Saturday, October 16, 2021

Wenceslao: Duterte’s Rubicon

IN 49 B.C., Julius Caesar, the Roman general who governed Gaul (modern-day France and Belgium, received news that his allies in the Roman Senate were forced to leave Rome. This after the same Senate, which had gotten wary of Caesar’s growing power and popularity, instructed him to resign his command and disband his army or he would be considered an enemy of the state. It also ordered another Roman general, Pompey, to make sure that Caesar would follow the instruction.

At that time, an ancient law was in place: no general was allowed to enter Rome with his troops bearing arms. To do so from northern Italy, one had to cross a stream called the Rubicon. Caesar, who was in the city of Ravenna, surreptitiously made his way after sunset to the bank of the Rubicon with a small army, reaching there by daybreak. Here’s how Suetonius, an ancient historian, as quoted by, described Caesar’s decision:

“Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the frontier of his province, he halted for a while, and revolving in his mind the importance of the step he meditated, he turned to those about him, saying: ‘Still we can retreat! But once let us pass this little bridge, nothing is left but to fight it out with arms!’

“Even as he hesitated, this incident occurred: A man of strikingly noble mien and graceful aspect appeared close at hand, and played upon a pipe. To hear him, not merely some shepherds but soldiers too came flocking from their posts, and amongst them some trumpeters.

“He snatched a trumpet from one of them and ran to the river with it; then sounding the ‘Advance!’ with a piercing blast, he crossed to the other side. At this, Caesar cried out, ‘Let us go where the omens of the gods and the crimes of our enemies summon us! The die is now cast!’”

Caesar and his troops crossing the Rubicon sparked a civil war in Rome. He vanquished Pompey and in 46 B.C. made himself dictator, ending the Roman Republic governed by Senate and Consuls. From its ashes rose the Roman Empire.


“I’m about to cross the Rubicon between me and the United States,” President Rodrigo Duterte declared the other day. No, a mere river does not separate the Philippines from the US but a vast ocean. What he meant by “cross the Rubicon” was that he would soon come up with a decision, or reach a point of no return like Julius Caesar did, with regards PH-US relations.

I don’t know whether the President is serious in his pronouncement and whether what he wants is merely to strengthen the country’s relations with former communist states China and Russia (China is essentially no longer a communist state) while maintaining PH-US ties or to actually effect a major shift in the country’s foreign policy by ending the country’s close partnership with the US and transferring our affection to China and Russia.

By the looks of it, the President made that statement out of pique with the US, which is bad way to forge a country’s foreign policy. I doubt if he even discussed his “cross the Rubicon” statement with his foreign affairs team, which I am sure will move, as Duterte’s people usually do. to mitigate the impact of the statement.

Which begs the question: has the Duterte administration even come up with a coherent foreign policy when it assumed office? Or is our foreign policy now merely following the meandering mind of the chief executive?

I will be tackling this in future columns.

( twitter: @khanwens)
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