Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte and his PR wreck crew, and some thoughts about global and regional power tilt

DO you remember the 1986 film “Power” by Sidney Lumet? Written by David Himmelstein, the movie focuses on political corruption and how power affects both those who wield it and the people they try to control. Denzel Washington is a public relations expert Arnold Billings; Richard Gere is Pete St. John, a ruthless and highly successful media consultant. While the plot's suggestion works better with current Washington politics, I'd like to accentuate the fact how significant and valuable PR work is to politicians.         
          I am not going to delve on whether I do dig (Philippine president) Rodrigo Duterte's current Drug War or anti-US stance via a dirty mouth girth or I don't. I simply want to say that the Philippines' head of state lacks public/press relations savvy. That goes as well with his people. His government should hire someone like Arnold Billings or Pete St. John. Or maybe spin doctors like Stanley Motss and Conrad Brean in "Wag The Dog" (1997). For sure, there are equally brilliant guys like them in Manila or Asia right now.
          Let me talk about Duterte's Drug War—by drawing some parallels with Colombia's battle with illegal drugs decades ago. Although a totally different timeframe and circumstantial terrain, it is still the closest comparison that I could present.

          The drug kingdom of Pablo Escobar and Jose Rodriguez Gacha of the Medellin Cartel were huge and powerful. Escobar was worth $30 billion by the early 1990s (equivalent to about $54 billion today), one of the richest men in the world at his prime. His hitmen and liquidation squads wasted five presidential candidates, 11 Supreme Court Justices, over 3,000 members of the Union Patriótica (a legal political party), and countless police officers, judges and witnesses. Escobar's reign of terror started in 1975 and supposedly ended in 1993, time of his death or assassination. Let's just take out four years out of that 18 years or those years that Escobar's nemesis Cesar Gaviria served as Colombia's president. While Esobar's goons and rival Cali cartel's army were mowing down public officials and small-fry street peddlers (who could be witnesses) during the country's Drug War/s, Gaviria's Bloque de Busqueda (Search Bloc) and the CIA-funded Communist-rival vigilante group Los Pepes were also involved in killings. Do the math.
          To blame or point all assassinations and extra-judicial killings to Gaviria's Bloque de Busqueda is as dumb as pointing all the carnage and mayhem to Duterte's men. Yet the Philippines isn't facing a Colombia/Cali Cartel that extends to Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Jamaica, El Salvador, Venezuela, Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago, and Florida (US mainland). Duterte could be up against the Golden Triangle, major opium-producing areas in Asia, overlapping the mountains of three countries of Southeast Asia--Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. If illegal drugs in the Philippines was that huge and widespread that it warrants an all-out drug war, I don't believe we are talking about small-time drug syndicates. We are talking about The Triangle.
          While cartels in South America control cocaine trade, they also control coca production. Coca is an important ingredient to many pharmaceutical products. Colombia is the world's #1 producer of this plant. Meantime, the Golden Triangle also enjoys a grip of poppy farming. It ranks second to Afghanistan in this area of cultivation/export. Poppies are a source of the crude drug opium which contains powerful medicinal alkaloids such as morphine etc. Hence, controlling illegal drug lords also means controlling their “other business.” So enter CIA. The rest is history.

          Duterte, like Cesar Gaviria, resists US meddling in internal affairs. Both presidents gain the okay of their regional neighbors in regards illegal drugs eradication. Duterte is the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); Gaviria, at his time, the Organization of American States (OAS). Difference is Duterte is not a cool PR copy for obvious reasons; Gaviria is an ever-smiling, relatively quiet, charismatic leader. More importantly, the Philippine president's government blossomed at a time of internet/social media bombast. In the 90s? Facebook and Skype were Star Trek. Write something against the government in those years? I don't know. And in regards global order, China was still “sleeping” at that time and the US was supreme. (I don't want to go further to the Contra/Escobar/CIA link though.)
         Tell me, did the killings in Duterte's time no different from Gaviria's time? No brainer. But there's another difference here. Although Gaviria wasn't really a US boy, OAS was/is headquartered in Washington DC. ASEAN is in Indonesia, not really a sweet Uncle Sam buddy.
          Pertinent ADDs: Indonesia is one of the biggest exporting countries in the world—with coal briquettes, palm oil, and petroleum gas as its main brags. Indonesia is not a member of the West-controlled OPEC despite its oil. ADD2. Russia and China, #1 and #4 in production of crude oil, aren't members of OPEC as well. Meaning, they decide oil pricing.

         ADD3: Five dominant countries in Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam launched the the Tiger Cub Economies in the `90s. Fidel Ramos, a Duterte ally, was the president of the Philippines that time. Tiger Cub Economies are so named because they follow the same export-driven model of economic development pursued by Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, which are collectively referred to as the Four Asian Tigers. Overseas Chinese entrepreneurs played a prominent role in the development of the region's private sectors. These businesses are part of the larger bamboo network, a network of overseas Chinese businesses operating in the markets of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines that share common family and cultural ties. China's transformation into a major economic power in the 21st century has led to increasing investments in Southeast Asian countries where the bamboo network is present.
          When you ponder these facts, and zoom in on Duterte's tact vis a vis Washington, things make sense. He has negotiating chips and got Beijing's back. When President Obama or West's media chided Duterte about his Drug War, he shot back with patented nastiness. Again, it makes sense, right? And when he told Washington to lay off anti-Al Qaeda/Abu Sayyaf program in the South, again—that makes sense. He wants to handle all these his way—with Southeast Asia and China backing him up. Gone are the days when the world begs IMF and World Bank (essentially European Union) for loans. The Philippines, which has gone over its Third World hump many years ago, even loaned IMF money at the time of president Noynoy Aquino and China has been giving out loans all over Europe and the world. Beijing is playing the same kind of western capitalism and global mercantilism that the West ushered I the 18th/19th century. Meantime, Japan is the number #1 aid giver to the Philippines these days.

          I am confident Rodrigo Duterte will end his Drug War, transfer fund (essentially Chinese loans) to the countryside and inner cities and get all the Beijing investments rolling, keep exporting (as per Tiger Cubs design). Meantime, George Soros is in Indonesia—the same guy who engineered the crash of Asian currency years ago as the continent veers away from Western dependency. Why is that? Think.
          After the US election, Washington will go back to the drawing board. It needs South China Sea where its huge fleet of security sits and where Foxconn (China, Taiwan US 1 Percenter team) thrives. But Beijing is there and Asean is unperturbed. But Uncle Sam will compromise and negotiate. For the good of humankind. Uh huh.
          Meantime, Rodrigo Duterte needs a team of Arnold Billings, Pete St. John, Stanley Motss and Conrad Brean. Don't have to be all-Americans. It could be like the remake of “The Magnificant Seven.” Multi-racial A-team of PR wizards. Things will work out and everybody happy.

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