The Manchurian candidate/president

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

There are actually two “Manchurian Candidate” movies. The first one was in 1962, starring Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh, and Lawrence Harvey. The second one was in 2004, starring Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, and Liev Schreiber. They were both based on the novel of Richard Condon of 1959, but the preceding hot/cold wars in the 2004 movie was updated and revised to reflect modern circumstances. The world is now in the midst of both a hot and cold war and the events happening today and in the past years, the maneuvering, propaganda wars, spying, influencing, and killing between the political powers makes the movie very relevant, which is how a politician or a president can be installed by an enemy power.

These past 20 years, China or the Chinese Communist Party has been flexing its economic, political and military power globally to influence many countries for raw materials, for its economy, and to its ideology. Along with these, the catering and friendly gestures to populist and autocratic politicians and national leaders. With the substantial financial support offered to some countries politicians and leaders, China mounted an offensive against western-dominated democratic governments. So we can see China siding with Kim of North Korea, the generals in Myanmar, Orban of Hungary, and staying inclined or neutral with Russia and Cambodia. Then with Duterte in the Philippines.

With the United Nations UNCLOS decision junking the Chinese nine-dash line, it was important for them to develop allies in Philippine politics as they were already encroaching in Philippine territory. The 2016 Philippine elections was the best entry point and Duterte was the ideal candidate to influence as he was distancing from the US and EU and was a populist politician with autocratic tendencies. So, financial, propaganda and other logistical support were provided and Duterte won. However, Duterte was/is aware of the pro-American and pro-democracy leanings of majority of Filipinos and he had to temper his support of China with jokes of jet skiing to the Spratlys and never giving up an inch of territory, along with other jokes of the Philippines being a province of China. Fast forward to 2023 with Duterte out and BBM as president.

The Philippine government has signed agreements with the US on enhanced military cooperation agreement which added seven other sites as staging areas for Philippine-US military exercises. While not exactly military bases with permanent structures, these are capable of storing military hardware and are land-based positions facing the South China Sea. The BBM government is getting more allied with the US, Europe, Australia, Japan, and other western democracies and the six years of Duterte’s leanings towards China had little effect. Eighty percent of the Filipinos are against China’s incursion in the West Philippine Sea, 75% of them are pro-American, and 65% of OFW remittances come from the US, Europe, and other democratic countries.

Duterte’s visit to China last week served China’s purpose of showing it still has political influence in the Philippines as a warning to BBM, and Duterte’s purpose of showing he has allies against the moves of the International Criminal Court regarding the charges of human rights/extra-judicial killings under his term. While publicly declaring it was a private visit with BBM and Defense Secretary Teodoro giving him the benefit of the doubt, they were aware of the intentions, as Duterte had earlier criticized BBM’s agreement on the additional US bases.

“Manchurian candidate” has grammatically become a noun and is defined as a person, especially a politician, being used as a puppet by an enemy power. Its effectiveness has been blunted by the political awareness of most people, especially with the advances in information and communication technologies, and the counteractions of affected parties. The moral and ethical dimensions and implications of Manchurian candidates, which are corruption and disloyalty to the country, are also unsustainable and unacceptable to the people.

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