Duterte talks a lot of crap and many foreigners want to know what is REALLY going on and how it affects everyday life for expats in this country.The brief and to the point answer is that little has changed for us here, except for perception. That perception of what is going on in the Philippines has little to do with reality and has more to do with this age’s usual practice of media reporting that is biased from both sides of the issues, and the modern trend of social media “netizens” to spread whichever biased media reports support their own, usually biased opinions. As usual, the reality seems to have gotten lost.
So what is the reality for us Expats living in the Philippines?
To start, to those few who may not know, let me provide a very brief overview.
- For many decades, the Philippines progress and development has been stunted. There is no arguing this. They simply have not lived up to their true potential, which has been experienced by most other developing Asian countries. Though this has changed somewhat over the past decade, corruption and a somewhat lackadaisical attitude of Filipnos has limited their success.
- In the recent Filipino election, Rody Duterte came to power on a platform to clean up crime, most specifically relating to the drug trade, and less so from corruption. Secondary platforms were to instill discipline in the Filipino people, cut out frustrating bureaucracy, make the Philippines more business friendly and opening it up to foreign business investment. Duterte brings with him to the Presidency, a history of very impressive accomplishments after being the head of one of the largest cities in the Philippines, Davao, however he also brings a reputation of above the law type tactics to achieve his goals. In the election he did win by a huge margin, however he DID NOT win a majority of votes.
What happened next:
- As promised President Duterte started his war on drugs and it quickly became bloody. Though some Filipinos cried foul, most were convinced that it was necessary. Some politicians, most notably Senator Leila De Lima raised alarms and attacked President Duterte. Response was a dirty smear campaign from both people within the new administration, as well as a netizen following of what can only be describes as fanatics. There was also international criticism to which Duterte countered by going on the offensive. He rudely and crudely attacked all people who dared voice concern.
- After being snubbed by The American President at an Asian Summit, Duterte anti-American rhetoric ramped up. America became the President’s new whipping boy, with talk of how past and present injustices at the hands were the root of most issues in Filipino society, second only to drugs
- While alienating one of the Philippines longest and closest allies, President Duterte then turned to the Chinese in an attempt to shift alliances. In a state visit to China, accompanied by a large contingent of business men. Again Duterte trashed the US, even more vehemently, to the sheer delight of the Chinese, and many apparent “deals” were inked where China would invest into the Philippines. In a speech there, he also made references to “separating” from the US, as well as making statements that Americans may face new visa requirements to visit the Philippines.
- The next stop for President Duterte was Japan. Reception there was more tempered. Being a close ally of the US themselves, and with the apparent cozying up to the Chinese, whom Japan had its own disputes with they treated him politely but also wanted some clear explanation of President Duterte’s. He did come back from Japan with a very generic joint statement in principle, some potential deals, but arguably nothing more.
So where is President Duterte heading?
This of course is nothing but conjecture as this humble man does not for one minute believe he can read anyone’s mind, let alone a man seemingly so complicated.
- he is definitely anti-American. Maybe this is because he truly feels that his country is downtrodden by this “colonial bully”, but judging from some of his statements, the reasons may be far more personal. Two examples of the latter he has spoke about are being denied a visa by the US when trying to visit a college sweetheart, and an American wanted in connection of an explosives charge, being spirited out the back door of Davao while he was Mayor of the City. I do believe that he would like to push the Americans away, but do not believe he will push them too far. I think he fully understands that to do so would be bad for the Filipino people, as well as understanding he would lose support from the majority of his constituents. Maybe he is sly like a fox as some people claim and this is a strategy to get more respect and a “better” deal from the Americans, however his ego will play a key role. Maybe it will work and the Americans massage that ego in an effort to kiss and make up, which would end up being a total coup for Duterte. I believe that the President may push the American military out at some point, but I do not believe he will attempt to restrict business nor will he restrict American/foreign expats and tourists from visiting the country
- the war on drugs will continue as will the extra judicial killings. This is his bread and butter platform and one that “rallies the troops”, however at some point he will have a major problem. He promised that he would eliminate the drug trade within 3 months of taking office, then backtracked and asked for an additional 6 months because the problem was far worse than he imagined. After 6 months, as any inteligent person suspects, the drug problem will not be eliminated, so what excuse will he then have?
- ties with China will increase. How far will he go is debatable and will depend considerably on whether he decides to be more conciliatory to the Americans. If he does not, he will have little option but to sell out to China and he will face a problem domestically because the average Filipino by and large does not really like or trust the Chinese. If he does appears to sell out to them, especially because of a wounded ego, Filipinos could call for his head. If on the other hand his action are like that of a sly fox, he could be faced with a huge windfall, having achieved a highly beneficial increased relationship with the Chinese, while also maintaining the status quo or more with the Americans. So a chance for another total coup or the risk of disaster
- with all the major headlines, some very positive things have gone basically unnoticed. President Duterte is attacking the excessive bureaucracy and corruption. the immense benefits to Filipino people cannot be felt yet because these will take time. There is a transition period we are going through where actually things may seem more inefficient, but this hopefully will improve dramatically as the changes he is instituting work there way through the systems. Corruption of public officials is also changing I believe, and the irony is that this may have to do with the take no prisoners war on drugs President Duterte is waging. Personally I do not believe that the corruption is rooted in the drug trade, but many of those people on the take must wonder what would be in store for them should he wage his war on corruption in the same way. Again, maybe crazy like a fox? Fear is a great deterrent.
What do Filipinos in general think of what is going on?
I again have to qualify my opinion on this. Of course not all Filipinos think exactly alike on all the issues. There is a core of fanatical Duterte supporters that idolize him to the point of GOD status, as there are a substantial group of people who are equally anti Duterte. My personal belief is the latter has its roots in the “old gaurd” establishment that raped and pillaged the Filipinos for generations, and simply would love a return to the status quo. I suggest it is important to disregard the ranting of both these groups to truly understand what the real average Filipino feels. I am doing just that for the purpose of this article.
- the majority of the Filipino populace still support President Duterte. They believe he is doing what he does for their sake and that he will better their lives. They do however wish he would talk less, because it seems whenever he opens his mouth he makes a fool out of himself, which reflects poorly on them as a country.
- Filipinos are not anti-American by any stretch of the imagination. For better or for worse, most of them aspire to be MORE Americanized. They see the US as the land of plenty and affluence, and many have close persoanl ties with America either through a cross cultural relationships a family member might be in or gaining benefit from one of their relatives who is an OFW in the US. These Filipinos are becoming disenfranchised with President Duterte’s non stop anti-American rhetoric. Though these people still support him, and are not ready to take to the streets in protest on the “American Issue”, if the President’s talk become action and he does try to end all ties with Americans, he just might have a rebellion on his hands. The only possible exception to this might be military ties. I could see where the average Filipino might support an ending of US military presence on Filipino soil.
- Filipinos DO NOT want to jump into bed with the Chinese. by and large they detest the Chinese. They do not want to work for them, with them, visit their country or be friends with them. If President Duterte starts selling their country out to China, he will have big problems
How does all this affect my life or that of other Expats in the Philippines?
This of course is the whole point of this articles, though I may have taken a roundabout way of getting to it. My life, and that of just about every other Expat here that I talk to, will say that in actuality, their life simply has not changed. It may have given us a new topic to spend too much of our free time on social media discussing, but when we shut off our computers and walk out the door to take part in the real world, little change can actually be felt. or seen.
- we still do not experience animosity or hostility from the Filipinos we meet
- we rarely have to deal with criminality to any greater or lesser extent than what we would expect in our home countries
- what limited rights we have as foreigners have not being restricted or expanded
- we do not need new visas or are restricted any more or less from entering and leaving the Philippines
- we do not get killed on the street or have some l fear that we might (unless of course some of us are involved with drugs)
- our businesses(those of us who have one) are not doing any better or any worse
The one and only thing that I see has changed is the perception of what is happening, from those who probably are not here experiencing it for themselves. And maybe there are some of us here who are a little too pre-occupied with what MAY be, rather than what actually IS. That I guess is a natural human reaction to possible change and is based on our root instincts of fear. Fear is of course a necessary survival instinct that has allowed the human race to evolve and thrive over the millenia, but we have also been endowed with the wonderful gift of rational thought. We CAN and should use that ability to understand that there is no need to be gripped with fear or panicked with what is going on around us right now in this country. Yes, there may be some changes but in all likelihood, little will change for us, and what changes do occur, we can probable adapt to with very little difficulty.
President Duterte will probably wake up tomorrow morning, make all sorts of nut job statements, then two days from now, all his supporters and administration will wake up and start explaining what he actually meant the previous day. If we don’t get online or read the newspaper articles, we probably will not even know what any of them said, and most likely none of it will have any effect on your life as we know it. We should maybe remember, “this too shall pass”, just press the ignore button and get on with living our lives to the fullest, and that full life can still be experienced here in the Philippines.