Is President Rodrigo Duterte a traitor, a tuta (lapdog) of China, or simply a pragmatist trying to get the most of a delicate situation?
The question is being raised again in social media and other opinion forums after the President delivered remarks at the sendoff Tuesday of 50 Filipino scientists tasked to do research at the Philippine (Benham) Rise off Aurora province.
Particularly intriguing was Duterte’s disclosure that his friend China President Xi Jinping had assured him that “we will not allow you to be taken out of your office and we will not allow the Philippines to go to the dogs.” He said Xi’s assurance was “very encouraging.”
In the context of concern over an alleged creeping autocratic rule, a marked rise in prices of essential goods, a drop in overseas workers’ remittances, and suspicions of a “sellout” to China, Xi’s assurance sounds like meddling in domestic matters.
Duterte elaborates: “China will never allow the Philippines to be destroyed… Naisip-isip ko wala naman tayong magawa dito sa China, might as well make friends with them.” (I was thinking there’s nothing we could do with China anyway.)
Is the President pleading helplessness in the face of a superior force? If China is such a formidable antagonist, what do national interest and duty demand of the President and Commander-in-Chief? Has he sought wider counsel outside his Davao coterie?