Amer­i­cans in Philip­pines re­main jit­tery

Pres­i­dent Duterte rails against United States

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

OLONGAPO: In a bar along the Philip­pines’ Su­bic Bay owned by an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary vet­eran, the main topic of con­ver­sa­tion is not the up­com­ing US elec­tion de­spite the Don­ald Trump cof­fee mugs, pho­to­graphs and caps on dis­play. The talk is of Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s ten­sions with Wash­ing­ton and his court­ing of China, which is wor­ry­ing the bar’s mostly Amer­i­can clients who have set­tled in the vicin­ity of the huge Su­bic Bay base, a for­mer US navy in­stal­la­tion. “The big­gest fear is that one day he’s go­ing to wake up and say ‘ev­ery­body from the US, get out of town’ and we’d have to leave our loved ones be­hind,” said Jack Walker, a re­tired Ma­rine sergeant who has lived in Olongapo, the town around the base, for five years.

For more than a cen­tury the Philip­pines and the United States have had a shared his­tory of colo­nial­ism, wars, re­bel­lion, aid and deep eco­nomic ties. That could change as Duterte’s three-month-old ad­min­is­tra­tion re­ex­am­ines the re­la­tion­ship.In a se­ries of con­flict­ing state­ments, Duterte has in­sulted US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and the US am­bas­sador in Manila for ques­tion­ing his war on drugs, which has led to the deaths of more than 2,000 sus­pected users and push­ers. He told Obama “go to hell” and al­luded to sev­er­ing ties with Wash­ing­ton. Then, after weeks of anti-Amer­i­can rhetoric, Duterte said the Philip­pines would main­tain its ex­ist­ing de­fense treaties and its mil­i­tary al­liances.

The com­ments have left Amer­i­cans and US busi­nesses in the Philip­pines jit­tery about their fu­ture, said Ebb Hinch­liffe, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce. “Ev­ery time he opens his mouth and says some­thing neg­a­tive about Amer­ica, that hurts me per­son­ally ... and from a busi­ness stand­point, it’s not help­ing,” he said. He said three trade del­e­ga­tions rep­re­sent­ing Amer­i­can tech­nol­ogy, fi­nan­cial ser­vices and man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies had can­celled trips to the Philip­pines in re­cent weeks. At least two Amer­i­can com­pa­nies have opted to do busi­ness in Viet­nam in­stead “be­cause of the pres­i­dent’s anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment”. Hinch­liffe de­clined to name the com­pa­nies or give fur­ther de­tails.

Most pro-US na­tion

The United States ef­fec­tively ruled the Philip­pines from 1898, when it ac­quired the coun­try from Spain, un­til rec­og­niz­ing its in­de­pen­dence in 1946. About four mil­lion peo­ple of Philip­pine an­ces­try live in the United States, one of its largest mi­nori­ties, and about 220,000 Amer­i­cans, many of them mil­i­tary veter­ans, live in the Philip­pines. An ad­di­tional 650,000 visit each year, ac­cord­ing to US State De­part­ment fig­ures. Ac­cord­ing to a Pew Re­search Cen­tre study last year, the Philip­pines is the most pro-US coun­try in the world. De­spite the shared his­tory, though, the Philip­pines has a strong na­tion­al­is­tic move­ment that has ques­tioned the US al­liance. In 1991, the gov­ern­ment asked Wash­ing­ton to va­cate the Su­bic Bay naval fa­cil­ity and the nearby Clark Air Base.

But as ten­sions in­creased with China over the ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute in the South China Sea, the Philip­pines signed an En­hanced De­fense Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment (EDCA) with the United States in 2014 that grants Wash­ing­ton in­creased mil­i­tary pres­ence through ro­ta­tion of ships and air­craft for hu­man­i­tar­ian and mar­itime se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions.

How­ever, Duterte has said that agree­ment will be re­viewed and he in­sists that the Philip­pines, the third­largest Asian re­cip­i­ent of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary aid after Pak­istan and Afghanistan, can do with­out as­sis­tance.

He was to leave for China yes­ter­day on a state visit that could shift al­liances in the re­gion. Philip­pine gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have sought to play down Duterte’s com­ments. “Where the pres­i­dent is com­ing from is that he wants to en­cour­age the Filipino peo­ple to be more in­de­pen­dent,” said gov­ern­ment spokesman Ernesto Abella. “It’s not so much an anti-Amer­i­can re­la­tion­ship as a pro-Philip­pine sen­ti­ment.” Still, the mood was som­bre at Dynamite Dick’s bar in Olongapo when a Reuters re­porter dropped in re­cently.

Ed­ward Pooley, a for­mer Ma­rine colonel who has lived in the Philip­pines for nearly 30 years, said Duterte’s words were “heart­break­ing” but he re­mained op­ti­mistic about the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship in the long term. “We’ve al­ways done a lot of char­i­ta­ble ac­tiv­i­ties and ... we feel the ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Don’t give up on us,” he said. The mayor of the city of 220,000, Rolen Paulino, said his peo­ple were “pro-Amer­i­can” but that he sup­ports Duterte’s shift in for­eign pol­icy. “If the pres­i­dent wants to in­vite Rus­sia and China ... I will teach my peo­ple Rus­sian and Chi­nese be­cause we have to adapt,” Paulino said.

But many in the busi­ness com­mu­nity have la­belled Duterte’s rhetoric as largely blus­ter and take com­fort in the fact that he has yet to trans­late it into action. The busi­ness process out­sourc­ing (BPO) sec­tor - ex­pected to ac­count for 9 per­cent of GDP this year - re­mains largely op­ti­mistic about growth in the Philip­pines. “Suf­fice to say, there are ques­tions that are be­ing asked be­cause of (Duterte’s) state­ments,” said Danilo Reyes, coun­try man­ager of Gen­pact, one of the big­gest Amer­i­can BPO com­pa­nies in the coun­try. “But it does not re­ally trans­late to ac­tions, we con­tinue to ex­pand.” —Reuters

MANILA: Filipino ac­tivists rally against the En­hanced De­fense Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment (EDCA) be­tween the US and Philip­pines in front of the US em­bassy in Manila, Philip­pines. —AP

GABALDON, Philip­pines: Res­i­dents walk along a de­stroyed high­way fol­low­ing heavy rains brought by Typhoon Sarika in the town of Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija prov­ince, north of Manila. —AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.