May 2016

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua presents President-elect Rodrigo Duterte copy of the book on Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Office of the City Mayor Davao City via AP)

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua presents President-elect Rodrigo Duterte a copy of the book on Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Office of the City Mayor Davao City via AP)

Like all relationships and marriages, both parties will try to work, or live, harmoniously and reconcile their differences, if any. This is called the “honeymoon” period and it could last for a long time or it can be abbreviated depending on how they relate to each other. It may sound simplistic, but they hope that by the time the honeymoon is over, they’d remain married, partners, allies or friends. Nobody could predict the denouement of their relationships, but as someone once said, “There are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.”

It did not then come as a surprise that America’s enemies during World War II – Germany, Japan, Italy – became her allies, and her allies USSR and China became her enemies during the Cold War that followed World War II. And these alliances – North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and U.S.-Japan Security Treaty – have endured for more than 65 years. And today, NATO has become the bulwark in the defense the 28 NATO countries against enemy invasion, which is crucial to the U.S. national interests.

And in Asia-Pacific, the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty has become a formidable deterrence against Chinese expansionism. Other treaty allies of the U.S. in Asia-Pacific are South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines. These alliances form a line of defense along the First Island Chain – linking Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, and Borneo — which would deter China from breaking out into the Western Pacific.

Choke points

First-and-Second-Island-Chains.3To prevent China from breaking out, the U.S. has to have a strong military presence in Japan and the Philippines, where she can control two major choke points to the Western Pacific. These are the Miyako Strait between Okinawa (Japan) and Taiwan, and the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Batanes Islands (Philippines). With several air force bases, a naval base, and 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan, the U.S. maintains strategic dominance over the Miiyako Strait. But it is a different situation in the Bashi Channel, which is wide open and defenseless. However, the U.S. had shown interest in deploying her forces to the Batanes Island and the Laoag City airport in northern Luzon. If the Philippines agrees to this proposal, it would shut off the Bashi Channel from Chinese intrusion… and effectively makes the First Island Chain impenetrable.

Recently, the Philippines and the U.S. agreed on the locations for four American air force units and one army base under the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperative Agreement (EDCA), which was signed in April 2014. In addition, the former U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base is a frequent destination for U.S. warships while the former Clark Air Base is used to host American surveillance planes that keep an eye over the South China Sea.

It’s interesting to note that EDCA was signed as an executive order under the Aquino administration. As such, it can be terminated by the incoming administration of presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte, who considers himself as a left-of-center politician. However, he admits that he had been on friendly terms with the communist New People’s Army (NPA), which makes one wonder: How is he going to deal with China in regard to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea?

Bilateral talks

Scarborough Shoal

Scarborough Shoal

It is no wonder then that a week after Duterte’s landslide victory last May 9, China’s ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua paid him a courtesy call in Davao City. Zhao congratulated him on his victory and expressed his country’s expectation of working with his administration to “properly deal with the differences, deepen traditional friendship, and promote mutually beneficial cooperation, so as to bring the ‘bilateral ties’ forward.”

Obviously, Zhao was referring to “differences” on the South China Sea territorial disputes, which the Philippines under the Aquino administration had submitted to the United Nations’ Permanent Court of Arbitration. It challenged the legality of China’s “nine-dash line” claim over the South China Sea under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). However, China refused to recognize the authority of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and indicated that she will reject its decision on the matter.

In a recent media interview, Duterte said: “I told you [referring to China] that is ours, you have no right to be there. And I said whether you believe it or not, that [it] would be the predicate of any further discussions about that territory.” He added, “At stake is the principle of the law of nations, which says you have the exclusive right to develop and make use of your exclusive economic zone. If there is arbitration, we expect China to follow.”

As Duterte’s “honeymoon” with China begins, there would be a lot of posturing by both sides. But the crux of the dispute is China’s iron-clad claim to her indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea demarcated by the “nine-dash line,” which has no fixed coordinates simply because it was arbitrarily drawn on a map in 1947 by China’s Nationalist government under Chiang Kai Shek. China considers the South China Sea as one of her national core values, which are “non-negotiable.”

If Duterte were to initiate bilateral talks with China, he’d be faced with a dilemma. China had in the past offered joint development in the Spratlys. However, she has one pre-condition: That the Philippines concedes to China indisputable sovereignty over the Spratlys. If China sticks to this pre-condition and Duterte accepts it, the Philippines must vacate all the islands she occupies in the Spratlys including the populated Kalayan Island Group (KIG), which is part of Philippine national territory as defined in the Philippine Baselines Law (R.A. No. 3046, as amended by R.A. No. 5446 and R.A. No. 9522) and in Article I of the 1987 Constitution. This would be a violation of the Constitution, which is an impeachable act. Either way, the honeymoon would be over before it started, which begs the question: What would be Duterte’s next step?

Junk EDCA?

Chinese facility at Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

Chinese facility at Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

Faced with pressures from militants to scrap EDCA, Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Duterte will be confronted with the problem of national security. While he had said during the campaign that he was willing to junk EDCA, he is now saying that his administration will continue EDCA since the external defense of the country is weak. Indeed, with no warships and no warplanes to defend her territory, the Philippines would be at the mercy of China.

And once American forces are out of the Philippines – again – what do you expect China would do next? One needs to remember that when the Philippine Senate removed the American bases from Philippine soil in 1992, China took possession of the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef within two years, without firing a shot. With the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal completely controlled by China, the province of Palawan — which is less than 100 miles from the Spratlys — would be an easy target. China could then claim that the Chinese had been in Palawan since ancient times. And like what she did with the Spratlys, Scarborough Shoal, Paracel Islands (claimed by Vietnam), and Senkaku Islands (claimed by Japan), she would probably come up with another “ancient map” showing Palawan as part of her territories. And pretty soon, the Philippines could become a vassal or client state of China, which would effectively deprive the Filipinos of their sovereignty.

Bully vs. bully

US-vs-ChinaDuterte, street smart – or “kanto boy” — as he is, should know that it takes a bully to fight a bully. He should also be aware that size matters. In other words, a little boy cannot fight a big bully. So what the little boy would do is to call his big brother. In the case of the Philippines, Duterte would turn to big brother America, a bully bigger that China, for help. And this is where EDCA, MDT, VFA, and LSA would level the playing field.

At the end of the day, one might say that Duterte’s honeymoon with China would just be an exercise in futility. But the lesson learned would provide him with a clear direction of how – and where — he should lead the country in the next six years.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Duterte-PagbabagoA week after his landslide presidential victory, Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte’s cabinet is shaping up: a mixture of business leaders, leftists, communists, political allies, and personal friends. On the surface it looks like a broad-spectrum government reaching out to all sectors of the country. That’s good… at least on paper. But at a closer scrutiny, it reveals a master chess player who is lining up his pieces adroitly to achieve “tunay na pagbabago” – real change – which he promised during the campaign.

Indeed, Duterte is already raising eyebrows in political circles. While there are the usual skeptics, the reactions are overwhelmingly positive with people hoping that he’d deliver on his promises, which detractors say are impossible to accomplish. But to the common people – the masa – they welcome the radical changes that he vowed to make, which begs the question: Can he deliver? Or are these just promises meant to be broken… just like what traditional politicians – trapos – do all the time? But the people have been too forgiving – and forgetful — and continue to elect trapos year after year. But this time around, they demonstrated their frustration and anger at the political establishment by voting for a man who admittedly used unorthodox methods, to say it mildly, to rid Davao City of criminality during his term as mayor for two decades.

During a campaign rally, he vowed to kill criminals, saying: “The drug pushers, kidnappers, robbers, find them all and arrest them. If they resist, kill them all.” And to emphasize his point, he told the crowd, “Go ahead and charge me with murder, so I could also kill you.” At another rally, he promised to “take out” 100,000 criminals and dump them in the Manila Bay so “fish will grow fat.” Ordinarily, people would cringe at that kind of vulgarity. But to those who are fed up with the impunity of criminality and corruption, his blunt warnings give them hope that finally there is one fearless leader who was determined to do whatever it would take to protect the people.

Mandate

Duterte-rally.3Indeed, if one has to characterize Duterte’s landslide – nay, tsunami – victory over his four rivals, it’s a protest vote against the corrupt government that the people believed had betrayed the sacred covenant of the EDSA people power revolution 30 years ago. The people see in Duterte someone who has the balls to do the unconventional way to achieve social justice.

While Duterte’s overwhelming victory on Election Day may be deemed as a mandate to pursue the things he promised by whatever means he’d chose, there is the danger of failure, which could end his reign as dramatic as his rise to power. He promised early in his campaign that he would eradicate crime and corruption in three to six months, which the people bought hook, line and sinker. They pinned their hopes on this singular promise and expected him to deliver, not a day longer than six months! But what if he failed?

A failure six months into his presidency could wreck his administration beyond repair, just like what happened to his three predecessors, one of which was ousted and another one is currently in detention facing plunder charges, which makes one wonder: Short of declaring martial law, what’s his game plan?

Blueprint for success

Economic-growthRecently, he unveiled an 8-point economic agenda. His plan includes: (1) Initiate reforms in tax revenue collections; (2) Set aside 5% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for infrastructure spending; (3) Attract foreign investors; (4) Provide support services to farmers to increase productivity, provide irrigation services to them, and promote tourism in rural areas; (5) Address bottlenecks in our land administration and management system; (6) Strengthen basic education system; (7) Improve tax system by indexing tax collection to inflation rate; and (8) Expand and improve implementation of the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.

It’s a good economic plan and it is doable. However, its success hinges on the elimination of corruption. He promised that his administration would vigorously prosecute those who engage in corrupt practices. But isn’t this what all his predecessors promised but failed to do? Can he fire and prosecute – no exceptions — his cabinet members and their underlings, most of whom are his political allies or personal friends, if they engage in corruption? Can he stop jueteng, which he promised to do, and prosecute the jueteng lords who are protected by powerful politicians?

If he has the political will to punish erring subordinates, then he has won half the battle. If so, we should see some of his appointees’ heads rolling within six months, because there will always be those who would be tempted by the aphrodisiacal smell of dirty money. If not, he can then kiss his entire promises goodbye and govern the country just like some of his predecessors… that is, corrupt to the core.

It’s interesting to note that Duterte has made at least 21 political appointees, most of whom have links to powerful political figures. Ten were appointees or allies of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, six are Duterte’s personal friends or classmates, one is the son of Nacionalista Party stalwart Manny Villar, and four posts are reserved for members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) under Jose Ma. Sison.

Digong’s gambit

Philippines' president-elect Rodrigo Duterte (L) meets China's ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua during a courtesy call in Davao City / AFP PHOTO / POOL / POOL

Philippines’ president-elect Rodrigo Duterte (L) meets China’s ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua during a courtesy call in Davao City / AFP PHOTO / POOL / POOL

And talking of communists, China’s ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua paid Duterte a courtesy call in Davao City on May 16, a day after Duterte said he was open to “bilateral talks” with Beijing over the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Zhao congratulated Duterte on his victory and expressed his country’s expectation of working with Duterte’s administration to “properly deal with the differences, deepen traditional friendship, and promote mutually beneficial cooperation, so as to bring the bilateral ties forward.”

Although Duterte was open to negotiating directly with China, he had made patriotic statements during the campaign about Philippine sovereignty over the disputed territories. To drive his point, he said he would ride a ski jet to the Scarborough Shoal and plant a Philippine flag.

The following day after Zhao’s visit, U.S. President Barack Obama called Duterte personally to congratulate him also. Duterte told Obama that he is open to having bilateral talks with China on the disputed territories if the current efforts to resolve the issue failed. However, he assured Obama that the Philippines will continue her mutual interests and is allied with the Western World on the West Philippine Sea row.

During an interview with the media, Duterte said he will hold a steady course on the territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea, and he is in no hurry to quit the multilateral approach pursued by President Benigno Aquino’s outgoing administration. He said that if the multilateral approach stalls after two or three years, then he would proceed with bilateral talks. Is this a signal to Obama that if the U.S. cannot stop China in the West Philippine Sea, he’d unilaterally negotiate a settlement with China?

It’s noteworthy to mention that during the campaign he suggested that he was willing to set aside the Philippines’ claims if China agreed to build railways across the Philippines and hold joint exploration for resources in the disputed waters.

With all these mixed signals, Duterte seems to be playing his cards close to his chest. We can see his opening gambit but nobody knows how he’s going to play the end game. And in between his opening gambit and end game, his brand of politics will manifest itself.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Duterte-kissing-flag-miting-de-avanceSome would say that presumptive President-Elect Rodrigo “Rody” or “Digong” Duterte is a leftist, which he admits. Some say he is a communist, which he denies. Others say he is pro-China. And a few say he could be the new “Amboy” – that is, “America’s Boy.” Honestly, nobody knows that much about his brand of politics.

Who the hell is Digong then? With so many contradictions on what he had said during the campaign, one might say, “This guy is enigmatic!” He’s got a little bit of the brashness of Donald Trump—which he denies. “Trump is a racist, I am not,” he said. He’s got a little bit of the unpredictability of Vladimir Putin. Hmm… He’s likened to the benevolent dictator Lee Kuan Yew, which he’d probably say, “Heck, I’m better than Lee!” Some say he’s like the late President Ramon “The Guy” Magsaysay, the most popular president the country ever had. And some see him as a real-life embodiment of the movie character “Dirty Harry.” The locals call him “The Punisher” for his zero tolerance against criminals. And what you’ve got is Trump, Putin, Lee, Magsaysay, and “Dirty Harry” all wrapped into one.

Duterte-assault-rifle.2Yes, Digong is popular with the masa – common people — but feared by criminals. It’s the alchemy that forms a brand of “political populism,” one that justifies populism to achieve a political end. And it works best in a country mired in poverty and corruption. It is no wonder then that when he promised to eradicate crime in three to six months, only a few casts doubt that he could do it without declaring martial law, but the majority sees it as flicker of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. In their minds, if Digong were successful in transforming Davao City from the “Murder Capital of the Philippines” to the safest city in the Philippines and “one of the safest in the world,” then that is good enough to give him their votes. Forget that some skeptics don’t believe these statistical claims, but when the residents of Davao City feel safe, then these become “facts” unless proven otherwise. And who among his political rivals have the credibility to challenge his claims?

Fighting corruption

Duterte-VisionWhen Duterte entered the presidential race last November, he promised to fight corruption. “If I will become president, corruption has to stop,” he said. He added that it has been bleeding the nation dry and pushing the people deeper into poverty.

When he was asked if he could really do it, he said he gained his experience of fighting corruption when he worked as a prosecutor for the Tanodbayan, the predecessor of the Ombudsman. He said that he “hounded” the corrupt when he was a Tanodbayan prosecutor. “Once upon a time, I was one of only two Tanodbayan investigators in Mindanao.” With a tinge of populism, he would tell government officials not to shortchange the public. “Don’t grab from people’s mouth what they are about to eat. What is theirs is theirs,” he’d remind them. His passion for the masa gives him credibility that he is capable of fighting corruption.

During the last days of the campaign, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV dropped a bombshell accusing Duterte of enriching himself while in office. Duterte then opened his bank account to public scrutiny to prove that there was only P17,000 in it, not P211 million as Trillanes had alleged. His quick response added credibility to his character.

By contrast, when Vice President Jejomar Binay, one of his presidential rivals, vowed to fight corruption and go after corrupt officials, nobody believed him. And when asked to disclose his bank accounts, Binay refused. How could the people believe him when he has several plunder charges filed against him before the Office of the Ombudsman, and secretive about his wealth? He has zero credibility.

Economic growth

Poverty-boy-cradling-a-brotherNot content with outgoing President Benigno Aquino III’s economic growth of an average of 6 percent, Duterte plans to pursue a growth of 7-8 percent or higher. “If we want to reduce the poverty rate, we need a higher growth,” his spokesman Peter Laviña said. And this begs the question: Can he do it? Yes, he can. However, as what had happened in the administrations of Aquino and his predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who have sustained high economic growths, it did not alleviate the suffering of the poor. In spite of the Philippines’ high economic growth – it’s the “best economy in Southeast Asia today” — poverty and hunger are on the upswing. Why?

In 1973, World Bank president Robert McNamara spoke about poverty, saying: “Despite a decade of unprecedented increase in the gross national product of the developing countries, the poorest segments of their population have received relatively little benefit [because] rapid growth has been accompanied by greater maldistribution of income in many developing countries.” He went on to say that “the growth of GNP is essentially an index of the welfare of the upper income groups. It is quite insensitive to what happens to the poorest 40%, who collectively receive only 10-15% of the total national income.”

It wouldn’t take a social scientist or economist a long time to figure out that this was exactly the problem the Philippines faces today, which is: maldistribution of income. Add corruption to the mix and the outcome is: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Indeed, if there is one challenge that Duterte will be faced with, it’s how he’s going to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor? To find the answer, one has to look at our Asian neighbors, the so-called “economic tigers.” If there is one measure of their success, it’s their growing middle class, which increases as the lower class decreases.

It’s noteworthy to mention also that a lot of social scientists are of the opinion that corruption creates poverty, not the other way around. If Duterte makes good of his promise to fight corruption, he’d have a good start in fighting poverty as well. And with his empathy for the poor, Duterte could feel at ease in starting a peaceful political and economic revolution.

Platform for success

FederalismDuterte has a three-pronged platform that he plans to implement in the first six months of his presidency, which his spokesman Peter Laviña had outlined as follows:

1. Pursue a 24/7 fight against drugs, criminality, corruption, and poverty;

2. Call on Congress to pass a law for the election of members of a Constitutional Convention to undertake a “major rewriting” of the 1987 Constitution. The objectives are to institute a shift to a federal parliamentary form of government, and to ease the current restrictions on foreign ownership of land, public utilities, educational institutions, and participation in the exploitation of natural resources; and

3. Pursue negotiations and forge peace agreements toward political settlements of the protracted armed conflicts both with the Left revolutionary forces and the Muslim rebel organizations.

One might say that his platform is ambitiously quixotic. But he has one chance to succeed. If he fails, he’d finish his term just like most of his predecessors – mediocre. If he succeeds, he’d be looked upon by generations to come as the Father of the Sixth Philippine Republic. But he can only achieve that if he remains what he is today: a strongman with a soft spot for the masa.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Strategic Triangle: Scarborough Shoal, Spratlys, and Paracel islands.

Strategic Triangle: Scarborough Shoal, Spratlys, and Paracel islands.

The biggest — and hottest — topic in geopolitical circles today is World War III, or to be more precise… where will World War III start? But if you ask Pope Francis, he’d probably say what he said several months ago: World War III has already begun, at least in a “piecemeal fashion.”

“Piecemeal fashion” is a reference to several crises – or regional wars — in various parts of the world, which could spark a nuclear war that would wipe out mankind.   The question is: Where will World War III start?   Take your pick: Middle East, Eastern Europe, Baltic Sea, Black Sea, West Africa, East Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, Korean Peninsula, East Asia or South East Asia? It’s anybody’s guess. But for sure, a crisis or war is going on in all these places. Yes, Pope Francis was right: World War III is here.    

Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands

Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands

Consider the following: The Middle East has several wars going on. Eastern Europe is about to explode if the civil war in Ukraine is not contained. The Baltic Sea is teeming with Russian and NATO warships loaded with ballistic missiles. And so is the Black Sea. In East Africa, Saudi Arabia is fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen. In Central Asia, Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a deadly stalemate over Nagorno-Karabakh. In South Asia, India and Pakistan are prepared to go to war at the drop of a hat. In the Korean Peninsula, North and South Korea are poised to attack each other for without reason. In West Africa, threats from militant groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram, and ISIS are increasing. In East Asia, Japan and China are in a standoff over a few uninhabited islands called Senkaku (Diaoyu to the Chinese). And in the South China Sea (SCS), Vietnam and the Philippines are locked in territorial disputes with China over the Spratly Islands; Vietnam and China over the Paracel Islands; and the Philippines and China over the Scarborough Shoal.

Territorial disputes

Scarborough-Shoal-aerial-view.2All things considered, the most likely place where war could erupt is the Scarborough Shoal, an uninhabited shoal with a lagoon rich in fish resources. It’s within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which she claims as her territory since the Spanish colonial period.

But to the Chinese, Scarborough Shoal’s value is its geostrategic location. It did not then come as a surprise when the South China Morning Post reported that China would start reclamation later this year. China did not deny or confirm the report. This alerted U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan to react. He surmised that if China were indeed building an artificial island on Scarborough Shoal, it would complete a “strategic triangle” of bases.   These bases are located in Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago, Spratly Islands, and Scarborough Shoal; thus, giving China control over most of the SCS and the island of Luzon in the Philippines, and Vietnam.

It is interesting to note that the Philippines had signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allowed the U.S. to rotate military equipment and personnel in existing Philippine bases. To date, five military bases have been identified. Vietnam also signed an agreement allowing the U.S. to preposition equipment for humanitarian responses.

With China’s Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy already in place, China’s “strategic triangle” would force the U.S. military to operate farther from the SCS. She could then declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the area.

“Strategic strait”

"Strategic Strait"

“Strategic Strait”

Peter Dutton, professor and director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College, said in a recent speech in London: “The logical conclusion drawn from China’s adding islands in the southern part of the South China Sea with military-sized runways, substantial port facilities, radar platforms and space to accommodate military forces is that China’s objective is to dominate the waters of the South China Sea at will. Building the islands is therefore, in my view, a significant strategic event.” Then he added, “They leave the potential for the South China Sea to become a Chinese strait, rather than an open component of the global maritime commons.” However, he said that China could restrict commercial movement in the area. But the “real problem” is that China could also restrict passage through this “strategic strait” in times of crisis.

If China restricts American passage in the SCS, it could cause innumerable damage to U.S.’s trade and economy. In 2011, $5.3 trillion in trade passed through the SCS, $1.2 trillion of which was tied to the U.S. About 90% of East Asian energy imports pass through the SCS. In 2014, the U.S. exported $79 billion in goods to countries around the SCS, and imported $127 billion from them that same year. It is therefore in the U.S.’s best interest that the SCS should remain open to maritime navigation.

Chinese objective

US-vs-ChinaIt is obvious that China wants to end America’s dominance in the SCS; thus, taking full control of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, economically, militarily, and politically. It will be the end of Pax Americana and the advent of Pax Sinica. And this begs the question: What would the U.S. do in the event that China went ahead with the reclamation of Scarborough Shoal?

With the election of a new U.S. president who will assume office on January 20, 2017, it is impossible to predict how the new American leader would deal with Chinese expansionism in the SCS and beyond. And the lame duck president Barack Obama would more than likely do nothing short of a second-strike nuclear attack in response to a Chinese first-strike against the U.S. or any of her treaty allies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Treaty obligations

Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) Exercise 2016.

Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) Exercise 2016.

But what if China sent her dredging and hauling equipment to start reclamation of the Scarborough Shoal? What would Obama or his successor do, knowing that what is at stake is America’s preeminence as a Pacific power?   While Obama would resort to diplomacy, which would fail as it has in the past seven years, it would be interesting to know what the next president — Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders – would do?

Will any of them come to the aid of the Philippines under the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) if the Philippines invoked it? Under the MDT, the U.S. is obligated to protect not only Philippine “metropolitan territory” but also the “island territories” within her jurisdiction. Furthermore, the MDT also obligates the U.S. to defend Philippine “public ships and aircraft” — including military vessels – from armed attack in the Pacific (including the SCS).

In this regard the Scarborough Shoal (then known by its Spanish name, Baja de Masinloc) was part of the Philippine archipelago that was ceded by Spain to the U.S. under the 1898 Treaty of Paris. The 1900 Treaty of Washington clarified that any and all territories administered by Spain are part of the Philippine Islands, even if they were located outside the original Treaty of Paris lines circumscribing the Philippine archipelago. In 1938, the U.S. Department of State recognized that the U.S. had acquired title to the Scarborough Shoal from Spain based on the Treaty of Washington.   In 1946, the Scarborough Shoal was one of the territories that the U.S. transferred to the Philippines upon her independence. In 2012, China seized the Scarborough Shoal and declared “indisputable sovereignty” over it.

With the geostrategic value of Scarborough Shoal, the U.S. should – nay, must! – not allow China to militarize it.   That would certainly push back American forces to where they were prior to 1898. As tensions heat up in the SCS, one wonders if the U.S. would prevent China – by military means – from building a military base on Scarborough Shoal? If the U.S. uses military force, it is expected that China would respond in kind, which could then trigger World War III.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Duterte-assault-rifle.1Underfinanced and overly maligned for his brand of leadership, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte jumped into the presidential derby two months after the official campaign period had started. And with no national political machinery, and who hardly traveled outside his city for two decades as mayor, Duterte was hesitant to enter the race. But it must have been destiny that pushed him into the fray.

With no previous national government experience, Digong knew too well that to beat his nationally well-known rivals, he has to win the hearts of the people and seal a “sacred” covenant with them. To do this, he has to go down to the level of the “common tao” and impress upon them a sincere message of hope, which is “Para sa tunay na pagbabago” – for a real change.

Impunity of lawlessness

Before becoming mayor of Davao City, the city was known as the “Murder Capital of the Philippines.” It was the country’s Dodge City where lawlessness ruled. And this brings to mind the legendary Wyatt Earp, the crime-fighter in the epic movie “Gunfight at O.K. Corral,” which was followed by “Tombstone” decades later.

Together with his three brothers and the feared gunfighter and killer, John Henry “Doc” Holliday, Earp clashed with a group of outlaws called “cowboys” in the 1870s, chasing them from Dodge City, Kansas to Tombstone, Arizona where the Earps and Holliday figured in gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Wyatt Earp was credited with fighting lawlessness in Dodge City and Tombstone.

In so many ways, Digong Duterte may be likened to Wyatt Earp. Wyatt’s posse cleaned up Tombstone of the lawless cowboys while Digong fought the criminals of his city with the participation of a reputed group of vigilantes known as the “Davao Death Squad” or DDS. Although Duterte never admitted to being the leader of DDS, it came to be known as the “Duterte Death Squad,” which makes some people wonder: Is Digong a gangster or a gang-buster? But his people – the “masa” – like what he did for their city, which Numbeo ranked in June 2015 as the “fourth safest city in the world.”

According to Wikepedia, Numbeo is a crowd-sourced global database of reported consumer prices, perceived crime rates, quality of health care, and other statistics. Using its crime and safety indices, Numbeo rated Davao City “low” in its crime rate measures and “high” in its safety measures. Interestingly, while that is happening in Davao City, other cities (e.g., Cebu City and Metro Manila) are rated increasingly in crime and dangerously unsafe. Davao City boasts that it is one of only three areas in the world, after the U.S. and Canada, to have a fully computerized Integrated Response System 911. And by and large the citizens are happier.

Zero tolerance

Duterte-riding-motorcycleIt did not then come as a surprise that when Digong entered the presidential race, his reputation as an iron-fisted disciplinarian impressed people across the country. And his zero tolerance for lawbreakers became his trademark.

He liked to patrol the city streets at night riding on a Harley Davidson or sometimes driving a taxi to catch robbers preying on drivers. He banned smoking. At one time, he caught a foreigner violating the ordinance and forced him to chew the cigarette butt. He also prohibited firecrackers and imposed a nighttime curfew for minors to fight juvenile delinquency.

Digong’s “shock and awe” style of conveying his campaign message is what sets him apart from his rivals who use traditional canned slogans and promises to woo the voters. But the voters preferred to hear Duterte’s blunt warnings and threats to lawbreakers. Like for instance when Duterte threatened to shoot criminals and hang them using laundry line or drown them in the Manila Bay. “The fish in Manila Bay will get fat,” he said. “If I become president, even God will cry.”

Dirty-HarryIn one of the presidential debates, he pledged to eradicate crime — especially drug trafficking and kidnappings – and corruption in three to six months. When a journalist asked him to elaborate, Duterte said that while suspected drug dealers end up in jail in Manila, they’d be dead in his city. And he was applauded when he said: “When I say ‘leave Davao,’ you leave Davao. If you do not do that, you’re dead. That’s the way the story will go, no drama.” Then he turned to one of his rivals, Mar Roxas, and told him: “If you do not know how to kill people and you’re afraid to die, that’s the problem, you cannot be a president.”

That kind of language sends shudder down the spines of criminals. But to the masa, it sounds like sweet symphonic melody. He earned the nickname “Duterte Harry” after a Clint Eastwood character called “Dirty Harry” who had little or no regard for rules. Indeed, “killing all criminals” has become his trademark campaign battle cry. However, he’d remind his audience that if they didn’t commit a crime, they don’t have to worry.

Impossible dream?

Crime in the Philippines has become one of the country’s biggest – if not the biggest – problems. Killing of journalists, assassination of political figures, drug trafficking, and human trafficking have been plaguing the country… and the occurrences are increasing. No amount of law enforcement reform and legislation has effectively curbed lawlessness.

Duterte-and-Lee-Kuan-YewFor the past two decades, people have been calling for a leader to come forth and give criminals a run for their lives. And a lot of them wished, “If only we have a Filipino Lee Kuan Yew, the country would be a lot safer.” It would seem like wishful thinking, an impossible dream. But when Duterte decided to run for president, the people reacted spontaneously. To a lot of them, particularly the poor masa, Duterte is the messiah who will deliver them from a perpetual bondage of poverty. When hope is gone, change – any change – is welcome. After all, what is there to lose?

And for those who have yet to be convinced, the time of reckoning is coming on Election Day. And the voters who have yet to be convinced of the “Duterte Phenomenon” that is going viral in social media, they would come to realize – nay, believe! – that Duterte is not only a phenomenon; he is a phenomenal phenomenon.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

PHILIPPINES-POLITICS-ELECTIONUp until a few weeks ago, vice presidential candidate Congresswoman Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo was behind in the polls. Way ahead of her then were Senators Francis “Chiz” Escudero and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who were at a statistical dead heat. But the latest polls surprised a lot of the power brokers who have shrugged her off as a “spoiler.” Not anymore. Indeed, if the elections were held today, she’d win over Bongbong and Chiz, which makes one wonder: Why the sudden voters’ interest in Leni?

This is a complicated situation because first of all, Leni is paired with Liberal Party (LP) standard bearer Manuel “Mar” Roxas II who is perceived as a weak leader. And secondly, she’s up against two formidable vice presidential candidates, Marcos and Escudero, whose campaigns are being bankrolled by some of the wealthiest families and oligarchs. While Bongbong is presumed to have unrestricted access to the Marcos family wealth, Chiz is supported by a group of mega-billionaires led by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. and Ramon Ang. Cojuangco is the Chairman of San Miguel Corporation (SMC), the largest food and beverage corporation in the Philippines and Southeast Asia; and Ang is SMC Vice-Chairman and Chief Operating Officer. By comparison, Leni doesn’t have rich and powerful groups that can match her rivals’ financiers. That’s a double whammy – nay, triple whammy! — that she had to overcome to win the vice presidency. As it stood then, Leni couldn’t win, not even in her dreams. Yes, it was that bad.

Leni’s rise

Bilang-Pilipino-survey-April-2016But she proved the pundits wrong. In September 2015, Leni’s rating was 5%. Today, it’s 26% with just three weeks to Election Day. By comparison, Bongbong’s ratings — after shooting up to the 25% range last January — have stagnated, which seems to suggest that he may have reached his highest rating. On the other hand, Chiz’s ratings were like shooting stars. He started with 20% in September 2015 and had gone up as high as 30% by November. But evidently, he had reached the apex of his campaign; it has been downhill since then. Today, Leni and Bongbong are at a statistical dead heat, with Chiz running behind Bongbong at 18%. [Note: these numbers may vary a little in other surveys but their rankings are pretty much in line with the numbers reflected here.]

Leni’s phenomenal rise brings to the forefront of debate the question: What are the factors that contributed to her success in beating the odds? In my opinion, Leni’s rise happened when presidential candidate Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares’ ratings plummeted. That happened last March when Grace’s ratings reached the highest at around 30%. Then her numbers started going down while Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s ratings started to go up. By the end of March, Duterte became the frontrunner as Grace’s ratings began to fall.

By the looks of it, the presidential race will be won by either Duterte or Llamanzares. However, Duterte’s campaign is winning a lot of the supporters of Vice President Jejomar Binay whose ratings have slid down to 14% today from 30% last January. And with the upward trend of Duterte’s ratings, a “bandwagon effect” takes hold attracting those who abandoned Binay’s sinking ship and jumping into Duterte’s bandwagon.

Leni vs. Bongbong

Leni-Robredo-and-Bongbong-MarcosIn the case of the vice presidential contest, it appears that it is going to be a tight race between Leni and Bongbong. But like a horse race, whoever takes the inner position in the final lap would have the advantage of beating the other in a photo finish, with the victor winning by a nose.

And this is where organization and money matter. Organizationally, Leni has an advantage because of the Liberal Party’s top-to-bottom infrastructure, from the President down to the more than 40,000 village councils – barangays – that the LP administration controls. Bongbong, although a member of the Nacionalista Party (NP), is running as an independent. Two other NP members, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV, are also running for vice president. Bongbong has to rely on his own political network that includes the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), or New Society Movement, which was founded by his father and namesake, the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos. However, since the ouster of Marcos and dismantling of his authoritarian regime, the KBL became politically insignificant, a relic of the dark days of a bygone era.

But Bongbong’s main strength is his family’s financial empire. Although, the public and the government know not much about the alleged Marcos wealth, it is presumed to have been the source of his campaign funds. And this is where he has an overwhelming advantage over Leni. Like any campaign for political office, money talks. The more money he funnels into his campaign, the louder his message is heard.

However, Leni seems to be unperturbed by Bongbong’s financial advantage. She is a lawyer, holds an Economics degree from the University of the Philippines, a social activist, and currently serving her first term as the representative of the Third District of Camarines Sur to the Philippine House of Representatives, which she reluctantly ran for — and won — in the 2013 elections beating Nelly Favis-Villafuerte, who belongs to the politically powerful Villafuerte family dynasty.

Jesse’s legacy

Leni-Robredo-and-Jess-RobredoWhile Leni is politically savvy, her election victory would be a testament to the legacy of her popular husband, the late Secretary of the Interior and Local Government Jesse Robredo who served under the Aquino administration from 2010 until his death in 2012. Prior to his national prominence, Jesse Robredo served six terms as Mayor of Naga City. He was also elected President of the League of Cities of the Philippines, the influential national association of city mayors. In 2000, he was recognized and awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service.

After the death of her husband, Leni kept a low profile. But Fate pushed her to the limelight when she reluctantly accepted a draft to be the LP’s vice presidential nominee after President Aquino failed to convince Grace Poe-Llamanzares to fill the spot. As the Aquino’s second choice, it didn’t take long for Leni to learn the ropes of running for national office. Leni’s performance at the two vice presidential debates last April 10 and April 17 proved her mettle as a candidate to be reckoned with. Her ratings improved considerably putting her ahead in the race. After the second debate, 33% of the 1,200 viewers polled voted Leni as the “best performer” of the debate. Chiz garnered 28%. But Bongbong was a no-show, which proved to be a bad thing for him. Truth be told, his ratings went down by several percentage points. As they say in politics, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Women’s vote

Women-for-LeniIt’s quite interesting to note that during the first debate, Leni was voted the best among women respondents with 35%, which begs the question: Is women’s vote a factor in winning the election? I am inclined to say, “Yes, with qualification.” I believe it is how women voters perceive the candidates. In the case of Grace Poe-Llamanzares, there seems to be a disconnect with the women voters because of the way she handled the citizenship and residency issues against her. Although the Supreme Court ruled in her favor on the disqualification petitions filed against her, a lot of voters were convinced that she lied. And then there is the case of her having two social security numbers in the U.S. Her denial didn’t seem believable. And then, there is the secrecy about her husband Neil Llamanzares’ employment with an outfit that does espionage work for the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.

But it’s her sense of humor that endears her to voters. During the first debate, Leni teased her five rivals for the vice presidency, saying: “May the best woman win.” She was the only woman among the six candidates. Touché!

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)