LOST in the continuing conflict between President Rodrigo Duterte and his minions on one side and Sen. Leila de Lima on the other is the effort by both the panels of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to keep the ball rolling for peace. After talking in Oslo, Norway weeks ago, the panels resumed it in Metro Manila recently. Duterte even met with NDFP’s chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni in Davao City yesterday.

These are interesting times for the talks because the assault launched by the President against the United States, starting with his criticism of US President Barack Obama, has not abated. The spat was sparked by US officials questioning the rise in the number of extrajudicial killings in the wake of government’s intensified war against the illegal drugs trade. The assault, though is verbal, with the President changing tack every time anything substantial is pushed.

The Philippines crafting an independent foreign policy is one of the demands of the NDFP, which considers the hold of US monopoly capitalists on the country’s socio-economic and cultural life as one of the reasons for its poverty and backwardness. But while Duterte has so far been the only Philippine president who has verbally attacked the US, the question is if he is willing to go all the way. If he goes beyond the verbal and into the substantial, that should help in the peace talks.

But as what I have written before, a shift in the country’s foreign policy away from the US is rather tricky. First, there must be unanimity for that in government, not only anong politicians and those in the civilian bureaucracy but also from the country’s armed forces. That shift should also be supported by majority of the people. Unity is needed because US monopoly capitalists won’t give up their hold on the Philippines without resistance.

The President and whoever is advising him know how pervasive US influence is in the country. A big chunk of the body politic still looks up to the US for support and a good number of Filipinos are in the US itself. Our history is also replete with examples of US influence-peddling, some of which are covert, in our choice of leaders. Let me mention just one: the final and biggest coup try against former president Corazon Aquino wouldn’t have been defeated without US help.

This explains the President acting “urong-sulong” in his anti-US verbal assault.

After his tirade at Obama before he left for the recent joint Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and East Asia Summits in Laos, he issued a statement virtually apologizing for his act. This after Obama cancelled the scheduled talks at the sideline of the gathering. He obviously didn’t want a rift in US-Philippine relations.

Duterte, though, continued his tirade against the US during his visit to Indonesia after the Laos affair and weeks after his arrival in the Philippines. That peaked when, in a speech, he told a small contingent of American soldiers stationed in Mindanao to leave the country. Days later he clarified that he really didn’t mean to ask American troops to leave. This after diplomats and some Armed Forces officials detailed the help the Americans provided to the country.

This is why the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) issued a statement asking Duterte to put substance into his recent anti-US rhetoric. But does the President have the support and does he possess the resolve to go beyond mere talk about the country forging an independent foreign policy and in the process score a point in the peace process?

(khanwens@gmail.com/ twitter: @khanwens)