Anti-US insults and revisionism, Duterte’s recipe to win over Beijing

The Filipino president makes vulgar and derogatory remarks to describe the US ambassador in Manila, sparking a diplomatic row with Washington. He also calls Marcos "a war hero” for his role in World War Two rather than the latter’s fight against Communists, a sign of a possible tilt towards China.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Using insults, vulgarity and historical revisionism, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte seems intent on reshaping his country’s alliances, away from Washington towards Beijing.

The Philippines’s new leader had already decided to “tone down" the rhetoric on the South China Sea issue. In recent years, a dispute over sovereignty had brought China and the Philippines at loggerheads despite the intervention of the international community.

The desire to annoy the United States was evident last Friday when Duterte met soldiers at Camp Lapu-Lapu in Cebu. In his address, the president described the US ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg as “gay” and “a son of a bitch". In addition, he said he hoped he would never meet him again, that the ambassador “annoyed” him.

The clash with the US diplomat stems from another embarrassing outburst of the Filipino leader, who last April spoke favourably about rape, which led the US ambassador to respond.

Instead of downplaying the incident, the former mayor of Davao accused the ambassador of trying to use the issue to make him lose votes in the Philippines’ upcoming presidential election.

In the meeting at the military camp, he repeated the accusation, warning "the whole world" that he would not be quiet.

Duterte’s strategy seems to suggest a move towards Beijing. In addition to territorial issues, and distancing himself from the United States, the president has also used the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to please China.

When he announced that he would bury the late president in Manila’s Heroes’ Cemetery, a step that sparked a lot of controversy in the country, Duterte stressed Marcos’ fight against the Japanese during World War Two rather than his crackdown against Chinese-backed Communists in the 1970s.