Manila– Brash, offensive, unbecoming. Filipinos opposed to the demeanor of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte use these words to also describe U.S .President Donald Trump. Incidentally, the two heads of state hit it off in 2016 at the start of their presidencies, and continued their warm friendship in the succeeding years.
While Filipinos watched with the rest of the world how Trump slugged the U.S. presidential elections to beat Joe Biden and to stay in power, they have in mind a slight preview of what is to come in 2022 when the Philippines will choose Duterte’s successor.
The scene is similar in the divisiveness in their societies and the fanatic adoration for odd politicians like Duterte and Trump, but widely different in that the Southeast Asian country has an unstructured, multi-party, free-for-all political system.
A U.S. ally since the mid-1940s after World War II, the Philippines’ strategic location and the ease by which Filipinos speak English has earned itself favors from the U.S., which is why every U.S. presidential election is always a matter of concern for Filipinos, and never more so than in 2020. Attaining “state-side” stuff and status and the fondness for anything Hollywood cemented this connection.
As the elections unraveled, Philippine media pulsated with American counterparts, discussing likelihoods and scenarios.
In one TV interview, Renato de Castro, an international studies professor of De La Salle University in Manila, said a Biden and Trump presidency will all “boil down to how our leaders would take advantage of the U.S. foreign policy,” mentioning the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea. “We could only take advantage of opportunities, but we cannot create those opportunities ourselves," he said.
The imposition of China not just on Philippine waters but also in the unrestricted influx of millions of Chinese into the country is a concern, as Duterte continues to turn to China (and Russia). But a weak stance of the U.S. president on China, according to Filipino political analyst Dindo Manhit, will also “further weaken the standing of the US in the international arena, and China might take the opportunity to assert further control.”
Manhit said a Biden presidency “might be challenging for Duterte,” who has clashed with former President Barack Obama, in that Biden will “push for and reinvigorate democracies around the world” and will be “more aggressive” in addressing human rights in the Philippines -- something that populist, authoritarian leader Duterte will likely resist.
New York-based Filipino journalist Ricky Rillera and researcher Noelle Malvar-Morcos, in TV interviews, expressed how the U.S. presidential elections reflected the Filipino-Americans’ votes. “Conservative Fil-Am parents likely voted for Trump while their younger, Gen-Z children who have liberal values opted for Biden,” said Morcos. Rillera said Fil-Ams relate to the “hot-button issues of immigration, abortion, and Black Lives Matter” and they carried these ideas when they cast their votes.
Apparently, these issues, like Hollywood, have remained close to the hearts of Fil-Ams and Filipinos in the Philippines alike. Steph Guido, a student, took to social media to reinforce this Filipino mindset: “We’ve had too many difficulties already. I have been praying for a better U.S. president. I hope God listens.”