Trump and Duterte: Is a bromance possible?

Rene Pastor
Trump and Duterte: Is a bromance possible?
'Given the extreme nationalist strategy of Trump and Duterte, it’s unclear to me right now how they will regard and recognize the historical alliances of both countries'

Two ruthless personalities in Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump: what could possibly go wrong when the two meet sometime next year?

Is a bromance possible?

Duterte has often voiced his admiration for people he considers strong leaders – a list that includes Russian strongman Vladimir Putin or China without mentioning the name of President Xi Jinping.

He has told United States leader Barack Obama, a dignified and cerebral president, to “go to hell,” among other things.

“Ayaw ko nga, sabi ko, makipag-away kasi na’ndiyan na si Trump,” said Duterte on Wednesday night, November 9, at a gathering of Filipinos in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (I said I don’t want to pick a fight because Trump is there now.)

“I would like to congratulate President Trump. Mabuhay ka (May you live)!” he added, to cheers from his audience.

Philippine relations with Washington have gone into the dumps as Duterte would often cuss out Obama for criticizing his beloved drug war that has claimed thousands of lives.

In several fits of pique, Duterte has turned to Beijing. He praised the Chinese for helping construction of a drug rehabilitation center while blasting Washington for calling off a gun sale to Manila due to concern over extrajudicial killings.

True to his erratic nature, Duterte has said that the country will keep its only military alliance with the US while expanding a commercial and economic alliance with the Chinese. 

For some Fil-Ams, it doesn’t seem likely the pair will find themselves embracing each other.

“Given the extreme nationalist strategy of Trump and Duterte, it’s unclear to me right now how they will regard and recognize the historical alliances – colonial and post-colonial – of both  countries,” said Aries dela Cruz, a graduate teaching fellow at Rutgers University in New Jersey and president of the Filipino American Democratic Club of New York.

Trump at one point in his campaign had lumped the Philippines with a list of countries where immigration should be sharply reduced given the presence of Islamist extremists such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has ties with the Islamic State in Iraq.

Ledy Almadin, a private services manager for an accounting firm, discounts the idea of Duterte falling into bed with Trump.

“During his campaign, Trump was more on bringing back jobs here and coming down hard on China, including taking charge in the South China Sea [by] sending troops and all,” she said.

If Trump follows through on that, it could run up against Dutere’s agenda of cozying up to the Chinese.

“Bromance…. I don’t think so,” Almaddin said of a Duterte-Trump combo.

“Trump is about taking America back and you have President Duterte’s independent foreign policy. It sounds like chaos work for the diplomats,” she explained.

 For David Banghart, an American IT manager in Florida who went to college and graduated from Ateneo de Manila University in 1982, it is hard to predict how Duterte and Trump will get along or hit it off.

“It’s hard to say, given the unpredictability of both Presidents and the lack of details of Trump’s foreign policy,” he said. 

“Trump could easily walk hand-in-hand on the beach with Dutere or could end up insulting him over some slight, whether imagined or real.” 

There is also the menage a trois between Washington, Manila, and Beijing to consider.

Banghart said there are issues where Trump and Duterte “could be in tune and others where they might be at cross-purposes.” 

In the delicate diplomatic dance that is sure to follow, the US under Trump “wants to challenge China’s economic power. Duterte seems to be acceding to China,” he said.

Trump has also demanded that countries such as Japan, South Korea, and others pay for the American security umbrella.

“Trump wants other nations to pay a greater share of defense. Duterte is offended we (the United States) are not doing more for the Philippines,” said Banghart. 

Dela Cruz believes that Trump has proven the adage that “populism and demagogues are a winning strategy for national elections.”

With that in mind, he said the interaction of both personalities “will reset US-Philippine relations.”

“We can be sure that the first interactions of both presidents will open up a new chapter for Asia and the US,” he added. – 

Rene Pastor is a journalist in the New York metropolitan area who writes about agriculture, politics, and regional security. He was, for many years, a senior commodities journalist for Reuters. He is known for his extensive knowledge of international affairs, agriculture, and the El Niño phenomenon, where his views have been quoted in news reports.


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