Why Duterte Really Hates The USA

REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr.

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The president of the Philippines is engaging in a personal fight against the U.S., leading people to question his hatred of America.

Under former president Benigno Aquino III, the Philippines was a strong American ally. President Rodrigo Duterte, however, is moving in a different direction.

Duterte said earlier this month that he would “break up with America” and last week announced in China his “separation from America.” He has also promised to end joint drills and war games with the U.S., and called for the removal of U.S. troops from the Philippines, threatening to tear up existing defense agreements. Due to opposition from the Filipino citizenry and the defense community in the Philippines, both of which have strong ties to and positive views of the U.S., Duterte is retracting some of his more shocking statements. But, his animosity towards the U.S. remains and will most likely continue to be a key part of his presidency.

Duterte’s disdain towards America is often blamed on U.S. criticisms of his brutal shoot-to-kill drug war, which resulted in thousands of deaths and led the U.S. to inquire about possible human rights violations. When President Barack Obama expressed an interest in discussing these issues with Duterte, the bombastic president called Obama a “son of a whore” and told him to “go to hell.”

So, why does Duterte hate America? There are five possible explanations, and any one or combination could potentially explain the president’s disdain for the U.S.

Explanation one: Duterte revealed last year that he was molested by American Catholic priest Paul Falvey when a student at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Davao University. The president said that the priest who abused him has been “forgiven but not forgotten.” Such a traumatic experience may have left a lasting mark on Duterte, possibly stirring up anti-American sentiment early on.

“I will never kneel before the Americans,” Duterte said earlier this month.

Explanation two: Duterte grew up with a strong sense of nationalism, which laid the groundwork for the rise of an anti-American/anti-colonialism attitude. During his university years, he studied under political science professor Jose Maria Sison, and his nationalistic sentiments became much more pronounced. The now-exiled Sison founded the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), an organization based on Mao Zedong Thought, and helped to foster an anti-American attitude critical of U.S. imperialism. Such attitudes led to the closing of the Subic and Clark military bases in the 1990s.

The president moves closer to China, praising the communist country’s ideologies, possibly a result of his education. Duterte also threatens to tear up the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed when Benigno Aquino III was in office. EDCA, which was hailed as a landmark agreement by the U.S. and the Philippines, gives the U.S. access to five military bases in the Philippines. Duterte is actively pushing for the complete removal of the U.S. military from the Philippines.

Explanation three: Duterte was denied a visa to the U.S. to visit his girlfriend when he was in college. When the interviewer at the U.S. consulate asked him whether or not he would get married and try to stay in the U.S., he reportedly said, “Even if you offer me free visas for a lifetime and even if you offer me 10,000 dollars, I’d still return to my country and be a Filipino.” He was not granted a visa to the U.S., and this issue has clearly weighed on him for many years.

“The problem is you go to America. You’ll not be issued a visa,” Duterte said recently. “But the Americans can enter the Philippines anytime without visa. Why?,” he asked.

Explanation four: Duterte was reportedly harassed by American security personnel at the Los Angeles International Airport. While traveling, his travel authorization papers disappeared, and he was detained by LAX security. “If there’s a plane available going back to the Philippines now, I’ll be happy to ride and go home,” he told them. “That was the last time I went to America,” he explained. Duterte’s troubles getting to and entering the U.S. negatively impacted the future president.

Explanation five: Duterte suspects that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was behind a series of deadly attacks in Davao, a city in Mindanao and the current president’s hometown, that killed dozens and injured hundreds.

An ammonium nitrate bomb exploded in the hotel room of a U.S. citizen named Michael Meiring in 2002. Meiring, who was severely injured by the blast, was picked up at the hospital and taken away by U.S. government agents. Meiring was taken back to the U.S., where his name was changed. He died in 2010 with a lot of unanswered questions.

The prevailing theory in the Philippines is that Meiring was a U.S. operative, possibly CIA, carrying out a destabilization or false flag attack that went awry. Bombs went off later at Davao International Airport and Sasa Wharf in 2003, killing 38 and injuring 204.

The story that emerged is that the CIA, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), launched the attacks but pinned them on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an Islamic insurgency, to justify intense military action and greater U.S. military involvement in Mindanao. Although the U.S. later reversed its policy on the MILF and a peace was brokered between the Philippine government and the insurgency, the U.S. continued to deploy troops into the region to combat the Abu Sayyaf Group and other militant Islamic insurgency groups.

Duterte asserts that the U.S. massacre of Moro people at the turn of the century created the Islamic insurgency problem in Mindanao. The Abu Sayyaf Group reportedly evolved from the recruitment of Muslims from the Philippines to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Duterte perceives the U.S. as the core problem in a conflict that has destabilized the Southern Philippines for decades.

While Duterte already called for the removal of U.S. troops from the Southern Philippines, he also remains suspicious of the CIA, believing that the U.S. might try to assassinate him. He brought his concerns to light this month when he dared the CIA to try to kill him.

Duterte had several bad experiences with the U.S. and each of these experiences appears to have impacted his policies.

“Duterte became ideologically anti-American at a relatively young age and has selected experiences in his life since to fit and fuel that prism through which he sees US-Philippine relations,” Gregory Poling, Director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and Fellow in the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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