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SOON after he said the United States should mind its own business and stop criticizing his campaign against drugs as it has its own human rights problems, President Duterte opened another controversial window in the country’s relationship with its former colonial ruler.
“These US special forces (in Mindanao) – they have to go,” he said in a meeting with government officials in Malacañang. “The people will become more agitated if they see an American. They will really kill him.” He then showed photographs, from US archives, he said, and cited accounts of how US troops massacred some 700 Moro men, women, and children at the Bud Dahu volcanic crater in Jolo in 1906.
As with many of President Duterte’s remarks, this one has been subjected to all sorts of interpretations.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the President’s statement was simply a “warning” on the dangers facing American troops in Mindanao. He spoke of atrocities committed by American troops against the Muslims to explain the lingering anger of Muslims towards them. “In other words, he is giving a broad historical landscape, a historical cultural landscape which is giving us a perspective on why there is such a conflict,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said defense relations between the Philippines and the US remain strong – “rock-solid” – and “the US is really our ally.” The Mutual Defense Treaty which was signed in the 1950s is still there, he said. But he said he has yet to talk to the President on what exactly he meant in his pronouncement.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the US stands by its alliance commitments with the Philippines. They have not received any official communication from the Philippines in relation to Duterte’s statement, so they are just keeping in touch with their counterparts here. The Americans are naturally concerned about this latest statement from President Duterte but they should find comfort in the thought that our own Cabinet officials are not sure themselves and cannot say where it is all going to lead.
In recalling atrocities committed in the Philippine-American War, President Duterte exposed a part of our history that has been glossed over in our history books. He used this long-ignored era to push for what appears to be his ultimate goal – a more independent foreign policy, one less dependent on the US. It is not yet a national policy, as presidential spokesman Abella said, but it is where Duterte would like to lead the country.
Many in this nation at this point may not quite share this view, so close our ties with the US government and Americans as a people have become. Philippine government and politics is not much different from that in the US. We follow many of its social, economic, and cultural trends. We see American planes and warships as our allies in any dispute in this part of the world. Most Filipino families have a relative studying, working, or living in the US today.
In the coming weeks and months and years of his administration, Duterte will seek to carry out his goal of a more independent stand in the world community of nations. Because of our history – 50 years of American occupation that also served as a tutelage for us, followed by a common cause in World War II – we remain close to the US.
We may not be ready to strike out on our own with a truly independent foreign policy, but we can try to be “less dependent” on the US, as presidential spokesman Abella said in explaining President Duterte’s statement about American troops in Mindanao.