U.S. allies wary of Duterte envoy with Trump links

Paterno Esmaquel II
U.S. allies wary of Duterte envoy with Trump links
'Of equal concern to our allies' is President Rodrigo Duterte's special envoy to Washington, Jose E.B. Antonio, Newsweek reports, citing 'intercepted' communications

MANILA, Philippines – US allies have aired their concern about Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s special envoy to Washington, businessman Jose E.B. Antonio, also known as US President Donald Trump’s business partner in the Philippines.

Newsweek reported this on Wednesday, February 15, citing an intercepted “series of communications…between advisers associated with President Donald Trump and Russian government officials.”

In an exclusive report, Newsweek said these communications took place before Trump’s inauguration on January 20. 

The American news outlet said the interception was “part of intelligence operations being conducted against the United States for the last 7 months.”

“Of equal concern to our allies is Trump’s business partner in the Philippines, who is also the special representative to Washington of that country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte,” Newsweek reported.

$150-M deal

Antonio chairs Century Properties, the developer of the 50-story Trump Tower in Makati City, Philippines. (READ: Shares in Century Properties rally after Trump win)

Donald Trump Jr, the US president-elect’s son, visited the Philipines in 2014 to help Century Properties break ground on the $150-million property. 

Antonio was introduced to Ivanka Trump, who had him meet her father, who then agreed to license his trade and family name to Century.

Newsweek said: “According to people with direct knowledge of the situation, a European intelligence service has obtained the contracts and other legal documents in the deal between the Trump Organization and Antonio. That deal has already resulted in large payments to Trump’s business, with millions of dollars more on the way – all coming from an agent of the Philippine president.”

Conflict of interest

Newsweek pointed out that “the financial relationship” between Trump and the Philippine government comes as the Philippine-US alliance “is under great stress.”

Duterte, for one, vowed to move away from the US and closer to China.

Newsweek reported: “Such a move could be devastating, given that the American armed forces maintains large military bases there.  The situation with the Philippines ‘is already an enormous challenge,’ one official with direct knowledge of the European intelligence operations said. ‘President Trump’s business there is a complicating factor that we are trying to assess.'”

NPR reported in January that Trump’s business deals in Southeast Asia have fueled concerns of conflict of interest.

NPR cited the Trump Tower deal in Manila, where Trump “had received up to $5 million for the use of his name.”

Former National Intelligence Council official Robert Manning noted in an interview quoted by NPR that Trump “has been reluctant to criticize Duterte’s human rights policies.” 

“Whether his business interests are a factor in that, I don’t know how you ascertain that,” Manning said. He added, however, that “it would certainly give” Trump “a motivation.”

“It’s the sticky question of deciding where national interests stop and business begins, and vice versa,” Manning said. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.