MANILA - A sense of uncertainty has gripped the Philippines following the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president last week.
Analysts and Philippine officials say a Trump presidency could bring about changes in relations between the two traditional allies, including bilateral economic and security ties.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn closer to China in recent months, while openly feuding with President Barack Obama. Diplomatic relations between Washington and Manila soured after Duterte lashed out at the U.S. for criticizing his bloody anti-narcotic crackdown, which has left more than 4,000 dead since the campaign was launched in July.
But Duterte this week said he hoped he would get along well with Trump.
“Oh I’m sure. We don’t have a fight. I can always be a friend to anybody, especially to a president, chief executive of another country,” he said.
However, he said the election of Trump would not change his pursuit of an independent foreign policy, saying the former U.S. colony is determined to step out of the shadows of America and even boost diplomatic relations with China and Russia.
“I will pursue what I’ve started. I’m not into the habit of reneging on my word,” he recently told a news conference.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana described current U.S.-Philippine relations as “very fluid” at this point.
“We need to know the foreign policy of President Trump who takes office on January 20. We’ll see what happens and we can react from there,” Lorenzana said.
“I think we will have to look in the first 100 days,” said Jaime FlorCruz, a visiting professor at Peking University.
He said that Duterte is trying "to disabuse the big powers that (the Philippines) is not dependent or just extensions" of larger countries. “I think that’s a good position to take. I think that as long as we make sure that all the deals that we sign up with the Chinese or Americans have no strings attached then we should be able to proudly say that we have an independent foreign policy,” FlorCruz said.
Earl Parreno of the Institute of Political and Electoral Reforms said he expects Trump’s global perspective to change when he officially takes office.
“Wait till he hears the briefs of the Central Intelligence Agency and other security agencies. I think his perspective will change. The foreign policy under Trump is still unpredictable at the moment,” he said.
A Philippine diplomat, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said, "I am concerned about the dispute in the South China Sea. Economics can bury us in the context of U.S.-China relations. This was not possible with Clinton, but very possible with Trump because it’s all about dollars and cents. It’s too early to tell though.”
“Maybe there will be a thawing in the U.S.-China relations at our expense. I may be wrong though,” the diplomat added.
The widely circulated Philippine Daily Inquirer ran an editorial Monday on what it calls “the negative impact of a Trump presidency” on business outsourcing, trade protectionism and immigration.
"The biggest concern is in the booming business process outsourcing industry, which now employs 1.2 million Filipinos and generates more than $20 billion in revenues a year,” reads the editorial, headlined 'Trump and PH economy.’ It warns that Trump’s protectionist stand on U.S. outsourcing “could imperil the growth momentum of the Philippine BPO industry.”
But Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia is unfazed, telling a recent news conference that Duterte prepared for a Trump presidency with his pivot to China.
“We have a safety net which was foreseen by (Duterte). He foresaw, he’s a clairvoyant. He decided to pivot to China. Instead of depending on the U.S., to a great extent, we are now diversifying our friends. So you don’t crash when the country you depend on is in trouble,” Pernia said.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said it is too early to judge the long term effect of a Trump presidency on the Philippines.
“Candidates and presidents are two different people. We will see what policies a Trump presidency will implement. I think the stock market people are a little worried. Personally I’m not sure what the effect will be,” Dominguez said.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple said both leaders "think out of the box,” adding that they could probably get along better than Duterte has with Obama. He predicted that Trump’s victory could probably usher in a new beginning in U.S.-Philippines relations.