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Donald Trump

Explainer: US-Philippines’ turbulent ties, what people are saying about Trump’s visit and Duterte serenades his Asean guests

Outspoken leader’s election last year brought a sudden reversal of the policy of his pro-American predecessor, Benigno Aquino, as he launched a brutal war on drugs

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 November, 2017, 11:16am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 2:17pm

Despite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte serenading Donald Trump upon his arrival in Manila, Monday’s meeting between the two fiery leaders could not come after a more stormy 16 months in their nations’ decades-long alliance. Here are five things to know about relations between the US and Philippines, and a look at what Filipinos are saying about the leaders’ meeting.

Former colony

The Philippines went from centuries of Spanish rule to becoming a US colony in 1898 under the Treaty of Paris that was signed to end the Spanish-American war.

The colonial period began with a three-year resistance, which claimed the lives of more than 20,000 Filipino nationalists and 4,200 American troops, according to US government historical records.

In 1941, Japanese forces invaded the Philippines and began more than three years of brutal occupation. The Americans later returned to liberate the nation and it gained independence in 1946, marking the start of a 71-year alliance.

Treaty allies

The Philippines and the United States signed a mutual defence treaty in 1951 pledging to help each other if they were attacked by an external enemy.

The nation is one of only two American defence treaty allies in Southeast Asia, along with Thailand.

US-backed dictator

Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines for 20 years with US backing despite overseeing widespread rights abuses and embezzling up to US$10 billion from state coffers.

The United States backed Marcos, who went from democratic hopeful to dictator, as he guaranteed strategic US bases in the Philippines and was seen as a bulwark against communism.

In 1986, a famous “People Power” uprising toppled Marcos, sending him and his family into exile in Hawaii.

Shutting bases

Nearly a century of major US military presence ended in 1992 when the Philippines closed two of America’s biggest Asian bases. The Filipino Senate rejected a treaty extension following rising popular sentiment against the United States.

However the Philippines’ maritime dispute with China over the South China Sea, and US concerns over Islamic militancy in the restive south, brought the nation back into an American embrace.

The allies signed a Visiting Forces Agreement in 1998 and a 2014 accord that led to increased defence cooperation, including more annual joint military exercises.

Why it’s unlikely Trump will scold Duterte for his drug war killings

Duterte tirades

Duterte’s election last year brought a sudden reversal of the policy of his pro-American predecessor, Benigno Aquino.

The outspoken leader launched a brutal war on drugs that was condemned by the administration of Barack Obama, who was the US president at the time.

Duterte responded by announcing his “separation” from the United States, calling Obama a “son of a whore” and pursuing closer ties with China and Russia.

But Duterte, who has a reputation for unpredictability, has recently said the nations are “best of friends” again after receiving praise from Trump about the drug war.

What Filipinos are saying about Trump’s visit

Trump and Duterte’s meeting is one of the most anticipated moments in the US leader’s first presidential trip to Asia. Both have tested the bounds of statesmanship with their foul language, devil-may-care verbal harangues against enemies and strongman tendencies.

Both rose to power in an era of authoritarian, populist leaders, both have quarrelled with the press and both have been condemned for making lewd remarks against women. Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs includes widespread accusations of extrajudicial killings, raising global alarm from governments and rights group yet has been praised by Trump. Here’s what a few Filipinos are saying about the meeting.

They might be crass when they talk but what they say has truth
Florentino Lucido

“These two presidents both have brusque personalities. They are both tactless but, most likely, they will not clash because the twine of their intestines are identical, they will probably have a meeting of minds and even exchange strategies in solving problems.” – Marius Daniel Garcia, a 34-year-old hotel guard in Manila.

“The entertainment value is huge but in terms of policy impact, I would have to say, minimal … Trump doesn’t have a clear Asia policy yet. It seems to be developing. Right now, they seem to be more concerned with just giving a reassurance to Asia that they are not leaving, that’s all. But concrete initiatives, nothing.” – Jay Batongbacal, an associate law professor and director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the state-run University of the Philippines.

Trump, Duterte meet in Manila at Asean gala dinner

“They’re of the same colour [laughs], they’re both OK! They only have one colour, one line of thinking. I think it’s time that President Duterte came into our lives and Trump in America, and that they have one similar attitude. They might be crass when they talk but what they say has truth.” – Florentino Lucido as he took pictures of his wife in front of an Asean sign near the summit venue.

“No, of course when there are two toughies you always have this fear that there can be a confrontation, but they understand the same language, they have the same goals. In this case, both just like a better life for their people so, sometimes, two toughies become very close and end up as true friends.” – Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, when asked by reporters if “sparks” can be expected in the meeting of two leaders with very strong personalities.

“Both of them feel beseeched, both of them talk about destabilisation, both of them talk about overturning existing order, both of them talk about their nation first. So, Duterte, in many ways, also talks about, you know, ‘make Philippines great again’. So, in that sense, there’s this sense of personal solidarity and Trump relates to people who are very much like him.” – Manila-based analyst Richard Heydarian.

Agence France-Presse and Associated Press