In an altered state of consciousness?
Was he hexed, or did he have too much MSG?
President Duterte’s hosts in China must have been hot under the collar for his unabashed display of eagerness to offer alliance to a bullying nation, and to prove it by dumping—in so many words—a longtime Philippine ally, the United States. He was practically doing cartwheels.
The Philippines’ head of state, standing on the world stage, announced extemporaneously to what seemed like a fawning crowd: “I announce my separation from the United States, both in the military… not social, but economics also.”
That must have been quite discomfiting even to Chinese President Xi Jinping, the members of the Philippine delegation, and, most of all, to Mr. Duterte’s compatriots back home and those in the diaspora. And in the United States as well.
“Ano raw?” “Unsa kuno?” Exclamations of disbelief from the perplexed, bewildered and befuddled came fast and furious. The men at the Department of Interpretation and Reinterpretation must have been falling all over themselves (onomatopoeically in Filipino, nagkandarapa; in Ilonggo, nagkinarankaran) to find euphemisms for that bombshell of a foreign policy statement.
Well, what do you know, so many hours later the President said: “It was not severance of ties” with the United States. A “rebalancing” was more like it, said his spokespersons. So what was that sindak statement all about? But then what’s new? This happens all the time—the reinterpretation and the recalibration.
If you were the Chinese—not that they were overeager to hear such an avowal of friendship from a neighbor they bully and about a realignment of alliances—how would you view someone who flip-flops and blows hot and cold? The Chinese have not hinted that they felt slighted by Mr. Duterte’s backtracking, or that they felt they were being toyed with for the world to see, by a foul-mouthed leader who is adored by the 16 million or so Filipinos who voted for him.
The United States has sent a representative to find out what exactly this “separation” is all about. No word yet from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin who, Mr. Duterte said, he also hoped to woo. While Asean countries are circumspect, Mr. Duterte seems to want to ingratiate himself with communist-led undemocratic governments. China, Russia and the Philippines against the world, he said. Why not include North Korea, too?
Who wants to be a vassal of America? But who wants to be a lapdog of China and Russia?
Manuel Quezon III, who wrote a column in the Inquirer before he joined the Aquino administration, recently wrote an insightful piece on what it was like to be part of the entourage of a visiting Philippine head of state in China—how the Chinese pulled out all the stops and flaunted their bigness (the towering guards, the halls, the furniture, etc.), making one feel like a pygmy amidst giants. All that could have some kind of hypnotic effect. An Inquirer banner photo last week showed the Chinese presenting basketball giant Yao Ming to Mr. Duterte.
Hitler did something similar in Nazi Germany, through film and other massive and mesmerizing displays of power and strength. As Filipinos would say, dinadaan sa laki at lakas.
The Chinese leadership wowed the President and his party. Did they also throw him into an altered state of consciousness that made him behave and speak the way he did while he was there? Am I kidding? No. In graduate school we had exercises in altered states of consciousness, including hypnosis as a tool to alter behavior.
Years ago, I did a series on “budol-budol” operations in which the unsuspecting victims are thrown into an altered state of consciousness and made to hand over to con men, without resistance, their heirloom jewelry and their life savings in the bank.
If you’re feeling spooked by all these even before Halloween, find an exorcist.
Have a meaningful All Saints and All Souls week ahead.
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