With the US presidential elections less than three weeks away, political analysts from Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, are having their radar screens on the high-strung polls.
Decidedly, whoever wins the presidency—Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton—will have an impact on the lives of some four million US-based Filipinos—from Hawaii and Alaska on the west side to New York and Massachusetts on the Atlantic side.
The results will also have implications on Philippine-US relations built on diplomatic ties forged 70 years ago after the second world war.
The elections follow the state visit to China of President Rodrigo Duterte who has not concealed his displeasure at how he is being treated as leader of a sovereign nation by Washington.
Outgoing President Barack Obama had raised his administration’s concern about perceived human rights violations in Duterte’s tenacious anti-illegal drugs drive since taking over on June 30.
Duterte even declared as a patellar reflex his resultant declaration he was going to terminate joint patrols with the Americans in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
The 71-year-old former Davao City mayor and prosecutor had, in the same breath, declared he was pivoting towards China and Russia—with which the Philippines established diplomatic ties in the 1970s—as a clump against the US Duterte said had no respect for him as leader of a sovereign nation.
While Duterte raised his clenched fist on what he called lack of Washington’s respect for him, China was reported building additional infrastructures in areas the International Arbitral Court ruled was Philippine territory.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, meanwhile, warned President Duterte that China may ask the Philippines to concede rights in the South China Sea before agreeing to any deals or joint explorations projects.
Carpio said it has always been China’s position that the Philippines, or any other claimant nation, must concede the disputed area is Chinese then share the bounty, 50-50, in any joint exploration.
“So if the President [Duterte]comes back and say we have signed all these agreements we want to know what were the terms,” he said, stressing conceding sovereignty over Panatag could be grounds for impeachment.
To reporters’ questions, Carpio said: “…if the president concedes now our sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal—yes, we can impeach him, but we cannot recover that Scarborough Shoal anymore from China.”
The UN arbitral ruling declared Scarborough a traditional common fishing ground and affirmed the area as part of the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile EEZ.
Duterte has assured his countrymen he will not concede the Philippines’ claim on the contested territories in the South China Sea, adding that it is not his to give up.
Speaking to newsmen Sunday, Duterte said he is aware that giving up the country’s claims in the South China Sea is an impeachable offense…I do not fight with that statement. It’s all correct, it’s all legal, and so I agree with him,” he said, referring to Carpio’s warning.
“I said we cannot barter which is not ours. It belongs to the Filipino people. I cannot be the sole authorized agent for that is not allowed under the constitution,” he added.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner underlined that the United States supported Duterte’s pivot to boost ties with China, seen by some political observers as among countries where shabu or methamphetamine drugs are being ordered by some high-profile inmates at the National Bilibid Prison.
Toner had said Washington was focused on maintaining close ties and cooperation with the Philippines in several areas including counter-narcotics and security.
But he pointed out that such bond was not directed alone at the Philippines, which stood side by side with the United States against Japan during the second world war.
In Manila, US embassy press attaché Molly Koscina has told a group of editors that Washington is pursuing its programs and projects despite sardonic pronouncements from Duterte.
She pointed out that bilateral relations have spanned 11 US presidents, the 12th being outgoing President Obama, adding the strong bilateral bonds have survived presidents, stopping short of saying Duterte will be there only for six years.
Duterte’s volleys despite, Koscina said “We haven’t changed anything on our side. We are still here.
“We are still continuing all of our programs, we haven’t made any adjustments and our sincere hope is that the relationship will exist and continue as it is.”
Political analysts are one in suggesting much will be said, and probably with a wallop, after Duterte’s visit to China and the result of the US elections.
All this, as the election fever in the United States makes a vault with Trump and Clinton racing to the homestretch of the political crusade.
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