Crisis in America
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - June 7, 2020 - 12:00am

While visiting the United States in 1992, violent protests broke out in Los Angeles. Buildings were burned, grocery stores and liquor shops were looted, and motorists were pulled out of their vehicles and beaten by angry mobs. The riots were precipitated by the acquittal of four white policemen who were shown on video savagely beating African-American Rodney King. 

But in all of the years that I have been visiting the US, I have never seen anything like the turmoil that has beset America with the chaos, destruction, and violence that erupted following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was choked to death when a white police officer pinned him to the ground and kneeled on his back and neck.

Footages from security cameras and videos from bystanders showing the arrest and eventual death of George Floyd were uploaded on social media, clearly showing that the man did not resist arrest and was pleading and saying he couldn’t breathe – contrary to an official statement claiming that Floyd physically resisted the policemen.  

The protests that started in Minneapolis, Minnesota spread like a conflagration all across the United States with wave after wave of demonstrations happening, reminiscent of the civil unrest that broke out when black civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. 

President Trump, who is a believer in strong leadership and admires strong leaders across the globe, called in the National Guard to be deployed across several states and in Washington, D.C. where the protests escalated into looting, vandalism and anarchy. Businesses were destroyed, windows were broken with buildings damaged, and famous landmarks such as the Lincoln Memorial were defaced and vandalized. 

Some rioters even wanted to invade the White House, and set fire on the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church – also called the Church of the Presidents – with the church nursery bearing the brunt of the damage, while the walls were also spray painted with graffiti.   

While President Trump said he was sympathetic with the protesters, he also firmly said that he will not allow violence and anarchy to dominate the otherwise peaceful protests. Innocent civilians have been hurt and worse, killed – like retired St. Louis police captain David Dorn who was only trying to protect a friend’s pawnshop from getting looted. 

In a tweet, Missouri governor Mike Parson expressed his condemnation of Dorn’s killing and the violence and looting in the course of the protests. “What Minneapolis police officers did to George Floyd is not acceptable and they MUST be held accountable. What criminals have done in St. Louis and across Missouri the past few nights isn’t acceptable. They MUST be held accountable,” the governor tweeted.   

While many Americans sympathize with those whose anger has been simmering over the issue of police brutality especially against people of color, they also do not condone the chaos, the violence and the lawlessness displayed by some of the protesters. 

In a recent conversation I had with a US Congressman from Washington state, we discussed the issue of human rights and pointed to him that all countries have similar problems in one way or another. The US has been facing the issue of racial discrimination for decades with numerous complaints over police officers using excessive force in dealing with people of color. 

More often than not, these human rights violations are perpetrated by overzealous cops. Like in the case of George Floyd, the cop who kneed him has a track record of conduct complaints.  

This is what President Duterte has been saying all along that each country has its own problems regarding human rights, and each country must be allowed to resolve internal issues on its own without other governments trying to intrude or intervene because doing so would be an infringement on a nation’s sovereignty.  

The question of sovereignty was actually the issue that precipitated the decision of President Duterte to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement – sending a very strong message especially to the US Congress that while the VFA would benefit both the United States and the Philippines, he will not allow any infringement on the sovereignty of our nation.

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Duterte has decided to suspend the termination of the VFA. President Trump admires President Duterte’s strong leadership. In fact, they had a phone conversation recently wherein President Trump assured the president of US support especially at this time. 

As Foreign Secretary Teddyboy Locsin said, we are facing vast and swiftly changing circumstances in relation to the pandemic as well as the heightened tensions in the region, which is why now more than ever, we must focus on working together with allies to fight the pandemic and ensure the safety of our nation.  

I recently had a meeting with the White House Assistant National Security Adviser to discuss cooperation, among other matters, but most importantly, I requested that we be on the list once the coronavirus vaccine is available.  

President Duterte’s decision has put the Philippines back on the radar, with renewed interest coming from many US businesses leaving China. Some of them have started calling us about the latest developments on our alliance – an issue that most US businesses consider as part of their decision on setting up in the Philippines. We are also confident businessmen from Japan will now look at us favorably with the suspension of the VFA termination.

An informal survey showed that a clear majority of Filipino-Americans are pleased with the President’s decision. In fact, 92 percent of Filipinos see the President’s latest move as good for the country especially at this time.

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