Is the Philippines Turning Pro-America Again because of Duterte-Trump Bromance?
The Philippines' irrational leader, Rodrigo Duterte, now seems to be warming to the United States and its equally irrational president, Donald Trump, by quietly indicating he tacitly supports a planned U.S. Navy blockade of Philippine islets in the South China Sea illegally seized by China.
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And in another pro-U.S. decision, Manila decided to allow the U.S. to upgrade its bases in the Philippines in compliance with a military cooperation agreement signed in 2014.
The blockade option was triggered by comments made on Jan. 11 by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. His statements are the first time a U.S. administration has indicated its readiness to use military force to stop China's relentless "sea grab" in the South China Sea.
"We're going to have to send China a clear signal that first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also not going to be allowed," he said.
Tillerson also saw China's activity in the South China Sea as "extremely worrisome."
He compared China's territorial claims over the South China Sea to Russia's military annexation of the Crimea, which belongs to Ukraine, in March 2014.
"Building islands and then putting military assets on those islands is akin to Russia's taking of Crimea. It's taking of territory that others lay claim to," Tillerson pointed out.
While the Philippines has been silent on Tillerson's comments, it has, however, suggested support for a blockade.
"They (the Trump administration) said that they would prevent China from doing or undertaking these kind(s) of activity," said the Philippines' pro-China Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay.
"If it wants to do that, they have the force to do so, let them do it."
Some western analysts say the Philippines has every right to support the naval blockade since China's seizure of Philippine islands within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone was an act of war against the Philippines.
The Philippines' claim to the islands seized by China in this act of war was upheld on July 12, 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which also declared illegal China's claim to own most of the South China Sea based on patently unlawful "historic rights."
The pro-communist Duterte, however, cozied up to China to spite former U.S. President Barack Obama who urged Duterte to rein in his murderous anti-drug campaign. This brazen campaign has seen the executions and murders -- mostly by Philippine police and their henchmen -- of more than 7,000 Filipinos. Most of these people are poverty stricken and destitute individuals.
Duterte claims Trump supports his murderous campaign, hence the beginning of a budding bromance between two leaders infamous for their childish antics and infantile temper tantrums.
The U.S. will upgrade and expand its facilities on Philippine military bases this year, and the Philippines will honor plans for the U.S. to build military barracks, warehouses and runways in at least three locations, said Delfin Lorenzana, the Philippines' Secretary of Defense late last week.
The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed in 2014 allows the U.S. to deploy ships, aircraft and troops at these bases and to store equipment for humanitarian and military operations.
Lorenzana said Duterte promised to honor all existing agreements with the U.S.