Isn’t it ironic? Trump saving PH-US ties, Duterte’s battle against oligarchs, guilt by groufie (Part 1 of 2)

Trump’s win appears to have softened Duterte’s stance towards the US.

There’s no running out of ironies in the Philippines, especially when it comes to the political scene. Every week, there’s some new form of incongruity in statements and events that some may find amusing but most of the time, these ironies tend to disappoint or should bother discerning Filipinos. When viewed with greater discernment, these ironies can reflect hypocrisy, prevarication, double standards, inconsistencies, and rampant flip-flopping in Philippine politics.

Trump restoring PH-US ties?

Ironically, Donald Trump, the then presidential candidate who was feared to negatively impact the Philippines with his pronouncements regarding immigration and job outsourcing, appears to be the US leader who is set to restore US-PH ties. If everything Duterte reported about his more than 7-minute phone conversation with Donald Trump were true, the Philippines can breathe in relief.

Trump’s win appears to have softened Duterte’s stance towards the US. He probably expected Clinton to win as he once referred to her as a good president, and Trump a good candidate. But the unexpected happened and the inexperienced and abrasive Donald Trump is now set to become the 45th president of the most powerful nation in the world. It’s implausible that Duterte is being friendly with Trump because he’s afraid of what an equally careless and impulsive Trump would do in response to his insults. However, this seems to be a common taunt from critics. Duterte is accused of cowering to Trump although the more probable scenario is that Duterte is being nice to Trump because Trump has not criticized him…yet. It’s highly likely that the Filipino president will be more vicious in his attacks against Trump (compared to his treatment of Obama) the moment the new US leader starts criticizing him over issues like extrajudicial killings.

Duterte claims that Trump is supporting his bloody drug war but it’s difficult to ascertain if this is true. Similarly, it’s uncertain if Trump really invited Duterte to visit the US. Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella, after all, said that the US president-elect did not specifically invite Duterte. Trump’s team, in its press release on the Trump-Duterte phone call, also does not mention anything about Duterte’s claims. Regardless, what’s important for now is that the presidents of the US and the Philippines are in good terms. The two leaders known for their overbearing personalities have not become abrasive to each other, at least for now.

Duterte’s battle against oligarchs

Philippines Duterte
Philippines Duterte

Duterte’s election campaign back then was deemed promising as the “hesitant” presidential candidate declared that he was not going to rely on big businesses for his campaign funds. He even made Emilio Aguinaldo a buzzword when he said his funds were donated by “Emilio Aguinaldo,” and his supporters interpreted it as “the smallest people who can only afford an Emilio Aguinaldo para sa kampanya ng TunayNaPagbabago.

His supposedly cash-strapped campaign could not compare to those of his opponents. However, it was later revealed, as reported by PCIJ, that the Duterte-Cayetano tandem already spent PhP715,943,742 on ads before the official start of the campaign period. For the official campaign period, Duterte reported more than PhP371 million in expenses based on the State of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) he submitted. These numbers are not as high as those of other candidates but they certainly belie the idea that his campaign lacked funding.

Just recently, it was revealed that almost all of the millions spent by Duterte for his campaign came from only 13 extremely rich individual donors (who contributed amounts ranging from PhP5 million to PhP75 million) and 18 other well-off individuals who also gave big enough contributions, from PhP1 million to over PhP3 million. The so-called small contributions from his diehard supporters don’t even make up 0.5% of the total amount he spent for his presidential campaign. The biggest campaign contributors are Antonio Floirendo Jr. and Alan Peter Cayetano who gave PhP75 million and PhP71 million ,respectively.

So these businessmen don’t really expect anything in return? Duterte would have stayed true to his assertion that he does not owe local tycoons anything and that he will be truly independent if not for the fact that at least 6 of these donors (or their relatives) were already appointed to government posts. Additionally, one donor, a Chinese-Filipino businessman who operates a cockpit in Davao City, flaunts his being close to the President and has already obtained government contracts under the Duterte presidency. Senator Cayetano, the VP candidate who was uncharacteristically silent on the Marcos burial issue and whose PhP71 million contribution is being assailed on social media for being incongruent to the net worth he declared in his SALN, is expected to be appointed to the Cabinet after the 1-year ban expires. On the other hand, the son of billionaire Senator Manny Villar has already snatched the DPWH post after the Nacionalista Party coalesced with Duterte’s PDP-LABAN.

So what can be expected from Duterte’s battle against oligarchs now? The points mentioned above certainly don’t bode well with the supposed struggle to keep businessmen from influencing the government. There are even accusations, mostly based on what happened to Bobby Ongpin, that he has been attacking the so-called oligarchs only to have them replaced with his own set of “oligarchs.” Duterte’s “oligarchy battle” and pronouncements about putting a stop to online gambling in the country have led to the plunge of Philweb’s share prices, which allowed Gregorio Araneta, the husband of Irene Marcos, to buy Philweb’s majority stake at a tremendously low price (PhP2.60 per share, from more than PhP20). Philweb’s value is expected to recover now that Duterte has expressed openness to compromises regarding his previous stand of ending online gambling in the country.

Continued in Part 2


This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) .