in his near impossible campaign a new foreign policy. We would act independently.

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This visit to China is his opening salvo. He kept his dramatic statements of declaring independence up to the very last. (I will write about this for tomorrow’s column.)

Last night was the Filipino community day at the Grand Hall of the Grand Hyatt. As usual, Filipinos pushed and shove each other to take a selfie with him. His speech was like his usual themes of fighting war against drugs, graft and criminality. It was peppered with p**ang **a that the crowds liked and cheered. This is the language Filipinos use for both humor and anger.

He categorically said relations with the US have to change as one between equals. He also talked on the other important issues that he will tackle during his term, primarily his war against drugs that has made him a target of international media as a human rights violator.

In this fight against drugs which has been neglected by previous administrations, he will have many enemies, but he knows he will also have friends and a multitude of his own kababayans to carry out the difficult task. He has described foreign criticisms as interference. In that hall that evening there were no signs that their support for him has wavered. They were cheering him as a rock star who would help them change their lives and be proud of their country. He is set and willing to change the political direction of the country drastically, if necessary.

I don’t think he needs to be told to be aware of the treachery of evil. He has lived with it when he was mayor of Davao. The danger is himself if he thinks the evil can be destroyed with a magic wand. No matter how much he may wish it, it will not happen overnight.

Nation building is a slow process of creating effective institutions that should last long after he is gone.

Never mind the critics who tell him that he should speak with a less “colorful language.” That night and the many times he spoke to the people during his campaign they applauded when he threw insults to Western powers and local oligarch who think they are still our masters. And we thought that the masses did not understand colonialism or the kind of neocolonialism under the Americans.

Nor did he fear threats that he will be assassinated. If enemies want to get rid of him because of the changes he wants for the Philippines he was ready for it. We will all die anyway and it would be a worthwhile life if it happens because he loved his country and his people.

It will be interesting to watch how Duterte will handle foreign policy especially on the South China Sea dispute. He is following the Deng Xiaoping formula. He would not force the issue of ownership but instead he would seek help for his infrastructure program. He has chosen to be on China’s side because he thinks it is in the interest of the Philippines that he does so. It has the money and initiative to help the Philippines build its much needed infrastructure.

He must have already been speaking to Chinese leaders unofficially before the speech and he seemed well assured he will get what he wants. As he said to the cheering Filipinos “we will be all right.”

Today is the day both countries will sign MOUs of cooperation that will benefit both countries. Other countries with claims to the disputed sea have managed to do that.

I do not know much about Duterte’s vice presidential candidate, Alan Peter Cayetano who was on stage.

A few years ago he invited the author Martin Jacques who wrote the bestseller “When China Rules the World.” Duterte had a hard time choosing his candidate for vice president, but with recent developments he seems to have made the right choice. With Cayetano by his side we can expect a better dialogue and realistic attitude with China.

I sat next to the senator during Jacques’ lecture.

“With the inevitable rise of China as no. 1 in the world economy it is important that we re-examine our foreign policy about it.

He predicted that in a decade, China would surpass the American economy.

Well, with news that it is now no. 1 according to IMF figures Jacques was right.

His book When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order” was published in 2009 continues to enjoy a wide readership.

In his talk in Manila, he was keen to impart that we ought to be ready for the Chinese economic supremacy. The author had the credentials to deal with both Eastern and Western culture and developments.

He said Filipinos need to know more about China.

“China is going to change the world in two fundamental respects. First of all, it’s a huge, developing country with a population of 1.3 billion people, which has been growing for over 30 years at around ten percent a year. And within a decade, it will have the largest economy in the world. Never before in the modern era has the largest economy in the world been that of a developing country, rather than a developed country. Secondly, for the first time in the modern era, the dominant country in the world, which is what I think China will become, will be not from the west and from very, very different civilizational roots.”