atimes | Yes, American friends, Duterte is referring to one of the most brutal and shameful chapters in the history of American imperialism, the brutal subjugation of the Muslim population of Philippines’ Mindanao over 30 years of formal war and informal counterinsurgency from 1898 into the 1920s.
Mindanao is where the United States first applied the savage lessons of its Indian war to counterinsurgency in Asia—including massacre of civilians, collective punishment, and torture. Waterboarding entered the US military toolkit in Mindanao, as immortalized on the May 22, 1902 front cover of Life magazine.
And the war never ended. After the Philippines shed its colonial status, the Manila Roman Catholic establishment continued the war with US help. Today, the Philippines is locked in a cycle of negotiation and counterinsurgency between the central government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) —a cycle that Duterte as president hopes to bring to its conclusion with a negotiated peace settlement.
This is not ancient history to Duterte, who emphatically stated in his press conference that the reason Mindanao is “on the boil” today is because of the historical crimes of the United States.
Duterte has additional reasons for his choler.
As I wrote previously at Asia Times, Duterte suspects US spooks of orchestrating a deadly series of bombings in his home city of Davao in 2002, with the probable motive of creating a pretext for the central government to declare martial law on Mindanao to fight the MILF. The 2002 Davao bombings form the foundation of Duterte’s alienation from the United States and his resistance to US-Philippine joint exercises on Mindanao, as he declared upon the assumption of his presidency.
And, though it hasn’t received a lot of coverage in the United States, last week, on September 2, another bomb ripped through a marketplace in Davao, killing fourteen people. It was suspected of being part of an assassination plot against Duterte, who was in town at the time, and the Communist Party of the Philippines (which is also engaged in peace talks with Duterte) accused the United States of being behind it.
The CPP characterized the group that claimed the bombing, Abu Sayyaf, as CIA assets. Not too far off the mark, apparently. Abu Sayyaf is a group of Islamic fighters/bandits formed out of the dregs of US recruitment of Philippine Muslims to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. When these fighters came home, they apparently were enrolled and armed as central government/CIA deniable assets in the war against the MILF. Duterte has vowed to destroy, indeed, consume them.
So, mindful of the human rights crimes the US has committed historically, recently, and perhaps currently in Mindanao, including a possible assassination attempt against himself, Duterte declared himself unwilling to submit to any questioning or censure by President Obama. And his “son of a …” remark at the airport appears to have been along the lines of, “If President Obama confronts me, son of a …, I’ll tell him…”
At the ASEAN gathering in Laos, Duterte apparently tried to explain the roots of his indignation but is getting the psycho crank who “veered off speech and launched a tirade” treatment via AFP:
“The Philippine president showed a picture of the killings of American soldiers in the past and the president said: ‘This is my ancestor they killed. Why now we are talking about human rights,'” an Indonesian delegate said. The Philippines was an American colony from 1898 to 1946.
The delegate described the atmosphere in the room as “quiet and shocked.”
It should be noted that in his press conference at the airport in Manila, Duterte referenced the pictures he wanted to show, so it was more of a planned event rather than a spontaneous piece of hysterics by an unstable leader, which seems to be the frame being applied here.
The messy reality of a century of no-holds-barred counterinsurgency under US coordination, drugs, corruption, and murder in the Philippines distracts from the pretty picture of sailor suits, battleships, and yo-ho-ho in the South China Sea with American and the Philippine democracies shoulder-to-shoulder against China that the US wants to present to the world.
Judging by the spate of attacks on Duterte in the Western press and veiled criticism from some of the Manila papers, it looks like Duterte’s insufficient loyalty to the pivot vision may result in his downfall. Indeed, with the Duterte-US split deepening, his removal may become a strategic imperative for America.