benefitofthedoubt
Cartoon by Roni Santiago

Several quarters in the United States and the Philippines have expressed apprehension over the wisdom of President Duterte’s visit to China, saying that seemingly the purposes of the trip were not thoroughly studied.

There were even claims that the Cabinet was not consulted, and that only the President and a few close aides drew the plan for the visit.

It is apparent, though, that Duterte wanted to please Chinese officials even before he embarked on the visit. At a recent speech, he said he is cancelling the scheduled joint military exercises by the Philippines and the United States because “China does not want this.” He also thanked China for not criticizing his war on illegal drugs.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, who was in the President’s party, minimized the importance of the explosive South China Sea issue when he said the scope of the ties between China and the Philippines is not limited to the South China Sea because there are other bigger aspects of the relationship between the two countries.

China’s Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, at a recent press conference, said the benefits to be felt by both China and the Philippines will be incalculable in monetary terms, but he stressed that the visit marks the beginning of “a new chapter, new progress” between the two countries. The envoy said that as “friends, neighbors and relatives,” both sides may expect the President’s trip to bear fruit in many areas.

Zhao said the travel ban imposed on the Philippines by China in the aftermath of the Luneta hostage-taking “will be lifted” to signal the goodwill between President Xi Jinping and his guest.

He promised one million tourists from China by yearend, with each tourist spending an average of $1,000 during their stay.

Asked for his comment on “what’s happened since the UN arbitral ruling on the South China Sea,” he replied: “The ruling has happened. The visit is not about the sea but about friendship and cooperation. We cannot do anything if we keep quarreling about it the whole day.”

Zhao has met “eight times” with Duterte. After the first meeting, Chinese naval vessels stopped chasing Filipino fishermen in their boats. Asked what caused the harassment to end, Zhao replied, “Your President.”

From our standpoint, we see that the visit will result in many benefits to both countries. One immediate benefit is that it will ease the tension sparked by the South China Sea dispute.

But despite the benefits, doubts over the wisdom of the trip remain. This is so because we don’t know if the Chinese will keep their words. We hope that the deals are not “lutong macao” with the Philippines getting the shorter end of the bargain.

In the meantime, we’re inclined to give Duterte the benefit of the doubt.    

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