Analysts warn of fallout if Duterte ditches allies

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte pose for photograph during the Asean Plus Three Summit in Vientiane.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte pose for photograph during the Asean Plus Three Summit in Vientiane.PHOTO: REUTERS

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is barrelling ahead with his pivot to China, but many commentators in the Philippines say it may be wise for him to slow down and take stock of what he is really heading into.

Most of their concerns stem from the economic fallout if the Philippines were to cut ties with the United States and its trading partners in Europe.

Writing for the online news site InterAksyon.com, lawyer Mel Sta Maria said the Philippines could lose US$13 billion (S$18 billion) worth of preferential tariffs under Europe's Generalised System of Preferences on some 6,000 products, including processed fruit, coconut oil, footwear, fish and textiles. "The attitude and remarks of the President are very serious. They are disturbing," he said.

On the China pivot, he asked: "Considering the previous animosity that existed between the two countries… do you honestly think China will be so benevolent and free from ulterior motives?"

Professor Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said in an opinion piece on news website Rappler: "The sudden uncalibrated swing bears the marks of political turncoatism played out on an international stage, despite being portrayed as a shift to an 'independent foreign policy'."

He added of Mr Duterte: "He is taking a huge risk, betting all on China's goodwill and beneficence without the insurance provided by the diversified, multilateral support of historical and traditional friends and allies. Over the long term, China unmistakably stands to gain much, while the Philippines' fate remains uncertain."

RISKY MANOEUVRE

He is taking a huge risk, betting all on China's goodwill and beneficence without the insurance provided by the diversified, multilateral support of historical and traditional friends and allies.

PROF JAY BATONGBACAL, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, on Mr Duterte.

For Mr Ricardo Saludo of The Manila Times, Mr Duterte's pivot makes geopolitical sense.

"With big-power tensions and forces surging all around, President Rodrigo Duterte is right to look beyond the domestic preoccupation with Chinese actions in the Spratlys," said Mr Saludo, former head of the Civil Service Commission.

"He may well be positioning the Philippines out of the firing line, should there be hostilities between these nuclear-girded giants."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'Analysts warn of fallout if Duterte ditches allies'. Print Edition | Subscribe