Preparing the red carpet for Trump Featured

Preparing the red carpet for Trump Image: The Boston Globe

Residents of Metro Manila have been feeling it since last week. By it I mean the extreme preparations for the Asean Summit to be held in Manila as well as Bulacan and Pampanga in the middle of this month.
Every time the Philippines takes its turn to host the annual summit, Metro Manila is placed on lockdown. Most economic activities in the metropolis grind to a halt because the main arteries are closed to vehicular traffic. Schools are suspended, as are government offices. Private companies may stay open, but allowances are made for employees who may not be able to make it to work due to the impossible traffic situation.
This year, preparations are even more intense, probably because one Donald Trump is attending the meeting of Southeast Asian leaders.
That’s right. The president of the good old USA will be setting foot on Philippine soil for the first time ever, although his two sons did come to Manila some years back when a real estate project of Century Properties partnered with Mr. Trump’s empire.
Although they have spoken over the phone on one or two occasions, the US and Philippine presidents will be meeting face-to-face for the first time. Their past talks seemed pleasant enough with Mr. Trump praising Mr. Duterte’s tough stance on illegal drugs.
The two leaders actually have a lot in common. Both are in their 70s and do not follow the usual model of national leaders. They like to speak their minds even if what they say is politically incorrect, to put it mildly. Oh, and they also have a huge dislike for media, at least media that does not kowtow to their wishes.
One difference though. Mr. Trump is a dedicated tweeter while Mr. Duterte probably has no clue as to what Twitter is.
At this stage in their presidencies, it would seem that the American leader is in greater danger of being impeached or forced to resign because of the ongoing investigation on the Russia dealings of people very close to him. His popularity has also sunk to an all-time low and could drop even further, to the point that his own Republican Party may eventually have little choice but to disown him.
This is where the contrast is strongest. Despite his tacit approval of the extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the Philippine National Police against suspected drug pushers and users, Mr. Duterte remains not only popular with the Filipino people, his political stranglehold on Congress is practically airtight. At this stage, impeaching Mr. Duterte is impossible for all intents and purposes.
Yet between the two, it is the Philippine president who may not complete his term.
Mr. Duterte himself has stated on several occasions that he does not see himself serving his full 6-year term. He says he is old and tired and was actually forced to run for president by numerous parties, unlike Mr. Trump who has always had his eye on the US presidency since becoming one of the biggest property developers not only in the US but in other countries as well.
The tight Asean summit schedule means that there will be little time for Messrs. Duterte and Trump to have a lengthy and meaning conversation on topics of mutual interest, but they should have a pleasant enough tete-a-tete.
They are almost certain to talk about North Korea and ISIS. Mr. Duterte will again agree with Mr. Trump that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is a madman. The US prez will congratulate his Pinoy counterpart for the total victory of the Armed Forces of the Philippines over the ISIS-allied Maute Group in Marawi.
With Mr. Trump as US president, bilateral relations with the Philippines should go back to normal. It is no secret that Mr. Duterte was not too fond of previous US president Barack Obama, who had expressed displeasure at the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines, what with the EJKs occurring with deadly regularity.
A few months ago, there was an invitation extended to the Filipino leader to visit the White House. That visit was originally scheduled for November, this year. With President Trump visiting the Philippines – albeit for an Asean function -- and meeting host President Duterte, that invite may be extended again, and this time accepted and finalized. Very likely, the Philippine president will head for the US sometime next year for a state visit.
But this will be entirely dependent on both gents remaining presidents of their respective countries.

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