Duterte risks chill in US-PH ties with trash talk

Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte Composite photo

MANILA - The Philippines risks alienating its most important ally, the United States, if a mayor notorious for his human rights record and brash statements is elected to the presidency, analysts said.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who is leading in opinion polls two weeks before the elections drew a firestorm of criticism for joking in public about the rape of an Australian missionary in 1989.

He later told the ambassadors of the United States and Australia to "shut their mouths" after they censured him for his remarks.

READ: Duterte says he may cut US, Australia ties

"There will certainly be big tensions in bilateral relations (with the US) if Duterte wins," De La Salle University political science professor Richard Javad Heydarian told ABS-CBN News.

"There will certainly be frictions over his provocative statements, human rights record and prospective thaw with China," he said.

The 71-year-old mayor has gained both fanatic supporters and fierce critics for his vigilante approach to crime. He has boasted having links to the so-called "death squads" that target drug dealers and other petty criminals in Davao.

READ: Duterte admits links to davao Death Squad

In its 2014 human rights report, the US State Department said extra-judicial killings was the "most significant" human rights problem of its key ally in the Pacific.

The New York-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch said Duterte "epitomizes impunity for extra-judicial killings" for his alleged role in the death squads.

'TARNISHED REPUTATION'

Human rights campaigner and independent senatorial candidate Walden Bello said a Duterte presidency would tarnish the Philippines' reputation, especially among countries that place human rights high on their foreign policy.

"Duterte will encourage a toleration of shortcuts like extra-judicial killings. It could in fact encourage vigilantism," Bello told ABS-CBN News.

"People are sick and tired of crime and here is a president who basically says it's right to take shortcuts," he said.

A strong human rights commission, which is independent from the president under Philippine law, would provide a strong counterweight to Duterte, he said.

The incumbent chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, Chito Gascon, an ally of President Aquino, will serve until the tail-end of Duterte's term in 2022.

TURNING TO CHINA? 

Duterte has also signaled a thaw in frosty relations with China by saying that he is open to joint exploration in disputed seas in exchange for aid for infrastructure. 

READ: Duterte willing to back down on sea dispute with China

President Benigno Aquino has riled Beijing by asking a United Nations-backed arbitration body to declare China's claim over the resource-rich West Philippine Sea as illegal.

"If the next president reaches out to China and finds a modus vivendi over the West Philippine Sea , it will be an essentially equi-balancing strategy," Heydarian said.

American soldiers prep for Balikatan 2016 Photo by Jun Dumaguing, ABS-CBN News

Aquino has deepened military relations with the US as the dispute with China festered, granting American troops wider access to Philippine military bases under a new defense pact that took effect in January.

READ: U.S., Philippines agree on 5 base locations under EDCA

While ties between Manila and Washington may deteriorate under a Duterte administration, Heydarian said the two countries were unlikely to break their decades-long alliance.

"There will be efforts to find common ground, but it's possible relations will become less warm than they are now."

'TRUE SELF' 

Duterte's supporters may cheer him for his brash language, but he could have been more careful with his choice of words when addressing the international community, Ateneo de Manila University political science professor Benito Lim told ABS-CBN News.

Lim said US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg was meddling in internal affairs when he criticized Duterte for the rape joke.

"His supporters know his many faults. They know he is vulgar. He is showing his true self. That is why he is very popular," Lim said.

"But the president of the Philippines should not be talking that way," he said.

Duterte's spokesman , Peter Lavina, told Mornings @ANC on Thursday that the Philippines needed to "reevaluate: its relationship with the US, which "has not been good."

Lavinia recounted how an American bombing suspect was arrested in Davao City, but was later "spirited away" by US Embassy officials.

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