Since the postwar era, Manila has been Washington’s major non-NATO ally in the region. The American-Filipino relationship rests on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which has allowed the US Navy to return to Subic Bay. Leftist parties consider the return of US troops a violation of Philippine sovereignty, while pro-US Filipinos hope to join the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the next round of expansion.
The new alliance with Washington was designed by President Aquino and his foreign minister Albert del Rosario. In Washington’s view, it complemented America’s pivot to Asia, including the plan to move the majority of US warships to Asia Pacific by 2020. However, as Rosario resigned for health reasons in the spring and Aquino is no longer in office, Chinese-Philippines rapprochement has begun which has not escaped unnoticed in Washington.
In the past few months, there have been several diplomatic rows between Duterte and US ambassador Philip Goldberg. A recent one followed a meeting between State Secretary John Kerry and Duterte who said that “I’m fighting with [Kerry’s] ambassador. His gay ambassador, the S.O.B. He pissed me off.” In the US media, the debate focused on the homophobic slur; it should also have been focused on efforts to influence the election. Before the vote, the US Navy sent its third warship in less than seven months into the waters of the disputed South China Sea. Meanwhile, ambassador Goldberg made it clear that Duterte was not Washington’s choice and supported Aquino’s favorites. “[Goldberg] meddled during the elections,” says Duterte. “He was not supposed to do that.”
Historically, the distrust between Duterte and Washington goes back to the Meiring case, which US mainstream media has portrayed as a psychological melodrama that “fuels Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘hatred’ of the US”, as the New York Times put it amid the Philippine elections. However, the case may have more to do with US covert operations in Southeast Asia. The story goes back to Davao in May 2002 when a metal box exploded in the hotel room of Michael Terrence Meiring and mangled his legs. The police found in the room powerful high-tech explosives and “highly-confidential” documents. Meiring had spent millions of dollars and had close ties with well-placed government authorities in Southern Mindanao, as well as Muslim separatists, Communist insurgents and Jihadists, such as Abu Sayyaf; the feared terrorist organization, which Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. once described as a “CIA monster” because the agency helped to train the group.
After Meiring was taken to the hospital, he vanished as men representing the FBI took him in the dark of night and flew him out of the country, with facilitation by the US Embassy. Subsequently, Duterte blocked US requests to base drones or spy planes at Davao’s old airport.
In Washington, the Meiring case is discounted as conspiracy speculation. Yet, since the Bush era, Washington’s neo-conservatives have promoted the use of “regional states in developing a hedge against the possible emergence of an overly aggressive China”. To Duterte, the Meiring debacle was an infuriating violation of Philippine sovereignty.
By Dan Steinbock @ The World Financial Review