News analysis

Fidel Ramos turns critic to salvage Philippines-US ties

Ex-president's concern comes in wake of Duterte's anti-US barrage

Three in five Filipinos may have given their new President's performance the thumbs up, but the one person whose approval Mr Rodrigo Duterte craves has rated his government a "huge disappointment and letdown".

Former president Fidel Ramos, whom Mr Duterte credits for handing him the presidency, said the government was "losing badly" by prioritising a war on drugs at the expense of issues such as poverty, living costs, foreign investment and jobs.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella played down Mr Ramos' comments, saying the 88-year-old was just "acting like a father" and a "senior statesman".

Mr Ramos (left) called Mr Duterte's government a letdown, questioning the priority it has placed in its war on drugs.
Mr Ramos (left) called Mr Duterte's government a letdown, questioning the priority it has placed in its war on drugs. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Mr Duterte has spoken often of his respect for Mr Ramos, who was president from 1992 to 1998.

It is unclear why Mr Ramos has chosen to criticise Mr Duterte now. But analysts suggest that he may be putting his foot down to salvage ties with Washington frayed by Mr Duterte's almost daily barrage of expletive-laced insults at Manila's longtime ally.

Mr Duterte last week told US President Barack Obama to "go to hell", just a month after calling him a "son of a whore".

Mr Duterte has said he wants US special forces who are helping to fight Islamist militants in the Philippines' troubled south to leave because their presence there is complicating his efforts to forge peace with Muslim secessionists.

Lately, he has declared the Philippines will stop joint war games and patrols with the US in the South China Sea while he is President. He said yesterday in a speech before new government appointees: "I do not mean to cancel or abrogate our military alliances. But let me ask you, do you really think we need it?"

 
 

He has chafed at US criticisms of the more than 3,500 extrajudicial killings, both by police and vigilantes, that have blighted his war on drugs. He has threatened to sever ties with the US, as he pitches for an "independent" foreign policy anchored on forging new alliances with China and Russia.

In a Sunday editorial in the Manila Bulletin newspaper, Mr Ramos called this policy disconcerting. "Are we throwing away decades of military partnership, tactical proficiency, compatible weaponry, predictable logistics and soldier-to-soldier camaraderie, just like that? On DU30's say-so???" he said. DU30 is a popular acronym for Mr Duterte.

Mr Ramos, a former police general, was among those who led a US-backed popular revolt that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. He is a graduate of West Point, the US Military Academy.

Calling Mr Ramos the Americans' "top dog" on Monday, the Communist Party of the Philippines said he is "now set to lead the pack to consolidate the pro-US camp of reactionaries to put greater pressure on the Duterte regime to backtrack on its promotion of an independent foreign policy".

Mr Noel Medina, a political analyst with the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said that Mr Ramos, though pro-US, "is a practical thinker". "He really thinks Duterte is overdoing his attacks on the West and the US, and that it is unnecessary."

Asked if Mr Ramos has the gravitas to sway Mr Duterte, Mr Medina said: "We'll have to wait and see how Duterte responds. If it's just his spokesman talking, that means this is being settled internally, and Duterte is responding favourably. But if Duterte himself reacts publicly and attacks Ramos, then we'll know where he stands."

He added: "But Ramos, this early, is too precious an ally to sacrifice or to attack."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Ramos turns critic in bid to salvage US ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe