Analyst: Don't compare Duterte to Trump, Lee Kuan Yew

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Is presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte the Donald Trump of the Philippines or will he be like Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew?

A foreign relations expert believes any comparison between Duterte to Trump or Lee would be unfair to the Davao City mayor and the Filipino electorate.

Duterte, who has taken a commanding lead in the presidential race in the unofficial vote count, has made headlines for his controversial statements including a vow to clean up crime in his first six months in office.

De La Salle professor Richard Heydarian said the mayor is backed by "20 years of executive experience with relative success." In comparison, he said Donald Trump is a product of a hit American reality show.

Trump has also drawn flak for proposing a temporary ban on Muslims from entering the United States while Duterte has vowed to address the decades-old problems affecting the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao.

Heydarian noted the tough-talking mayor is probably the right person to negotiate peace with various rebel groups in the southern Philippines. "He can actually bring different groups of people and push for peace," he said in an interview on ANC's Headstart.

He also said Duterte's remarks on China, including his proposal to ride a jetski and plant a flag in the Spratlys, makes sense strategically.

"I think it actually strategically makes sense for him to come with all this braggadocio, all this bravado ‘I’m gonna stand up to China, gonna plant a flag’ but I think behind this he’s a classical realist in a very reasonable, sober way," Heydarian said of Duterte.

Heydarian also disagreed with the comparison of Duterte to Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, who he noted enforced 30 years of authoritarian rule in the city-state.

He said Duterte will be ruling over a bigger country, which he cannot micromanage like Lee. As the head of state, Duterte would simply have to learn to delegate the work, he added.


Heydarian said Duterte's openness to dialogue with China might be a good thing despite earning flak from some sectors.

"He wants to have a reset with China in a sense, that he’s open to dialogue, direct dialogue on the highest possible level. Perhaps in an institutionalized way," he said.

READ: Duterte wants friendly ties with China

Heydarian said outgoing President Benigno Aquino III's failure to have a formal dialogue with China President Xi Jinping showed that the Philippines was putting "all its eggs in the legal basket."

This is in reference to the arbitration case filed before the Permanent Court of Arbitration to settle the territorial row with China.

He also enumerated three aspects of Aquino's policy on China that became problematic: overzealous rhetoric, lacking confidence-building measures, and underdeveloped military presence in the disputed areas.

Heydarian said that even if the arbitration ruling turns out favorably for the Philippines, Duterte can still pursue negotiations with China but this time backed with official documents that prove Beijing is illegally occupying land features that are within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

"What I’m gonna do is this: if you would stop bullying my fishermen and you stop bullying my troops, in exchange, I will not go around the world and shove this down your face," he said.

He said China can then opt to dismiss the arbitration case as a product of the Aquino administration move and not necessarily the policy of the new administration, then take Duterte's olive branch.


Heydarian said the Philippines can also take a more lax approach and less dependency when it comes to dealing with the United States.

Although a win by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would be beneficial to the Philippines because of her tough stance on China as a foreign secretary, Heydarian said the Philippines could revert to an equilateral approach enacted by former presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

He said that it was during the Ramos administration that China took control of Mischief Reef, in 1994.

In response, Ramos "welcomed back the Americans through the Visiting Forces Agreement, but he also talked directly to China."

With this multi-dimensional approach, he said, it wasn't clear if Ramos was particularly siding with one nation over the other. Today, however, this would be more difficult with China's aggressiveness over the disputed islands.

Heydarian said the Duterte administration should appoint a foreign affairs secretary who is not particularly pro-China or pro-USA. He said the Philippines cannot afford to sever ties with either country.

Ultimately, the foreign affairs expert advised against the naïveté "that the Americans are really gonna be our knight in shining armor."

"I think that it's also important that we put a healthy distance between ourselves and all these great powers. Let's be honest, these guys are there for themselves not for us," he said.

"I think we were a little bit naïve in thinking that the Americans are really gonna be our knight in shining armor but those guys have big interests when it comes to China and they have to take care of that," he added.

While on the campaign trail, Duterte has warned he is prepared to cut diplomatic ties with the USA and Australia after their ambassadors criticized his joke about the jailhouse rape of a missionary in 1989.

He told Australian ambassador Amanda Gorely and US ambassador Philip Goldberg to "shut their mouths" after they censured his remark that he should have been the first to rape Jacqueline Hamill, an Australian missionary who was raped and murdered in a prison riot.

READ: Duterte risks chill in US-PH ties with trash talk