Philippines: Off-track foreign policy (Editorial) — A Gift To China — Philippine Senate to end probe on extralegal killings — Human Rights In the Philippines? Discussed only in hushed tones…

Philippine Daily Inquirer
12:13 AM October 5th, 2016


RECENT DEVELOPMENTS on the foreign-relations front are becoming unsettling. Earlier, President Duterte insulted US President Barack Obama, the European Union and the United Nations for commenting on the rising number of extrajudicial killings here. He followed these up with announcements that he would seek to expand ties with China and Russia. Then last week, he said the coming US-PH war games would be the last.

On economic relations, the Duterte administration has announced that it was readying funds for the Philippines’entry into the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral financial institution spearheaded by China to function like the World Bank (which is traditionally headed by an American) and the Asian Development Bank (which is bankrolled by Japan).

The Philippines had deferred the signing of the articles of agreement of the AIIB when it was officially opened in June 2015. The government had expressed strong interest to join the AIIB when Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed it in October 2013, but delayed its membership following the protest lodged by the Aquino administration at the Permanent Court of Arbitration against China’s incursions into the West Philippine Sea.

This series of events has raised the question as to why the Philippines appears to be distancing itself from a longtime ally and cozying up to a country that has refused to recognize the arbitral court’s ruling upholding our maritime rights. The question is raised not so much to defend the United States as to point out why it is wrong to think that severing ties with the world’s acknowledged economic superpower will be beneficial to the Philippines.

Has anyone in the government studied the implications of such a move? The quantifiable impact on the Philippines would include the official development assistance it receives from American institutions like the US Agency for International Development (USAid), as well as the foreign military aid it gets every so often.

The biggest loss would be in international trade. The United States has trade preference systems that help many developing countries grow their economies. The Philippines, in particular, benefits from the scheme called the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), the biggest and oldest US trade preference program that eliminates duties on thousands of products imported from any of 122 beneficiary countries like the Philippines. It is estimated that the Philippines uses about $800 million of this US GSP program.

Even with the European Union, the Philippines is currently the only Asean country to be accepted in that region’s GSP scheme. Philippine manufacturers and producers can export more than 6,000 products to any of the 28 EU member-countries at zero tariff using the GSP. These products include textiles, garments, coconut and marine products, processed fruit, prepared food, animal and vegetable fats and oils, headwear and footwear, furniture and chemicals.

Albert del Rosario, the foreign secretary during the Aquino administration, observed correctly that the emerging strategy appears to have been driven off-track. This foreign policy of equating the United States with China, he pointed out, should not be a zero-sum game: “In foreign affairs, you try to get as many friends as possible. You don’t get one friend at the expense of another friend. It’s illogical. Playing a zero-sum game is illogical, and the Philippines should get away from this.”

Also consider the fact that the United States and China are major economic partners, with trade between them amounting to $659 billion in 2015, and China enjoying a trade surplus of $336 billion. China is America’s biggest trading partner in manufactured goods, with $598 billion in total two-way trade in 2015. According to the US Department of Commerce, American exports of goods and services to China supported an estimated 951,000 jobs in 2014 (latest data available).

The international community has been viewing the Philippines in a very positive light—no longer the “sick man of Asia,” thanks in large part to the Aquino administration’s efforts to bring back investor confidence. The Duterte administration needs to be dissuaded from its emerging strategy. The Philippines cannot afford to lose the economic gains of the past just because the new President feels slighted by comments on his controversial war on drugs.

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President Duterte’s Move Toward China Will Mostly Help China — What Does Duterte Get? What Does The Philippines get?

By  Ben O. de Vera
Philippine Daily Inquirer
12:00 AM October 5th, 2016

President Rodrigo R. Duterte shakes hands with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua KING RODRIGUEZ/PPD/FILE PHOTO

THE “INDEPENDENT” foreign policy of the Duterte administration should not be belittled, as it could significantly undercut the influence of the United States, a longtime ally and global superpower, in the region, according to the research arm of debt watcher Fitch Ratings.

“Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s apparent foreign policy shift away from the US toward China could substantially undermine Washington’s geopolitical influence in Asia at a time when tensions between Beijing and its neighbors are rising,” Fitch Group’s BMI Research said in a Sept. 30 report titled, “Duterte’s foreign policy shift to undermine US’ geopolitical influence.”

“As a result, the US and Japan will increasingly attempt to cultivate Vietnam as a regional security partner in the South China Sea,” the report said.
The “rebalancing”—as described by members of Mr. Duterte’s Cabinet—of Philippine foreign policy is seen to benefit China.

“A major geopolitical shift in Asia appears to have begun in mid-2016, when Rodrigo Duterte became President of the Philippines, and this will undermine the US position to the benefit of China,” BMI Research said.

It noted that Mr. Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, “pursued a staunchly anti-China policy, as Beijing adopted an increasingly assertive stance toward its claims to the South China Sea.”

“Aquino bolstered the Philippines’ ties with the US and Japan, both of which are wary of China’s growing military power in Asia,” BMI Research further noted.

Accommodating China

In contrast, Mr. Duterte “has adopted a noticeably anti-American tone, while sounding more accommodating toward China.”

“This suggests that the Philippines’ presence in an informal US-led bloc of Asian nations aimed at counter-balancing China’s rise is no longer assured,” BMI Research said.

The report noted that because of its strategic location between global trade routes connecting the Pacific Ocean and the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines had gained geopolitical importance.

“The US first recognized the Philippines’ strategic significance more than a century ago, when it seized the territory from Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898,” it said.

Even after ending its rule over the Philippines when granted independence in 1946, the United States kept close ties with Manila, it added.

The latest manifestation of close Philippine-US relations was in 2014, when Aquino signed a 10-year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with Washington, it noted.

Tribunal ruling

When the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled last July that China’s historical claim over more than four-fifths of the West Philippine Sea was invalid, “Beijing immediately rejected the ruling, regarding the court as being biased,” BMI Research pointed out.

“China will most likely continue to consolidate its position in the South China Sea through the construction of artificial islands capable of housing military facilities, and most probably by declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone over the sea in the near future,” it added.

BMI Research said that “in contemporary Asian geopolitics, China regards the Philippines as a key element of the so-called ‘first island chain’ running from southern Japan and Taiwan down to the South China Sea, which the US formulated in the Cold War to contain the USSR and China.”

“Therefore, if the Philippines were to abandon the US-led network of alliances, it would be a severe blow to Washington’s ‘first-island-chain’ strategy,” it said.

“Even if the Philippines merely adopted a more neutral position, this would work to China’s advantage,” it added.

‘Volatile personality’

As for Mr. Duterte, BMI Research said his “volatile personality portends geopolitical confusion.”

He “has generated international headlines since September 2016 by publicly cursing the US and EU, which criticized his antidrug campaign for the estimated 3,000 deaths that it has caused. Duterte regards such criticism as infringements on Philippine sovereignty and has increasingly emphasized that he will pursue an ‘independent foreign policy’ that would entail warmer relations with China, and possibly Russia, too,” the report noted.

Unclear policy

But for BMI Research, the President’s long-term foreign policy plans “remain unclear.”

“He is one of several populist leaders who have enjoyed a meteoric rise in 2016, and is not a member of the Philippines’ traditional US-aligned elite. As such, it is unsurprising that he has a worldview different from his predecessors,” it said.

“In addition, as a former mayor of Davao, Duterte lacks international experience, and could eventually find that his nationalist rhetoric is difficult to implement. Duterte also has a reputation for making bold or controversial statements, only for him or another senior official to backtrack somewhat afterwards, raising question marks about his true intentions,” it added.

As such, “Duterte’s apparent volatility carries political risks,” BMI Research said.

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Senate to end probe on extralegal killings

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Senate’s Committee on Justice and Human Rights, gestures as he questions witnesses at the resumption of the Philippine Senate probe on extrajudicial killings in the continuing “war on drugs” campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte Monday, Oct. 3, 2016 in suburban Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. The Philippine Senate’s Committee on Justice and Human Rights, has invited witnesses to look into the possible human rights violations and extrajudicial killings in Davao city when Duterte was still the city mayor as well as the current “war on drugs” campaign by the present administration. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate committee on justice will end its inquiry into drug-related extrajudicial killings in the country – a move branded by some senators as “a travesty of the truth.”

The decision to hold the final hearing next week came after a closed-door caucus of the committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon yesterday.

The panel conducted a hearing on Monday that lasted for 13 hours and was marred by bickering among senators, highlighted by the walkout of Sen. Leila de Lima.

De Lima said yesterday her colleagues were ganging up on her based on flimsy reasons just to stop the inquiry.

Among the issues that cropped up in previous hearings, which apparently led to the committee’s move to wrap things up, were De Lima and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV allegedly using the hearings to destabilize the Duterte administration, and the lack of credibility of self-confessed hit man Edgar Matobato as witness.

Gordon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Monday confronted De Lima on her apparent concealment of a kidnapping case filed against Matobato by the family of Sali Makdum, whom the witness claimed was a terrorist that President Duterte had allegedly ordered killed.

“Matobato will no longer be an issue because he’s damaged goods. There’s no probative value (in his testimony) because he has totally destroyed his credibility,” Gordon told reporters.

“The nature of our investigation is not adversarial. We’re all here to find out what’s the truth of the matter so that we can come out with proper legislation,” he said.

Matobato had testified that Duterte had ordered the killing of over 1,000 suspected criminals and opponents from 1988 to 2013 when he was mayor of Davao City.

The 57-year-old witness claimed he was a member of the Davao death squad that took orders from Duterte through his trusted police aides.

De Lima, then the justice committee chair, initiated the inquiry by presenting Matobato in her resolution last August looking into the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country from May 10 to July 12 this year.

Other senators, however, pointed out that Matobato’s testimony was not covered by the scope of De Lima’s resolution. This prompted Trillanes to file a new resolution asking the same panel to simultaneously investigate the so-called Davao death squad (DDS).

In the previous hearings, Lacson and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano pointed to several inconsistencies in Matobato’s testimonies.

On Monday, the panel heard the testimonies of retired and active police officers that Matobato tagged as members of the DDS. The witnesses strongly denied the allegations and branded Matobato as a gun-toting braggart while he was under the employ of the Davao City government as a guard and civilian agent.

During the hearing, De Lima was confronted by Gordon and Lacson on her alleged concealment of Matobato’s kidnapping case. De Lima showed a transcript from a previous hearing that showed the case was mentioned.

Lacson later countered that while the case was mentioned in a previous hearing, the kidnapping was apparently a personal offense committed by Matobato with cohorts who were not members of the DDS whom he had previously named.

Later in the hearing, Cayetano and Sen. Manny Pacquiao said they wanted the inquiry terminated, saying Matobato had duped the senators.

“The Filipinos were taken for a ride here… I don’t want the international community to think that this is the kind of country we are running,” Cayetano said.

De Lima told reporters the move to exclude DDS from the inquiry was “a travesty of justice, a travesty of the truth.”

De Lima pleaded to her colleagues to continue the hearings.

She said if the members of the committee are “having problems” with the testimony of Matobato, then the panel can still continue with its hearings without him.

“I hope the primary hearing on the main subject matter of extrajudicial killings (would continue) because you know, that would be a travesty of truth, a travesty of justice as many (are) victims of extrajudicial killings,” De Lima told reporters.

“Since they are so uncomfortable with the testimony of Mr. Matobato, then the main hearing on the spate of killings, the subject matter of the first resolution, should not be affected,” she said.

De Lima said she had the impression that since Day One of the inquiry, other senators were hostile towards Matobato.



 (On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said China “nine dash line claim” in the South China Sea was not valid. The court was also highly critical of China’s environmental destruction in the South China Sea.) (See Below)

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (R) reviews the guard of honour with his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam September 29, 2016.REUTERS/Kham

 Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left) shakes hands with China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua, at the Heroes Cemetery in Taguig, south of Manila, in August. Photo: EPA


China dredger Tian Jing Hao. Dozens of dredges like this have been and are being used in China’s environmental rape of the South China Sea and island building.

Reef debris after destruction by a Chinese super dredge

 (This    article has links to several  others related to environmental issues in the South China Sea).

A green sea turtle is seen off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

A green sea turtle.(Reuters)


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One Response to “Philippines: Off-track foreign policy (Editorial) — A Gift To China — Philippine Senate to end probe on extralegal killings — Human Rights In the Philippines? Discussed only in hushed tones…”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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