You’d think it was about time to clear out of the Philippines if you carry one of those dark blue passports with a page named after each of your 50 states. Uncle Sam has been downgraded to something like Uncle Scam, according to what you hear from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
The rough-hewn, tough-talking president who took office June 30 resents the U.S. government for raising concern in August about what Washington calls human rights violations amid reports of extrajudicial killings to stop drug sales. The 71-year-old head of state is widely reported to have called his counterpart Barack Obama a dirty name in September. And that’s before he started asking U.S. military advisers to leave the southern island Mindanao where the Philippine government is fighting the Muslim terrorist group Abu Sayyaf. U.S. advisers have helped there since 2002 to investigate kidnapping threats and do forensic analysis, that and let’s make this year the last for joint U.S.-Philippine military exercises, which are held yearly in part to help Manila patrol for Chinese ships, he’s saying.
Put this way by a American expatriate in Subic Bay, just off the naval base that Americans controlled until 1992 and began reusing in 2014 to help with the maritime patrols: “I am going to keep safe inside at night for this period. Keeping your nose clean is the solution.”
But most people you talk to in the Philippines say don’t worry. The United States colonized the Southeast Asian archipelago from 1898 to 1946, so naturally wisps of resentment surface here and there. Yet not very often. U.S. troops now stay in the background, told where to go when by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and leaving no question about who’s in charge. Since a standoff between Philippine and Chinese vessels in 2012 at the disputed Scarborough Shoal 198 km (123 miles) off Luzon Island, some citizens supported the reentry of American naval help. The U.S. military is ranked world No. 1, China No. 3 and the Philippines No. 51, per the database GlobalFirePower.com.
The United States has the highest trust rating among “social weather stations” on the Internet, says Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at University of the Philippines. People generally support a U.S. military support role in Mindanao and a higher-profile one in resisting any external threats, Batongbacal says. “It’s really a limited few, or a limited minority that has extreme anti-U.S. sentiment,” he adds.
You also hear that Duterte is bashing the United States because of a 2002 incident in Davao, the city where he was mayor for 22 years. A bomb blast that year disabled an American who was apparently involved in a high-level crime network. U.S. secret forces got the man out of the country before the Philippines could investigate, Duterte’s story goes. He’s still peeved.
But suppose the president’s anti-American remarks signal a deeper foreign policy shift. Duterte has said he wants stronger ties with American Cold War foes China and Russia. Maybe one or the other will offer the Philippines badly needed infrastructure aid or a shot of foreign investment. Or maybe the Philippines will start approaching foreign policy like Vietnam, which seeks well-rounded relations with the world’s most powerful countries regardless of history. Even in this case, Americans are still in favor. People simply don’t trust the other superpowers. Russia is untested. China has its eyes on the sea within Manila’s claimed exclusive economic zones.
“There is a conflict between China and the Philippines,” says Kirk Nagac, 27, an unemployed man from the Philippine city Cagayan de Oro. “The only country that has helped the Philippines is the USA. I don’t know if we need China, because the U.S. is helping us here.”
This article was written by Ralph Jennings from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.