Just where the new White House policies on the Philippines will lead can only be guessed.
President Donald Trump created a stir over the weekend by inviting President Rodrigo Duterte to visit the White House. By all accounts, Duterte has yet to accept.
“I’m tied up,” Duterte was quoted as saying.
Elected last year, Duterte has encouraged the extrajudicial killings of thousands of citizens under the rationale that they dealt or used drugs. This “war on drugs” killed some 6,000 in Duterte’s first six months in office.
That generates controversy over the exchange.
But several factors seem to attract Trump to Duterte, whose nation has 7,000 islands and 100.7 million people.
The Southeast Asian leader keeps his image tough and strident, as does his American counterpart.
Also, Trump depicts the Philippines as strategic in the confrontation brewing against North Korea.
And while Duterte last year dissed the American government, that was under President Barack Obama, whom he called nasty names. Such behavior didn’t get Trump in a lather against Duterte out of patriotic solidarity with the ex-president. In fact, the incumbent might see that clash as an incentive to look better by smoothing things over.
For both Trump and Duterte, there’s populism — but then there’s business.
Plucked Monday from the Trump Organization Web site:
“Rising in Manila’s most prestigious district is a name synonymous with unparalleled service, quality and real estate: Trump Tower at Century City . . .
“Trump Tower at Century City will be one of the city’s tallest structures and will be entirely clad in sleek and elegant glass curtain.
“With common areas designed with Hermes furnishings and over 220 expansive residences inspired by New York City’s most fashionable districts, its fantastic interiors will rival its spectacular exterior, creating the ultimate super luxury property.”
Before last November’s election, Duterte already had named Trump’s business partner in Manila — Century Properties Group chief executive Jose E. B. Antonioas — as an envoy to the United States for trade, investment and economic affairs.
By December, when it was announced that the two had first spoken, Duterte said Trump invited him to the U.S. The White House did not confirm it at that time. Duterte also said Trump told him he was fighting the drug scourge “the right way.” This, too, was unconfirmed.
For its part, the Obama administration objected to alleged human rights violations in the Philippines. Duterte told President Barack Obama he can “go to hell” and used a curse word to describe him.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday the Duterte invitation “doesn’t mean that human rights don’t matter.”
“But what it does mean is that the issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row,” Priebus said.
Like any immigrant group, Filipino-Americans in the U.S. do not conform to a single political opinion about Trump or Duterte. Nor do all have legal status.
Either way, Duterte said in a video clip posted to Facebook in October: “The Filipinos in America are not Filipinos anymore, they’re Americans.
“Their attitude is American. What about the Filipinos in China? On the mainland there are about 300,000 Filipinos, but China is very kind to them. Just don’t do them bad.
“If you do something bad to China, like for example if you do drugs in China and they have the death penalty there — then I’m sorry, but I won’t defend you. In the Philippines, the death penalty is in the streets.”