WASHINGTON D.C. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano signaled here last night that bilateral ties between the Philippines and United States have normalized after the strain caused by criticism of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war and his decision to pivot towards China.
“I could feel the enthusiasm,” he told a mostly Filipino American audience at the “Talakayan sa Pasuguan” on Wednesday (Sept. 27) evening. Earlier in the day, he met with US State Secretary Rex Tillerson and key congressional leaders on Capitol Hill.
The “roller coaster” is over, he assured, echoing Mr. Tillerson’s observation that Philippine-US relations was on an “upward vector”.
The longstanding ties between the treaty allies looked to take pummeling after Pres. Duterte cussed then Pres. Barack Obama over his criticism of the mounting death toll in the Philippines’ war on drugs, calling the outgoing American leader a year ago this month, a “son of a whore” then telling him to “go to hell”. “I announce my separation from the United States both in military but economics also. America is lost,” Pres. Duterte declared during a visit to Beijing in October 2016, telling his hosts “I realigned myself in your ideological flow…there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia.”
Last July, the mercurial Philippine leader described the US as a “lousy” country after a Massachusetts congressman said he would oppose Pres. Duterte’s still-to-be-determined visit to the White House, on Pres. Trump’s invitation.
Pres. Trump is scheduled to attend the 31st summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that’s being hosted by the Philippines on Nov. 13-15. This year also marks ASEAN’s 50th anniversary.
“People behind Pres. Duterte and people behind Pres. Trump are keeping in touch,” Mr. Cayetano said.
“They admire each other and they admire each other’s leadership,” he added, acknowledging the penchant of both to stir controversy, from Pres. Duterte’s profanities to Pres. Trump’s tweets. But the Philippine’s top diplomat said “Both of them believe they are strong, pragmatic leaders and there are real issues that call for difficult decisions but also effective solutions.”
“We have communicated our strong desire for Pres. Trump to take an active part in the 50th year of ASEAN and assured him of a very warm welcome in the Philippines,” he added.
Mr. Cayetano said he discussed with his counterpart a range of bilateral issues, including the “campaign against drugs, crime and corruption vis-à-vis human rights and how we can go on with the perception versus the reality.”
The also talked about counter terrorism, the situation in Asia including the “balance of power and balance of forces” as well as “what the US has done to help with the (Philippine) military and how we can move forward with that”.
“Americans are very comfortable with doing business with the Philippines,” Mr. Cayetano emphasized.
But despite signs relations were warming up again, the Philippine foreign affairs chief said there will remain bumps on the road ahead. “Being both sovereign nations with sometimes diverging interests, there will be differences,” he noted.