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HOWIE SEE IT: A Joe for Every Juan

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By Atty. Howie Calleja

After days of counting, one man emerged victoriously and the leader of the free world was declared to be former Vice President Joe Biden. For the first time in almost three decades, there would be no two-term president.

But why was the world waiting with bated breath? Is the global community Americentric or are we just enjoying the blood bath? After all, over the past few months, the Americans have not been the global leaders they once were; they have only led in COVID-19 deaths and anti-mask rhetoric. Over the past few years, mass shootings and police brutality are seemingly so rampant that, while the end goal was to make America great again, the world has only looked on with pity. So why are we all still sitting on the edge of our seats? For some countries, retaining the US President could mean worsening relations over the next four years, which might never be repaired. For others, it would mean continuing baseless claims that they would be forced to pay for a wall. On the other hand, some heads of State might believe that a change in administration would likely mean that arbitrary travel bans would no longer be in force, nor an impertinent view on the relevant human rights. Indeed, there were many countries invested in the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential Elections.

Filipinos might have been interested in the US elections due to our strong, but relatively young, bilateral relations (After all, you only have to ride a jeepney to see one of the remnants of the American colonial period). Or perhaps because there are over 4 million of our Kababayan living in the country. Our relationship with Uncle Sam is not limited to trade and investment, or even our military ties, our allyship is rooted in our cultural and historical linkage; if the American election is one of the world’s biggest demonstrations of democracy, it became the model in forming our own democratic republic.

Though we have decades of history with the Americans, diplomatic relations relies also on the person in power, on both sides. The outcome of the US elections could entirely change the trajectory of the White House’s growing relationship with Duterte – we’ve seen respect for Trump from Malacañang, with our President asking Filipinos abroad to vote for his other half as early as February of this year. Their penchant for emboldening fake news and the populist approach has made them two sides of the same coin, and a friendship has emerged. On the other hand, the President who earned Duterte’s ire was a man who dared to attempt to advance human rights. When former President Obama questioned the extra-judicial killings, he was cursed at on a global stage. Would a Biden administration receive the same treatment?

Though both President Duterte and Vice President Robredo have done well to welcome their new American counterparts, we can only hope that the former would keep from insulting our American allies until we have the next transfer of power. President-elect Biden has made clear that his foreign policy is driven by a commitment to reinvigorate democracy; given that he is not likely to laud the drug war like his predecessor, will our own Head of State revert to cursing and insulting if he is called out? But one has to consider that the U.S. is dealing with a divided nation and the President-elect has the herculean task of healing the charred political battlegrounds. Treading on stormy waters, Biden might be more pragmatic in dealing with a strongman like Duterte – aiming for civil relations to ensure an anti-China alliance formalized through the VFA. With the Philippine leadership’s goals of pursuing an independent (read: pro-China) foreign policy that has steered us away from the US in the past, we should expect that Biden is getting tips from his former partner in the White House on how to be delicate with the ego in Malacañang. After all, Biden would likely have seen the reaction of our leadership when they are publicly reminded of their international obligations. Protecting the American interests wouldn’t mean ignoring the blatant human rights violations, it could mean closed-door talks on ensuring humane anti-drug operations, or offering Washington’s assistance in building rehabilitation centers.

The Americans would also likely use the West Philippine Sea to maintain the U.S.-Philippine alliance, while the tense White House relations with China seemingly intensify. By maintaining support for The Hague ruling that denied China any historical rights over our territory, Biden might bring us away from the embrace of Xi Jinping. Thankfully, the Philippine ambassador to Washington has announced that the President-elect’s foreign policy advisors were confident that the support in upholding our sovereignty would continue. This support likely won’t be solely for humanitarian reasons though, as the VFA is likely to be used as Malacañang’s bargaining chip.

What the average Juan can expect is a deviance from the isolationist approach that Trump has taken over the past four years. His unpresidential rhetoric was nothing compared to the loss of American influence in global politics that stemmed from leaving the Paris Climate agreement, withdrawing the U.S. from the World Health Organization, and insulting every country with a Muslim population. Although his brazen attitude is what attracted most of his voters, diplomacy with composure and cultural adaptability, along with a delicate international policy is what has ensured the far reach of American influence abroad for decades. We can expect that a Biden administration will bring back international clout to the White House and, if relations with China worsen, it will be that multilateral influence that could embolden international alliances to strategically pressure China on trade, human rights, and repercussions for the COVID-19 pandemic.

While things are looking up for U.S.-Philippine relations, perhaps we can ameliorate the situation by providing our American friends tips on dealing with politicians who refuse to accept the results of the election? How poetic is it that the end of the Trump presidency is marred with baseless allegations? The refusal to concede breaks from the democratic tradition of a peaceful transfer of power that was originally set up by the very first American President. The only people equipped to handle this situation are the 4 million Filipinos in America who aren’t seeing this for the first time, after already having dealt with Bong Bong’s antics.

Hopefully, the U.S. will not be distracted by their internal politics for much longer so that the entire global community can welcome back a reliable and diplomatic partner. While we celebrate the end of four years of the largest-ever platform for fake news and congratulate the President-elect, we ask our friends in America to keep him accountable to his promises. The only wall that Trump managed to build was one that divided his own country in half and healing from divisive leadership will take someone who is a President for every man, regardless of his vote. Whatever happens, at least I can now remind my kids that, to be President one day they have to put their best foot forward. The ousting of fake news in the White House is a celebration for the international community, as it is a reminder that the truth is worth fighting for. Finally, the Office of the President is presidential, and Trump’s inability to be reelected is proof that sensationalist and authoritarian leadership doesn’t last. May we do the same in 2022 as we rebuild a nation on the foundation of truth, honesty, and good governance.

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