‘Chief diplomat’



Before he ended his official visit in Russia last Saturday, President Rodrigo Duterte received a doctorate’s degree in diplomacy, an honoris causa conferred upon him by the Moscow State Institute of International Relations University.

This was the first honorary degree that the 74-year-old President Duterte ever accepted.

The honorary degree on diplomacy is quite ironic, to say the least, if not a very uncharacteristic conferment of such to the foul-mouthed President Duterte. His unfiltered language is more than enough fodder for his critics and political foes to attack him as being un-statesman-like.

A President who cusses in public is a shock and awe for many Filipinos and foreigners as well. At his every impassioned extemporaneous speech, it would always be littered with cussing as he rants particularly on his pet peeves from illegal drugs to corruption – whether a man or a woman is at the end of his tirades.

Although he now tries to read prepared speeches for him – the length of which must be for two minutes only – the Davao City Mayor always love to digress and even go on prolonged harangues. His tough guy talks and profanity-laced speeches though only endear him more to many Filipinos as opinion polls continue to show two-digit popularity rating since he took office more than three years ago.

While he may lack diplomatese, President Duterte’s strategic shift of the country’s foreign policy has caught the attention of the global community to now look at the Philippines out of the shadows of the United States.

It is not to denigrate the conferment to the Philippine president of such honorary degree on diplomacy. Known for his very unorthodox handling of the country’s foreign affairs policies, President Duterte has made a big turnaround from the traditional or usual norms followed by his predecessors at Malacañang Palace. And that perhaps qualified him for this honorific doctorate degree on diplomacy as he steers the Philippines in its global affairs.

Fresh into office in July 2016, President Duterte vowed to pursue an independent foreign policy.

He first declared his administration would not go to war with China just to enforce The Hague ruling that set aside the nine-dash-line claims of Beijing in South China Sea. The Permanent Court of Arbitration was effectively in favor of our country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone around the West Philippine Sea.

The administration’s soft-pedaling on The Hague ruling thawed the icy relations between the Philippines and China. And from that time on, we saw the China-shift under the Duterte administration. In his fifth official trip to Beijing last August, President Duterte finally raised The Hague ruling with his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping. Again, the Davao City Mayor stuck to his previous stand he could not, in his conscience, push the Philippines into war it cannot win against China.

And who would have thought a Philippine president would publicly cuss at a sitting US President? Piqued over human rights issue on his anti-illegal drug war, President Duterte lambasted then US President Barack Obama. At the height of his anger over US “meddling,” President Duterte threatened to scrap in October 2016 the Philippine-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) entered into by former president Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

In between, President Duterte publicly quarreled with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over Canadian garbage export to the Philippines.

After also attacking his administration over alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the conduct of police drug war in the Philippines, President Duterte went into high drive against the European Union (EU). At one point, the country’s Chief Executive was so infuriated that he asked the EU ambassadors to pack up and leave the Philippines.

The escalating EJK accusations against him came to head, President Duterte sternly scored former United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al Hussain of Jordan after the latter took cognizance of the complaint filed against him by human rights activists in the Philippines.

In retaliation, President Duterte ordered the withdrawal of the Philippines out of the International Criminal Court. Then the UN permanent representative, Teodoro Locsin Jr. delivered the Philippine notice of withdrawal. It took effect on March this year with Locsin now as secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Lately, President Duterte’s ire is on 18 countries that voted in favor of the Iceland-initiated resolution that called on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to monitor the human rights situation in the Philippines. Last month, the President ordered to temporarily suspend any loan or aid negotiations with these 18 countries that signed the July 4 Resolution against the Philippine government’s deadly anti-drug war.

Given this track record, I think President Duterte him self would admit he does not possibly fit nor qualify him to this honorary degree on “diplomacy.” And maybe it was against his will to accept it. But obviously, President Duterte may have reluctantly accepted this honorary degree occasioned on his official visit to Moscow from this Russian state university – described to be the counterpart of our own University of the Philippines (UP).

This is because the former Davao City Mayor has precisely shunned accepting honorary degrees being conferred on him even in the past while he was not yet the President of the Philippines. Not even an honorary degree on law from San Beda College of Law could convince him to make an exception to his alma mater. He previously turned down a doctorate’s degree from UP earlier.

So what prompted President Duterte to make this exception to accept this honorary degree on diplomacy from this Moscow state university? As of this writing, it was not clear yet.

Thus, the conferment to President Duterte as honorary “chief diplomat” would seem to be like a backhanded compliment to the country’s architect of foreign policy.