September 30, 2023

Last week, Malacañang announced that U.S. President Donald Trump extended an invitation to President Rodrigo Duterte and nine other Southeast Asian leaders to attend a special summit in Las Vegas on March 14, 2020 to commemorate the 5th anniversary of ASEAN-U.S. Strategic Partnership. To this date, Duterte remains mum on whether or not he will accept the invitation. Not that he is playing prima donna, but there are dire consequences if he goes or if he does not go.
It will be remembered that several months into office after his election, the President boldly proclaimed that he has the least intention of going to the United States of America. “Sa inyo na ‘yan,” were his exact words. He repeatedly averred he does not care whether he will be granted an audience with the leader of the mightiest nation on Earth. What he cares about is the welfare of the Philippines and its people.
At that time, the president of the United States was Barrack Obama who made no qualms about his hatred for Duterte. The former repeatedly criticized the latter because of the manner by which he dealt with the drug problem here. In return, Duterte chastised Obama in a personal way. Both leaders were so much at odds against each other because of irreconcilable differences on several issues. It was at this point that Duterte gravitated the country toward China. It was at this point that the foreign policy of the country truly became independent with less reliance on American aid and donations.
Times have changed. Obama is no longer the U.S. president. Donald Trump, who succeeded him, has since mended the perception that his country has on Duterte and even expressed confidence that he has no problem with the Philippine president. The two warmed up to each other that somehow, they became friends. Not surprising because both presidents have many things in common, like their temper and their instinctive desire to blurt out what comes to their minds even if it is offensive to their listeners. It gets them into trouble but it works like magic.
At any rate, just when Duterte announced a few weeks back that in the event of a war between Iran and the U.S., he will side with the latter, a blot was created by the U.S. Congress. Under the sponsorship of two legislators, it enacted a law banning all persons who have had a direct or indirect participation in the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima from entering American soil. While the bill does not single out Duterte, presumably, he is number one on the list. He was, after all, the first to give a hint about the charges that were pressed against de Lima.
Now, Malacañang is in a quandary. Will Duterte accept the invitation or not? If he does, will it embarrass him because of the earlier legislation banning him from entering America? Was his diplomatic visa revoked like that of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa? If, at all, the ban is enforced, it will be a most humiliating incident for the President and our country.
At any rate, a meeting with the U.S. president is a highly coveted event by any other leader. It is as important as meeting the creator of the universe. So important it is that the meeting with him is even chronicled and timed. It becomes an international sensation. This means unsolicited exposure that enhances the viability of a nation. More exposure means more opportunities.
Sure, Pres. Duterte is reluctant to go, owing to the ban imposed by the U.S. Congress. Nevertheless, he is a sovereign executive representing a nation. Under the international law, the ban cannot override his function as a leader. He is a holder of a diplomatic passport which is immune from prosecution. Protocol dictates that he can go to the U.S. with or without the ban. The question is, should he?
If we are to understand the mechanics of international comity, he must accept the invitation of Pres. Trump. For one, it will restore whatever strained relationship the Philippines has with the U.S. Let’s face it, America remains to be the biggest benefactor of the country and whether we like it or not, its dominance over the world will continue over the next 100 years.
Yes, China is coming of age and is giving the U.S. a stiff competition. It is only right that Duterte explores other avenues and trade partners to promote the growth of the Philippines. Nevertheless, there are persuasive indicators why we cannot totally be lenient towards China. The differences in our systems of government are obviously a concern. China is communist while the Philippines is democratic. China is ruled by the politburo which inherently is autocratic, whereas the Philippines is ruled by three departments that are co-equal but are inter-dependent with each other. Why is this important? Because we love our freedom so much that we are willing to die for it.
True, America has shortchanged us in the past by double-crossing us with policies that negated our birth as a nation. These, however, were done in a subtle manner. Ultimately, we attained our independence. On the other hand, China is frontally and boldly violating our sovereignty. It is conquering our islands, isles, continental shelves, and internal waters in plain view, without us knowing it. By the time we realize it, we are already a Chinese province.
On the contrary, to refuse the invitation will be to shun an opportunity to improve further the bilateral relations between the Philippines, and not only the U.S., but nine other Southeast Asian countries whose leaders are all poised to go to the special summit.
The scheduled special summit is a working summit where those who will attend shall work for a common goal towards improving the region. It is not akin to a state visit where the only agenda on the floor is a dialogue between two leaders. A summit is more beneficial in that more concessions are taken. At this point, the country needs all the assistance it can get.
Duterte should not be lured by his latest high approval rating that he would let his pride take the better of him. He might regret it. There are over three million Filipinos in the U.S. and every household in the Philippines seems to have at least a relative there. Many Filipinos still hold in high esteem the American way of life. Sometimes it drives their ambition, sometimes it drives them crazy. For sure, if Duterte goes to the U.S. to attend the summit, it will strengthen the hopes of many of our countrymen that the “American dream” remains alive.
(In an interview with Russian International Television Network RT, the President already said he will not attend the US-ASEAN Summit — Ed)