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Commentary: Duterte's style reminiscent of Lee Kuan Yew's

Emmanuel J. Lopez - Philstar.com

Tough-talking leader Rodrigo Duterte became the toast of foreign leaders at the ASEAN meetings, even dubbed by his own team at Malacañang as a “rock star” who has adopted a different approach in addressing crime. 

The administrative move to pave the way for a smooth economy should be likened to the strategy of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore when he initially rid the country of graft and corruption and installed public services. He also led by example and cleared society of criminal and illegal activities. This spurred growth in investments and social development.

Lee’s clearing up of the pathways toward growth and initiating bureaucratic order seem to be the thrust of the Duterte administration. The current government may initially encounter rough sailing due to criticisms, but as long as programs and campaigns are carried out in the most transparent and moral way, the president can be assured of the support of the 16 million people who installed him to power, as well as those who see the positive achievements of his government.

Shift in diplomacy

The recent diplomatic blunder between Manila and Washington caused a cancelation of the meeting between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and US President Barack Obama. Besides having gained international attention, it has generated doubts on the ability of the president to promote and maintain diplomatic relationships with other countries. This may produce a yet negative impression on the Philippines’ ability to carry out its foreign policy.

Some local reactions also doused cold water on a customary attitude of the US toward a less powerful country when it criticizes some its decisions for being contrary to US sensibilities.

The incident also serves as a reminder that not all Philippine presidents will be pleasing the interests of Uncle Sam. If the Duterte’s statement is misconstrued as a show of disrespect to the leader of the most powerful country is another issue, and should not be interpreted as a diplomatic transgression. It should instead be regarded as an affirmation of Philippine sovereignty over other countries’ dictates—something that previous presidents did not assert as much. 

It is safe to assume that Obama, who has less than three months in office, won’t take it against the two countries’ longstanding relationship. Duterte’s tirade was personal after all, and not particularly against the US. The Philippine leader’s statement was also immediately apologized for after the bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit was called off.

The ties binding the Philippines and the US are one of the oldest and strongest diplomatic accords among the community of nations. The 70 years of bilateral relationship cannot just be discarded or because of faux pas by a newly seated president.


Emmanuel J. Lopez, Ph.D. is an associate professor at the University of Santo Tomas and the chair of its Department of Economics. Views reflected in this article are his own. For comments email: [email protected]

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