Leaders to try to decode Duterte in ASEAN Summit: analyst


Posted at Sep 05 2016 08:25 PM

MANILA - President Rodrigo will make his debut on the world stage at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Laos, and a political analyst on Monday said he expects the leaders to try to decode the pragmatic Philippine leader.

"I think everyone is trying to decode Digong. He’s quite a complex, multifaceted character, and unfortunately, the international media only focuses on his most controversial parts, or let’s say crude and offensive part," said political science professor Richard Heydarian.

Heydarian, author of the book "Asia's New Battlefield," told [email protected] that in actuality, regional leaders appreciate Duterte's unique style.

"When you talk to government and policy-makers around the region who seek advice from us who supposedly know more about things, they appreciate that there’s a streak of pragmatism, and in fact, geopolitical sophistication to this president," he said.

"I very much expect that next year, when we become ASEAN chairman, there’ll be more emphasis on economic cooperation and socio-economic interaction," he added.

Heydarian also expects that counter-terrorism measures are to be discussed, especially after the deadly Davao City blast, that left 14 people dead and more than 60 injured.

"These things should be institutionalized. The problem is when we deal with terrorism, the cooperation is more ad hoc; it is not institutionalized and it always depends on whether there’s an incidence or not," he said.

He added, Duterte should accept any assistance the United States will offer the Philippines even though he has said he would like to keep foreign interference to a minimum.

"This is the age of globalization—threats are globalized, responses should also be globally coordinated, and we cannot deny that when it comes to intelligence and capability, the United States is still an indispensable nation in many ways and I think everyone has to admit it in one way or another," he said.

He believes that when Duterte meets with US President Barack Obama at the sidelines of the summit, "the United States will offer maximum possible assistance to make sure that the Philippines will be able to protect itself and also preserve its democratic values despite the security threats that it’s coming under."

Though the White House has said human rights issues in relation to the alleged spate of extra-judicial killings will be brought up, Heydarian is confident Obama's statements will not offend Duterte.

He added, Duterte must discard his defensive stance on the criticisms, since the global leaders have expressed sympathy for the country after the bombing.

"Definitely in ASEAN, as I said, the initial pronouncement of Duterte is ‘I’m going to go there, I’m going to defend what’s happening in the country on the allegation of extra-judicial measures'," he said.

"The narrative has changed—this is really now a sympathy mode for the right reason, and this is also an urgency mode for cooperation," he added.


Meanwhile, Heydarian also believes that regarding the South China Sea dispute, what could come out of the summit is "definitely not something that would satisfy us here in the Philippines."

"There will be no mention of the arbitration case whatsoever. Never mind calling for compliance on the part of China—it’s gonna be much more emphasis for respect of freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight," he said.

Nevertheless, he pointed out that this will be right on track with the administration's priority on bilateral engagement with China. He cited the recent meeting of former President Fidel V. Ramos with Chinese officials. 

"You don’t want to rock the boat at this time. Very carefully, [we are] trying to make sure that while we want to protect our national interest and protect the sanctity of the arbitration case, we preserve this positive track towards engagement [with] China," he said.

He added, several Southeast Asian nations are also amenable to Duterte's approach "because they see that at this point, what is important is we calm things down and carefully, behind the scenes, nudge the Chinese towards partial and informal compliance."

"One of the things we’re looking at is we’ll have a provisional agreement with China for more access for our fishermen to the Scarborough Shoal and also tell the Chinese to not build military facilities there," he said.