Abe is peacemaker between Duterte, US, diplomats say

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 11 2017 05:18 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos on September 6. King Rodriguez, Malacanang Photo

MANILA - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's planned visit to President Rodrigo Duterte's modest house in Davao City is a sign that he wants to deepen their friendship as he seeks to "repair" strained relations between the Philippines and their common ally, the US, former diplomats said Wednesday.

The visit to Duterte's 200-square-meter property will be "the best compliment" coming from the Japanese leader, who rolled out the red carpet for him in Tokyo last October, said retired ambassador Jose Romero, who heads the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations.

Abe is set to arrive Thursday in Manila where Duterte will host a state dinner for him in Malacañang. He will fly to Davao City the following day.

"In Japan, culturally speaking, an invitation to a home is really a sign of friendship and confidence," Romero told ABS-CBN News.

"He is trying to tell the world that he and Duterte have struck a really close relationship and I think that's the symbolism of this visit to Davao."

The approach is strategic for Abe who can help bridge the gap between Duterte and the United States, said former Ambassador Jose Apolinario Lozada.

Abe, a close ally of Washington, is the "right person" for the job because of his "better appreciation" of the Philippine leader's demeanor and approach to governance, Lozada said. 

"Abe knows that Duterte is very informal in dealings with everybody and the more informal he is to a person, the closer he really gets (to him)," Lozada told ABS-CBN News.

Duterte's so-called pivot to China has concerned Washington and Tokyo, whose traditional alliance with Manila is meant to counter Beijing's growing influence in the Pacific.

With Duterte seemingly unwilling to listen to Western leaders, Abe can serve as "the messenger of the group to lay down the foundation for better relations," Lozada said. 

"I tend to believe that it is the most important consideration of his visit... to repair the relations between the Philippine leadership and the Western leadership," he said.