I just finished watching President Duterte’s Youtube recording from Russia, and as a Filipino I felt so relieved that President Vladimir Putin showed no displeasure or discomfort in honoring his Filipino guest. At the Valdai forum in Sochi, where DU30 spoke, he was asked “how” he had moved from the American foreign policy orbit into that of China and Russia without any dire consequences.

To this, he gave a totally unresponsive and disjointed answer that just went on and on until he was mercifully cut by the program host. He sounded like he had come to Russia to ask Putin to save him from the troublesome Americans, totally oblivious of the fact that Putin himself has been accused of having interfered in the last US elections to make Donald Trump president.

DU30 could not have done a more vexing job were we still in the middle of the Cold War, which ended in 1991. For a while, he looked like the obverse of the Filipino senator Lorenzo Sumulong who attacked the Soviet Union without any provocation at the 902nd UN General Assembly in 1960, causing Premier Nikita Khrushchev to bang his shoe on his desk.

Whatever else we may say of Russia, it has a highly intellectual leadership. All you need to do is listen to Putin and his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in various interviews and international debates. The least DU30 could have done was to try and approximate half of the level of their intellectual prowess. But DU30 took the path of least resistance. His basic grasp of history was skewed and he made no attempt to hide it. This was how he began his written speech:

“For over two decades after the end of the Cold War, Philippine foreign policy hardly evolved. Russia, for instance, remained in the margins of our diplomacy. I viewed this as an oversight of strategic proportion. A result of bureaucratic inertia. A symptom of blind attachment to bygone views and assumptions. And a massive failure to grasp change and seize new opportunities.”

In 2016, he decided to change this, he said, and so in 2017, he visited Russia for the first time. Previous to that, he went to China to announce his decision to “separate militarily and economically from the US” and “join China and Russia against the world.”

This reading of Philippine foreign policy is monumentally flawed. At the height of the Cold War, the Philippines, as a staunch US ally, took the first step to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, a year after establishing similar ties with the People’s Republic of China. I was part of the Cabinet entourage that accompanied President Marcos on both occasions: In 1975, we went to China; in 1976, we went to the Soviet Union. The Philippines sprinted ahead of many other countries in establishing relations with the socialist bloc.

Founded by Lenin in 1922 after the 1917 Russian revolution, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, after Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika initiatives opened up Soviet society and gave more personal freedoms to Soviet citizens. The Soviet Union morphed into 15 independent republics——Russia, Armenia, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Although Russia remained the biggest country in the world, with a military power possibly next only to that of the US, it had to deal with a severe economic crisis, characterized by high death rates, low birth rates, the collapse of social services, and deepening mass poverty from 1.5 percent to as high as 49 percent. There was hardly anything there to encourage a longtime American Pacific ally to make Russia the object of its diplomatic initiatives.

In 1991, the 1947 Philippine-US military bases agreement came to an end. The dismantling of military structures was hastened by the massive Mount Pinatubo eruption, the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, which covered most of Central Luzon and large areas around the world with volcanic ash.

The US military pullout was the most dramatic change in Philippine foreign policy in a hundred years. It is absurd to suggest that until DU30 emerged from Davao, Philippine foreign policy had not evolved. Indeed, DU30 has introduced dramatic foreign policy changes since 2016, but these changes arose more from his sheer exercise of imperial power and did not always result in protecting the national interest. One of DU30’s weakest spots is foreign affairs.

Foreign policy remains foreign to his government. Apart from DU30’s poor performance at the forum, the clearest proof is the unexplained absence of his foreign secretary at his side despite the presence of so many supernumeraries. Some have suggested that Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. was being punished for offending DU30’s first great ally, Chinese President Xi Jinping, by insensitively calling Mao Zedong in a tweet, “Mao Che Tutung”( Filipino for “burnt rice”)

Whether this is true or not has to be asked, (even in parenthesis), because in DU30’s meeting with expatriate Filipinos, there was no mention of Locsin when he introduced the Cabinet members traveling with him. And he introduced Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who sat next to his left, as “the boss of all the other Cabinet members.” This was a completely unnecessary mistake. DU30 deserves to have a basic accurate knowledge of his own government.

The Executive Secretary is a staff officer in the Office of the President; he does not have a line function, a Cabinet “portfolio,” or a department under him. In the order of precedence, the Cabinet member in charge of foreign affairs occupies the highest precedence. This is because of the primacy of foreign relations—-without the diplomatic recognition accorded by other states, no state can stand as a sovereign and independent state.

Within the Cabinet, therefore, the Foreign Secretary is the first among equals—-“primus inter pares.” The Executive Secretary, call him “Little President” if you like, is just the President’s chief clerk.

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