MANILA – In contrast to Washington's seeming determination to keep Philippine relations congenial, a former US president's trusted aide questioned whether it is worth it for the Western superpower to struggle to keep its ties to an "insignificant partner."
In an opinion piece which appeared in the online edition of the New York Times, Doug Bandow, a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and political analyst, asked why America should "cower" before an "international lightweight" such as the Philippines.
He also questioned why America would let itself get dragged into any conflict by its ally, which has an "unpredictable regime", when the Philippines "can't even pull its weight in the imbalanced partnership."
"The Philippines needs America far more than America needs the Philippines," he wrote, emphasizing that Manila spends only a fraction, less than 1 percent, of its gross domestic product, on military. The country's best ships are US cast-offs, he said, and so does not really help defend the US from anyone.
Bandow also questioned why Washington supposedly sees "domination of East Asia" as an "American birthright" when the risk of war is greater than any convenience its presence in the region may give, and the region matters more to China than the US.
However, visiting Ateneo de Manila University professor and policy expert Malcolm Cook said in a separate piece on the New York Times that America needs the Philippines for its strategic location. It would also pose a danger to US security interests, he said, as China's nuclear-armed submarines are located in the South China Sea.
For Chinese submarines to threaten the US, they will have to go through the Luzon Strait, Cook said.
Despite this, Cook also said it would hurt the Philippines more than America if Duterte were to move for a separation from the US, because the country's budget for defense is too meager for any purchase of Chinese and Russian arms to make a real difference.
Any cooling of ties between the two countries would only be "an annoyance" to US military commanders in the Pacific.
In his previous statements, Duterte said the Philippines should be less dependent on the US, and learn to stand on its own. He also questioned America’s supposed treatment of Filipinos as “little brown brothers not capable of true independence and freedom,” and its use of a carrot-and-stick approach to get what it wants from the country.
Duterte's conciliatory approach to countries such as China, the firebrand president said, is a bid to help the Philippines develop and grow on its own.