The United States should treat the Philippines as an equal instead of a “little brown brother” even as both sides continue their alliance relationship under President Rodrigo Duterte, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay warned in his inaugural address in Washington, D.C Thursday.
In prepared remarks lasting roughly half an hour at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, Yasay repeatedly stressed that the Duterte administration continues to see the U.S.-Philippine alliance as vital despite a string of comments by Rodrigo Duterte that have revealed his personal distrust of the United States and cast doubts about the future direction of Washington’s ties with Manila.
When asked about how the two sides should manage U.S. human rights concerns about Duterte’s war on drugs, Yasay urged Washington to understand that the Philippines has its own aspirations instead of just tying certain assistance to demands that Manila would have to meet.
“We cannot… forever be the little brown brothers of America at one point in time,” Yasay said, recalling the paternalistic phrase uttered by former President William Howard Taft at a time when the United States had colonized the Philippines during the first-half of the 20th century. Taft, who had served as the first governor general of the Philippines from 1901 to 1904 before becoming president, had said that America’s “little brown brothers” would take 50 to 100 years of close supervision “to develop anything resembling Anglo-Saxon political principles and skills.”
In contrast to the dependency that Taft had referred to, Yasay repeatedly stressed the Duterte administration’s desire to forge an independent foreign policy to realize Philippine interests.
“We have to ensure… we have to develop, we have to grow and become the big brother of our own people, of the next generation of Filipinos,” Yasay added.
Yasay said that the United States should understand the aspirations of the Philippines instead of just strong-arming Manila to address American human rights concerns.
“You do not go to the Philippines and say I’m going to give you something, I’m going to help you develop, I’m going to help you grow, but this [is] the checklist that you must comply with,” he said.
Reminding his audience that the Philippines had fully understood the importance of human dignity and certain inalienable rights even before the United States colonized it as well as in its own struggle for independence, Yasay instead urged Washington to recognize that both countries were seeking to strive to live up to their commitments to human rights and international law.
Moving forward, he called for an approach where both countries would work together where possible “as sovereign equals’ with mutual respect but also acknowledge that when their interests do differ, national interests would trump other considerations.”
“Where these interest converg[e], then let’s even work closer to make it achieve the kind of successes we would like it to achieve. On the other hand, if these interests would be in conflict one way or the other, you must realize the paramount national interest must always be pursued,” he said.
“So it is in respect that we are asking America to look at our programs, to look at the things that we want to make sure the president’s commitment to change will be achieved in the light of our priorities, our current needs, and our historical experience.”
In his remarks, Yasay previewed some areas where the United States and the Philippines could work more together, including in boosting the presence of U.S. companies in the Southeast Asian state as well as expanding educational opportunities for Filipinos abroad.