The Manchurian Candidate

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

The Manchurian Candidate is a best-selling book by Richard Condon published in 1959. It is a political thriller that was made into a hit movie in 1962 that established director John Frankenheimer as a Hollywood heavyweight. It starred Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, and Janet Leigh and won some Golden Globe awards in that year. In 2013 a remake of the movie, starring Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, and Meryl Streep was released and was also a box office success. I remember watching both movies in those years and it was surely worth the price of the movie tickets.

1959 to 1962 were years of the Cold War between the US and the European allies against Russia and China. It was a time when western-style democracy was pitted against communism in ideology and economic systems. This was the global socio-political backdrop of both the book and the movie, which made it very relevant, with the readers and moviegoers easily identifying with or for the characters. It is about a son of a prominent American political family who was brainwashed together with his platoon while being held captive in the Korean War, and recruited as agents for the communists. Some years after they were released and repatriated back to the US, the main character was groomed to run for president. The story makes it very relevant for the heightened Cold War at that time, and for the current growing stand-off between the US and its allies against Russia and China, in many geographic and economic areas. We are headed towards another Cold War, 2020 to 2030 version.

For the Philippines, the book and movies becomes even more relevant because of the escalating conflict in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea, which pits the US and its allies against China, and the ambivalent/confusing position of President Duterte with China, and their encroachment in our territorial waters. A prominent lawyer Calleja in his social media post, convincingly refuted Duterte’s statement that the UN arbitral ruling is a useless piece of paper, and accused him of being a “Manchurian Candidate”, who is taking the side of the enemy instead of upholding the sovereignty of his country. These China incursions in the Philippine waters are feeding an already-growing anti-China sentiment of Filipinos which is anchored on moral and nationalistic reasons. This perception cuts across all sectors and economic classes, that some government officials are contradicting each other in their public pronouncements, and most are pregnantly silent.

China is and will be facing stronger headwinds in the coming years from many corners due to their territorial ambitions in Asia which is contested not just by the Philippines, but also Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Their conflict with India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. will not be easing anytime soon. The displeasures of developing countries overloaded with Chinese loans are added opposition together with human rights violations against the Uighurs and Tibetans. All these will have implications in the domestic politics in many countries, which is negative for those identified with China or to be a “Manchurian Candidate”.

Calleja is late in naming Duterte as a “Manchurian Candidate” as he is already president with one year remaining in his term. This China tagging will be more important in the coming 2022 election especially with the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea smoldering and unresolved by election time. Pacquiao, a declared presidential candidate, together with some senators and congressmen, already publicly declared an anti-China encroachment position, sensing strong public opinion. Other candidates are biding their time and just waiting for the right moment to make a stand, as this will be a major factor in the election.

As a movie buff, I remember clearly the good movies I’ve seen, but in the first Manchurian Candidate movie, I cannot recall if Frank Sinatra sang.

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