Mayor Duterte and China: a demand for transparency
Change is one thing. Undermining the principles of nationhood, of sovereignty, is yet another.
Several readers have asked for an article that puts together the pieces of information that have filtered through the blog discussions here during recent days about Mayor Duterte and China. Let me put it together as best as I can. You may correct or add to the picture in the discussion thread. I would note that I do not offer opinion on the Duterte candidacy, but do ask some hard questions that I think are important.
This matter came to a head on the 16th of April when a report was filed on Facebook by a pilot who observed something he had never seen before: a Chinese private plane parked at a Philippine airport, in this instance, at Davao’s airport. Below is a photograph of that airplane.
The underlying question asked by readers is, “does this represent foreign influence in the 2016 National election?” Well . . . it could be less, and it could be more. So let’s bullet-point some essential information and ideas.Reader “Sup” provided links that were valuable in identifying the airplane. Here’s what we learned:
- The Gulfstream jet is owned by Beijing Capital Airlines. [Planefinder]
- Beijing Capital Airlines is owned by Hebei Aviation Group. Hebei is a subsidiary of Jizhong Energy Group Co., Ltd, based in Xingtai, China. Jizhong manufactures and markets coal-based products. [Bloomberg]
- The plane arrived in Davao on April 12 from Shenzhen, China, and departed on April 17, to Shenzhen, China. The Plane had previously been in Tokyo. [Flight Radar]
- The notorious ZTE corporation, embroiled in corruption allegations against former President Gloria Arroyo, is based in Shenzhen. [Wikipedia]
This is interesting information, mysterious for sure, but we know nothing about the passengers or purpose of the visit. They many be mining executives checking on a mine or some other visit totally unrelated to the 2016 Philippine national election.
Let’s build some more context to the mystery. “Sup’s” inputs helped here, too, with information from “Caliphman” and “chempo” about COMELEC regulations:
- Mayor Rody Duterte of Davao is running for president. He is on record as saying the strongest backers urging him to run are from the Chinese community. [Philstar]
- The mayor has also stated that funding for his pre-campaign advertising came in part from “an anonymous Chinese donor . . .“. He denied a rumor that he is getting funding from a Chinese mining company. It is reported by PCIJ that he spent P146 million in pre-campaign advertising. [GMA News]
- Mayor Duterte is more “fluid” on China than the Aquino Administration. He stepped back from an earlier comment that he would negotiate with China to his current position that he would allow the UN arbitration case to continue. He would negotiate a working partnership under an agreement that neither China nor the Philippines would claim ownership to contested areas. He does not ever see the Philippines fighting for the contested rocks and islands in the West Philippine Sea. [Standard]
- A key campaign plank of Duterte’s platform is the establishment of a national rail system that would be built by China. A likely builder, China CNR Corporation, is building a railway in Shenzhen. [Rappler] [China CNR Corporation]
- To put things in perspective, in Duterte’s words: ““If I do not have the money to put up the capital to build equipment [to extract the oil], I will just wait for my royalty or my share of the oil. Just build me a train around Mindanao, a railway, and a railway from Manila to Bicol and Manila to Batangas, to the tip, I’d be happy. My 6 years, tapos na ako (I’m done) if that is the only [thing] I can get from this.”
- A rail network is also a part of the Aquino government’s plans. There are several components to the plan emerging from different regions. The North South Rail Project gives southern Luzon a rail backbone. [Wikipedia] [North South Rail Project; ADB pdf file]
- The COMELEC Ombnibus Election Code reads: “Sec. 96. Soliciting or receiving contributions from foreign sources. – It shall be unlawful for any person, including a political party or public or private entity to solicit or receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or contribution of whatever form or nature from any foreign national, government or entity for the purposes of influencing the results of the election. [Election Code]
Well, the mystery deepens. Chinese urging Duterte to run. Rumors. Lots of campaign advertising. Lots of money. A multi-billion dollar train franchise. More money. Mining interests. A Chinese plane . . . during the heat of the election . . . and election spending.
The apparent deal, in very simple terms: swap Philippine claims to West Philippine Sea properties to China in exchange for the construction by China of a national rail system in the Philippines. Is that a fair swap?
And the lingering question. Always lingering. Where is the Duterte/Cayetano campaign getting its money? The budget is, by all appearances, in the hundreds of millions of pesos. Television advertising is relentless.
Let’s enrich the context even more.
- Mayor Duterte does not follow National Government policies. Indeed, he seems to abhor the whole idea of democracy. He doesn’t have patience for it, or for policies that do not fit his.
- The mayor promises to clean the Philippines of crime and drugs in 3 to 6 months, which suggests abandoning due process of things that get in the way, like investigations to get information, and trials. [Philstar]
- The Mayor has said he will abolish Congress if it does not cooperate. [Philstar]
- He has said he will invite communists to join his cabinet (three positions, via Luis Jalandoni of the National Democratic Front) and that the fighting with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) would end when he is elected. [Asian Correspondent]
- The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today (with its armed force, the New Peoples Army, or NPA) is considered an outlaw group, as a series of negotiations with the Philippine government have failed due to what government considers to be unreasonable demands from the CPP/NPA. The CPP holds to its goal of overthrowing the standing government of the Philippines to install a communist government. [Wikipedia]
- The history of negotiations is torturous, and filled with mistrust from both sides. [OPAPP]
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” [from the movie “Cool Hand Luke“]
The essential question is, do Filipino voters know Duterte at all? It seems that his loyalties are to people and institutions that have been at odds with democracy, and the freedoms we enjoy:
- Close to communists
- Close to China
- Disregard for due process and human rights
- Willing to take government apart
- Willing to deal Philippine properties without input from the Legislature or people
The Mayor admits to being a socialist. Do people understand what that means in terms of restrictions on individual freedoms as a nation is homogenized down to sameness?
It seems to me that Mayor Duterte is a warlord on steroids, the steroids being fed to him by wealthy Chinese interests that we cannot fully understand (mining interests, railroad interests, island interests). He is like the Ampatuans, forming a law unto themselves that totally disregards national imperatives and laws.
One wonders what national sovereignty means if these subordinate “states” are allowed to go around or possibly undermine national interests.
- Is Mayor Duterte negotiating “deals” with Chinese interests outside the oversight umbrella of the Department of Foreign Affairs?
- Is he taking campaign money that is explicitly or even loosely connected to the awarding of a railroad franchise to China?
- Is he tacitly giving up exclusive economic rights to the West Philippine Sea, in exchange for election money or personal advantage?
These are fairly obvious questions.
Vice Presidential aspirant Senator Alan Cayetano is relentless at telling us what a noble character Mayor Duterte is. Okay, then being straight with us ought not pose any special challenge.
- Specifically, who is he talking to from mainland China? Document it.
- Specifically, where is his campaign money coming from? Document it.
Now the rules may not require identification of campaign money until after the election. But the questions being raised derive from an even more fundamental question:
Is the Duterte/Cayetano allegiance to the Philippines being compromised by deals with the China and/or the Communist Party of the Philippines?