October 2016

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte meets with Chinese Consul General Song Ronghua (left) and his party during their courtesy call at Marco Polo Hotel during the presidential campaign. (Credit: Bing Gonzales)

Then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte meets with Chinese Consul General Song Ronghua (left) and his party during their courtesy call at Marco Polo Hotel during the presidential campaign. (Credit: Bing Gonzales)

In Philippine elections, presidential candidates are labeled according to their perceived political persuasion or ideological beliefs. However, political persuasion doesn’t really matter in Philippine politics because Filipino politicians change their political affiliations to suit their personal objectives. There are the “Amboys” (American Boys). There are the “balimbings” (political turncoats and opportunists). And there are the “Manchurian Candidates” (secretly aligned with China).

The Philippines, which is considered pro-American in every meaning of the word, has always been allied with the U.S., politically, economically, militarily, and culturally (there are five million Filipinos living in the U.S.) since she gained independence from Mother America in 1946. But “independence” from America hasn’t really been deeply rooted because of the interdependence of the two countries on matters of foreign policy, economics, and national defense, so much so that the Philippine government didn’t see the need for a strong navy and air force to defend her sovereignty and territorial integrity.

With three defense agreements that exist between the two countries – Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) – the Philippines feels safe knowing that Uncle Sam would come to her defense against foreign invaders, notably China. And this airtight fusion, which was sealed with the blood of Filipino and American soldiers who fought side by side during World II, has endured to this day. Indeed, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey taken recently showed that Filipinos trust America more than China. It’s a testament to the strong ties between the two countries.

It is in this regard that pro-American candidates win in elections. To be perceived as anti-American would be a “kiss of death.” Take the case of then Vice President Jejomar Binay who was accused of being a “Manchurian Candidate,” which might have been a major factor in his defeat.

Extra-judicial killings

duterte-assault-rifle-1Indeed, Duterte might have been the perfect “Manchurian Candidate.” The fact that he belonged to a minor – hardly heard of — political party and whose ideological beliefs are in the fuzzy shades of gray, Duterte marketed himself as a populist crime-fighter, which the people bought hook, line, and sinker.

Never mind that he had been suspected of allegedly masterminding the extra-judicial killings by the notorious “Davao Death Squad” or DDS – which was oftentimes referred to as the “Duterte Death Squad.” Never mind that he was once sympathetic to – or part of — the New People’s Army (NPA). Never mind that he had admittedly killed a convicted felon for raping and murdering an Australian missionary.

He skillfully – and cleverly — walked a political tightrope, avoiding slipping to the right or left, which if he did might have ended his campaign. He was a Don Quixote riding a motorcycle and carrying an assault rifle. And he threatened to ride a ski jet to the Scarborough Shoal and plant the Philippine flag. People could hear “Digong, Digong, Digong…” like tinnitus ringing in their ears. And they could hardly wait to see the 100,000 dead bodies that he promised to dump into the Manila Bay to fatten the fishes.

Kingmaker

FVR and Digong.

FVR and Digong.

But if there was one person who is credited for making Digong run for president, it was former president Fidel V. Ramos, or FVR as he’s often called. While Duterte acknowledged that it was FVR who encouraged him to run, rumor has it that on one of his trips to see Digong in Davao, FVR brought with him a huge bag, which he handed to Digong. Apparently, whatever was in the bag, it convinced him to run. As the old adage says, “Put your money where your mouth is,” FVR might have done just that. But of course, it was just tsismis.

But on a more serious tone, FVR criticized Digong in an article he wrote for the Manila Bulletin titled, “Du30’s first 100 days – Team Philippines losing.” He said: “In the overall assessment by this writer, we find our Team Philippines losing in the first 100 days of Du30’s administration – and losing badly. This is a huge disappointment and let-down to many of us.”

On U.S.-Philippine relations, FVR – who was a West Point graduate – said: “Equally discombobulating are the mix of ‘off-and-on’ statements by P. Digong on Philippines-U.S. relations, particularly on security and economic matters.” He also criticized Digong for berating U.S. President Barack Obama, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and terminating RP-U.S. military exercises. “So what gives??” he asked. “Are we throwing away decades of military partnership, tactical proficiency, compatible weaponry, predictable logistics, and soldier-to-soldier camaraderie just like that?? On P. Du30’s say – so???”

“America has lost!”

Duterte and his new patron Xi Jinping.

Duterte and his new patron Xi Jinping.

In a media interview upon his arrival in Beijing last October 18, Duterte said, “The only hope of the Philippines economically, I’ll be frank with you, is China.” He described his visit as the “defining moment” of his presidency. “Maybe because I’m Chinese,” he said.

But what surprised the public was what Digong bluntly told Chinese and Philippine business people at a forum in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 20. “In this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States,” he said. He declared that he had realigned with China, saying: “Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also. America has lost!” Nobody could have been happier than Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli who was seated a few feet away from Digong at the podium.

The new triumvirate

The new triumvirate: Duterte, Xi, and Putin.

The new triumvirate: Duterte, Xi, and Putin.

With $13.5 billion in deals to be signed between China and the Philippines, Duterte couldn’t contain his exuberance. He told the audience: “I’ve realigned myself with your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to [President Vladimir] Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.” Is this the “new triumvirate” that would create a new world order… or should I say, disorder?

Whatever came to his mind to include his Third-World country in the company of China and Russia against the world, reminds me of someone who once said, “It’s like shooting a loose cannon. There is lot of noise, but no substance – and worst of all, no voice.”

Indeed, Digong has been trying very hard to amplify his dissatisfaction against the U.S. But the U.S. is not convinced that Digong has the courage to cut loose from Uncle Sam’s protective embrace. What is Digong going to do when the Red Dragon starts reclaiming the Scarborough Shoal? What is he going to do when China tows away the old and rusty BRP Sierra Madre that has served as the Philippines’ outpost to protect the Ayungin Reef from Chinese reclamation? What is he going to do when China evicts the Filipino settlers on Pag-Asa Island in the Spratly archipelago? What is he going to do when China declares an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the West Philippine Sea? What is he going to do when China declares a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) all around the islands, reefs, and rocks in the West Philippine Sea? What is he going to do when China declares the Recto Bank off limits to Philippine oil and gas exploration? And what is he going to do when China claims the Benham Rise as her territory?

In the final analysis, nobody had any inkling that Digong was the “Manchurian Candidate” all along! And with all the hoopla that his pivot to China has created, the people have to look back at his first 100 days in office – just like what FVR did – and ask themselves: Do we want Digong to pursue a China-centric foreign policy at the expense of a century of building mutual trust between the U.S. and the Philippines?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

duterte-and-xi-jinping-face-to-face-cnnphThe generals of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) must be texting each other, saying: “Did you hear what Digong was saying these days? LOL.” Another general would probably respond, “He’s a weakling like Obama. Hahaha… LOLOL.” Another one would probably say, “Well, they both can go to hell so we can take their countries… LMAO.” And President Xi Jinping would probably say, “And he’s willing to give up the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal for a railroad in Mindanao. Well, I think if I asked for Palawan, he’d give it too. Hehehe…” And the generals would all respond, “Long live Xi Dada! Let’s get Luzon, too! ROFLMAO.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his generals.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his generals.

Well, as most of you probably know, LOL is the acronym for “Laughing Out Loud,” LOLOL is for “Lots of Laughing Out Loud,” LMAO is for “Laughing My Ass Off,” and ROFLAO is for “Rolling On Floor Laughing My Ass Off.” These are all Internet slang used in texting messages.

Seriously, we can all make fun of this satirical conversation but it’s not ludicrous at all. The question is: What could possibly make the Chinese generals roll on the floor laughing their asses off? The answer is: Duterte surrendering the Philippines’ territories in the West Philippines Sea to China.

Picture this: After former President Benigno Aquino III had won the arbitration case against China, the new president Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte was telling everybody that he didn’t want to antagonize China and so he ordered that there would be no more patrols beyond the 12-mile boundary. That’s tantamount to surrendering the Philippines’ sovereignty over her Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). He also decided that there would be no more joint military exercises with the U.S. during his presidency. He also told the American Special Forces in Mindanao to leave. He also threatened to distance his country from the U.S., saying he’s about to pass “the point of no return” with the U.S. This is a total reversal of the Philippines’ victory in the arbitration case against China. Indeed, this is a classic example of the mantra, “To snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Red carpet

duterte-and-hitlerChinese President Xi Jinping must really be tickled pink that he invited Digong to visit China this month. Yep, he’d lay out the red carpet for him, treat him to a 20-course State Dinner, bedazzle him with a tour of the Great Wall, and show him the glitz of Shanghai at night. Xi might even show Digong the ghost cities with hundreds of empty high-rise apartment tenements, and tell him, “You see, we can build these for you in your own country to use in rehabilitating the three million drug addicts that you failed to slaughter,” which was in reference to what Digong had said not too long: “Hitler massacred three million Jews … there’s three million drug addicts… I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

It would probably impress Digong so much that he’d offer to give China a 120-year lease on thousands of hectares of prime real estate land to build these rehabilitation centers. Actually, a “mega” drug rehabilitation facility is now being built in a military camp north of Manila. Funded by Huang Rulun, a Chinese philanthropist and real estate developer, the facility will treat up to 10,000 drug addicts. It is being built using 75 shipping containers of materials imported from China, which begs the question: Why can’t they build it with local materials and Filipino labor?

The Duterte administration announced that four more “mega” treatment centers would be built. Duterte said that the Chinese have expressed their readiness to help him fight illegal drugs. However, he also criticized China for not doing enough to stop the flow of methamphetamines – or shabu – into the Philippines, which makes one wonder: If the smuggling of shabu did not happen, would there be a drug addiction problem in the Philippines?

Chinese drug lords

Drug lords Jaybee Sebastian and Wu Tuan (aka Peter Co).

Drug lords Jaybee Sebastian and Wu Tuan (aka Peter Co).

But the bigger problem is not the smuggling of shabu into the Philippines but the presence of Chinese drug lords who have established clandestine laboratories for the production of shabu all over the country, one of which was right inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) operated by the so-called “Bilibid 19.” This group of convicted Chinese drug lords and their Filipino brokers are believed to be operating one of the largest shabu laboratories in the country, allegedly with the cooperation of NBP officials and staff.

Buoyed by China’s promises of economic and military assistance, Duterte is going to China with an entourage of more than 400 Filipino businessmen – and kibitzers — hoping that they’d benefit from China’s “soft power” resources and investments.

But the infusion of Chinese capital into the Philippine economy has a price… a pretty stiff price. To what extent China would give billions – nay, trillions! – in economic aid depends on what concessions Duterte is willing to give to the Chinese. Needless to say, the Chinese would expect more in return for what they would give financially.

While welcoming Chinese investments in the Philippine economy is a wise move by Duterte, but doing it at the expense of American economic and military assistance is not only dangerous, it reduces the geopolitical leverage that the Philippines has to nothing. Zilch… zero!

American protection

vfa-3Right now, even though the U.S. forces have left, the Philippines is still enjoying the protection provided by the U.S. in three military and defense agreements, to wit: Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). They provide the mechanism for the two countries to mobilize and unify their forces to repel or expel invaders. However, it would be a different story if U.S. forces were deployed to the Philippines, which would serve as “tripwire” against invaders.

Take the case of Japan where there are 50,000 U.S. military personnel and hundreds of aircraft and naval units. Likewise with South Korea where 28,000 American troops are stationed in several army and air bases. And just recently, Australia and the U.S. signed an agreement for the deployment of 5,000 American military personnel to Darwin, whose geostrategic location is close to six choke points in and around the Indonesian archipelago, including the heavily used Strait of Malacca.

Surmise it to say, Xi would think twice before he’d invade Japan, South Korea or Australia, simply because of the huge presence of American military forces in those countries. But would Xi hesitate to invade the Philippines? Nah! But wait a minute! Didn’t China already invade Philippine territories? Oops!

American withdrawal

US Flag lowered and Philippine flag raised during turnover of Subic Bay Naval Base.

US Flag lowered and Philippine flag raised during turnover of Subic Bay Naval Base.

Prior to 1992, when all American bases were kicked out of the Philippines – nobody dared to invade the Philippines. However, two years after the American bases were closed, China occupied the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef and the Philippines couldn’t do anything about it simply because she didn’t have warships or warplanes to protect her territories. In 2012, China grabbed the Scarborough Shoal and Macclesfield Bank. Two years later, China started building artificial islands on seven reefs and shoals within the Philippines’ EEZ. And the latest word is that China would soon reclaim the Scarborough Shoal whose lagoon is as big as the Philippines’ capital, Quezon City.

Scarborough Shoal is strategically located in the South China Sea where China could control the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. It is also in close proximity to the Strait of Luzon, which is the gateway to the Philippine Sea… and beyond.

Ides of October

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

Last October 15, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio voiced his apprehension about losing Scarborough Shoal if Duterte concedes sovereignty over it in exchange for China’s economic incentives. He was quoted in a newspaper as saying: “If Duterte concedes sovereignty, it is a culpable violation of the Constitution, a ground for impeachment.” Then he added: “But the more important repercussion is, once Duterte concedes sovereignty, we can never recover it because China will never give it back. This is because even if the Philippine Supreme Court voids a possible concession by Duterte, China will not be bound by the ruling of the Philippine Supreme Court.”

Which makes one wonder, was Carpio’s message an ominous warning of what could happen or what should be avoided when Duterte meets Xi in Beijing? Beware the Ides of October!

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

 Jennilyn Olayres weeping over the body of her husband, Michael Siaron, who was killed in the Manila metropolitan area. (Reuters)

Jennilyn Olayres weeping over the body of her husband, Michael Siaron, who was killed in the Manila metropolitan area. (Reuters)

A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey conducted last September 24-26 showed Duterte receiving a public satisfaction rating of 76%, “dissatisfied” rating of 11%, and “undecided” rating of 13%. According to SWS, Duterte’s +54 “net satisfaction” rating is better than most of his post-EDSA revolution predecessors, except for Fidel V. Ramos who scored +66 in 1992.

sws-survey-sept-2016-3During that same period last September, the SWS survey showed that 84% of the respondents are satisfied with the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs, while 8% are dissatisfied and 8% are undecided. The question asked was: “Please tell me how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with the performance of government in its campaign against illegal drugs?”

What SWS survey reveals?

 But here is the stinger: 94% of the respondents believed the importance of keeping the drug suspects alive during police operations. Only 6% believed that it was not important. The question asked was: “In the police’s fulfillment of their duty in the campaign against illegal drugs, in your opinion, how important is it that they arrest suspects allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade alive?”

Is it then fair to presume that the respondents believed that killing the drug suspects should be avoided and that the police shouldn’t be trigger-happy when arresting drug suspects?

It brings to fore the question: Are the police trained to avoid killing the drug suspects whenever possible? Or, is Duterte’s “shoot to kill” order encouraging the police officers to use their guns as a “first resort” instead of “last resort.”

“Shoot first…”

shoot-a-drug-dealerThis brings to mind a cliché that’s used in police operations, to wit: “Shoot first, ask questions later.” Although no police department would openly encourage its policemen to shoot first and ask questions later, there is a culture within the law enforcement community that a policeman should always be ready to shoot first and ask questions later. Their mindset is: It’s either they shoot first or they’re dead.

However, the “Shoot first, ask questions later” mantra is predicated on a situation where shots weren’t meant to kill but merely wound the target so that the police could question him later. But what has been happening is oftentimes the target ends up dead because the police use high-caliber weapons… and at short range. In other words, it’s not “Shoot first, ask questions later” but “Shoot to kill.” But isn’t that in line with what Duterte wants, which is to kill drug pushers and drug addicts? Didn’t he say during the campaign, “All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you”? Didn’t he offer medals and cash rewards to citizens who killed drug dealers? And few weeks after his oath-taking as president, didn’t he reiterate his vow during his inaugural State of the Nation Address (SONA), saying: ““We will not stop until the last drug lord … and the last pusher have surrendered or are put either behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish”?

Terror effect

Two days before Duterte took his oath, more than 3,000 self-confessed drug pushers and users in South Cotobato and Sultan Kudarat surrendered.

Two days before Duterte took his oath, more than 3,000 self-confessed drug pushers and users in South Cotobato and Sultan Kudarat surrendered.

After reaching Duterte’s 100th day in office, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar announced in a press conference: “It’s a complete success and the people believe in it. 84% believe in the war against illegal drugs. 700,000 addicts turned themselves in kasama ang (including) 52,000 na drug pushers and drug lords.” He added: “You see crime dropping. Last July, it dropped at 49%. I don’t have it in front of me but I have new data from January to September, crime dropped to about 40 percent.”

While the drop in crime may be attributed to “terror effect” — which was intended against the drug syndicates — it is also terrorizing communities throughout the countries. Citizens are afraid to go out at night lest they be mistaken for drug pushers or users and killed by the police or vigilantes… or people who have an axe to grind against them.

Dutertismo

Former President Fidel V. Ramos confers with President Rodrigo Duterte at the start of the new administration.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos confers with President Rodrigo Duterte at the start of the new administration.

In the long run, extra-judicial killings (EJKs) — or “salvaging,” a Marcos martial law-era jargon — and other indiscriminate killings would corrode the base of “Dutertismo,” a movement based on mass support for Duterte’s leadership in fighting corruption, crime, poverty, and other social problems. But, just like similar events in the history of mankind, there is a caveat here. Abuse of power and the impunity of corruption could turn that “mass support” into “mass protest,” which could mimic the people power revolutions of the past.

It’s interesting to note that one of Duterte’s early and ardent supporters – former President Fidel V. Ramos – wrote in his newspaper column: “In the overall assessment by this writer [Ramos], we find our Team Philippines losing in the first 100 days of Du30’s [Duterte] administration – and losing badly. This is a huge disappointment and letdown to many of us.”

“Death under investigation”

"Death under Investigation"

“Death under Investigation”

Last September when the SWS survey was taken, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said that 1,011 drug pushers and users were killed from July 1 to September 4. In addition, there were 1,391 deaths considered as “death under investigation” (DUI) or those whose bodies were found with cardboards with the note “Pusher ako” (I am a pusher). A month later, the DUIs have increased to 1,745 cases; however, only 321 cases have been filed against the alleged perpetrators – vigilantes? — of the crime, of which 176 cases were considered solved. However, “solved” in PNP parlance doesn’t mean the perpetrator has been convicted; it merely means that an arrest has been made.

During a media interview, PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa attributed the deaths of suspected drug pushers to illegal drug syndicates purging their own ranks or due to turf wars or double-crosses in drug transactions. “You will be surprised, this is not the handiwork of vigilantes. These alleged vigilante killings, it turned out, are syndicated killings.”

But whether the EJKs were perpetrated by drug syndicates, vigilantes or the police, it is causing international furor because EJKs are considered human rights violations. In particular, U.S. President Barack Obama was concerned about the impunity of EJKs in the Philippines. This did not dwell too well with Duterte, who told Obama, “Go to hell.”

The people’s “message”

"Stop the killings!"

“Stop the killings!”

The Philippines has been getting military and police financial assistance for many years from the U.S. The military receives at least $200 million a year, of which part of it is used in law enforcement. The U.S. military assistance is in jeopardy or it could be terminated to ensure that it will not be used for EJK operations. A U.S. State Department spokesman explained, “There’s a law called the Leahy Law that requires us to routinely and regularly vet security forces that are getting aid and assistance to make sure that any units that violate international law in that regard do not get aid and assistance.”

Indeed, with all the brouhaha over his controversial “War on Drugs,” Duterte has become an international pariah. Recently, a French daily newspaper, “The Liberation,” in a front-page article, Duterte was described as a “serial killer president.” The four-page story also touched on Duterte’s expletives against Obama and Pope Francis, and his controversial remarks in which he compared Adolf Hitler’s extermination of Jews to his “war on drugs.”

At the end of the day, the “message” from the SWS survey last September is crystal clear: While they want Duterte to stop the drug menace, they want him to do it in a way where killings are avoided. “Stop the killings!” was what the people were saying.

The Filipino people are an extraordinary kind of people. They can tolerate the evils of corruption and endure the pains of poverty. But they are too forgiving of others’ transgressions. And to the Filipino psyche, killing is never an option.

But in the final analysis, when our nation is in pain, there is only one option and that is, we turn to God – we say, “Bahala Na.”

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Trading Obama for Xi and Putin?

Trading Obama for Xi and Putin?

President Rodrigo Duterte’s ascension to the Philippine presidency happened at a time when the country was anxiously waiting for the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) ruling on China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea (SCS). And when the ruling was finally released on July 12 invalidating China’s “nine-dash line” claim and that China had no historical rights to the rocks, reefs, and shoals in the SCS, the newly installed president found himself in the international limelight. And when the media asked him where he stood in regard to the arbitration case his predecessor former President Benigno S. Aquino initiated, Duterte gave conflicting statements.

In a matter of days – nay, hours — Duterte was pushed into the choppy waters of the SCS to deal with China’s aggression. He found himself in a precarious situation with nobody to call for help. It was sink or swim. And when U.S. President Barack Obama offered to meet with him at the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos to talk about their countries’ security relationship and the issue of human rights violations, Duterte was miffed. He didn’t like Obama saying that he’d like to talk to him about human rights violations. But had he known how U.S. foreign policy works, he would have understood that if he expected the American “sugar daddy” to give the Philippines military assistance, his government would have to pass the litmus test for the preservation of human rights. That was just the way the U.S. Congress would allow the U.S. government to give military assistance to other countries.

Instead, just like his “kanto boy” upbringing, Duterte responded the way he was used to, saying: “ ‘Putang ina,’ I will swear at you in that forum.” “Putang ina” is the Tagalog phrase for “son of a whore.” For Duterte’s outburst, Obama cancelled the meeting. Duterte missed an opportunity to solidify his administration’s relationship with the country’s only treaty ally and benefactor.

Independent foreign policy

duterte-and-flagSoon after that incident, which by international standards shouldn’t have happened, Duterte started talking about pursuing an “independent foreign policy.” He indicated that he’d ask Russia and China to supply the Philippines with military armaments. He said that he’d open the country to trade with Russia and China; and is prepared to give them 120-year leases. And what would he get in return for prostituting the Philippines to these two countries run by dictators? Oh yeah! Duterte might finally get his railroad in Mindanao. But he should know that whatever economic assistance the Philippines gets from China, China is going to get back huge slices of the Philippines’ priceless patrimony.

War against drugs

Wife holds dead body of husband killed by vigilantes.

Wife holds dead body of husband killed by vigilantes.

With Duterte’s takeover of the government, he pursued to eliminate the drug menace, which according to him has created 4,000 drug pushers and addicts… and counting. He encouraged the national police to go after them and to kill them if they resisted arrest.

And it was at this juncture that Obama was alarmed. Guided by the Leahy Act, he wanted to discuss with Duterte the more than 3,000 extrajudicial killings since he took office two months ago. Named after Sen. Patrick Leahy, the law’s principal sponsor, Leahy Act prohibits the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity.

Gone ballistic

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte raises a middle finger thrust out in an obscene gesture as he speaks before local government officials in Davao city, in southern Philippines, September 20, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte raises a middle finger thrust out in an obscene gesture as he speaks before local government officials in Davao city, in southern Philippines, September 20, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr

And that’s when all hell broke loose! Duterte went ballistic and uttered the “P” word, which is the equivalent of the American “F” word. Duterte then issued – through the media — a series of policies that would severely affect U.S.-Philippine relations. In a fit of anger, he declared that he would soon “cross his Rubicon” with the U.S. He also said that the U.S.-Philippine joint military exercises that are now happening would be the last during his presidency. He also said that he would terminate the Philippine Navy’s participation with the U.S. in joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea. And, worse, he said that the Philippine Navy would not venture beyond the 12-mile territorial limit, which would be tantamount to surrendering the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to China.

If this is the gist of his “independent foreign policy,” then what we’re seeing here is not independence but a capitulation of national sovereignty, which would undoubtedly lead to vassalage under China. I say this because China will not stop bullying the Philippines and other neighboring countries that don’t have the ability to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Simply put, China wants the entire SCS for herself. And she’s not coy about it.

Deterrence by denial

U.S. Special Forces in Mindanao.

U.S. Special Forces in Mindanao.

Honestly, no country in Asia could defend herself against China’s aggressive moves. Even Japan, the world’s third largest economic power after the U.S. and China, has to ally herself with the U.S. and allows the U.S. to deploy 50,000 troops on her soil, including several naval and air bases. Ditto with South Korea, who is under constant threat from nuclear-capable North Korea. With several U.S. air bases and 28,000 American troops stationed in her territory, South Koreans feel safer knowing that for as long as the American forces are in their country, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un would think twice before invading South Korea.

Before the American bases were kicked out of the Philippines in 1992, their presence served as deterrence against foreign invasion. The purpose of what is known as “deterrence by denial” is to make aggression difficult and unprofitable by rendering the target harder to take, harder to keep, or both. To achieve this, the defenders – Filipino forces with the aid of American forces stationed in the Philippines – must be able to inflict substantial damage to the invaders.

Salami-slicing

Chinese fortifications at Mischief Reef.

Chinese fortifications at Mischief Reef.

It’s interesting to note that two years after the Americans had left, the Chinese took possession of Panganiban (Mischief) Reef and built fortifications on it. In 2012, China grabbed Scarborough Shoal and prohibited Filipino fisherman from entering its huge lagoon to fish. Two years after that, China started building artificial islands on seven reefs and shoals – including the Mischief Reef – in the Spratly archipelago, all within the Philippines’ EEZ. Thus far, China’s unimpeded salami-slicing of Philippine territory has put into question the Philippines’ defense capability or the lack thereof.

With Duterte’s “independent foreign policy” crafted in an atmosphere devoid of reason, the PCA’s ruling, which invalidated China’s ”nine-dash line,” is imperiled and the ruling could be deemed moot and academic in light of Duterte’s “retreat” from the SCS.

Indeed, the Philippines is not in a position to sever her relationship with the U.S., which Duterte had indicated in his public pronouncements. But his threats to do so are alarmingly dangerous. It doesn’t make any sense why he would kowtow to China and Russia at the expense of the U.S., the country’s strongest military ally, biggest foreign investor, and second largest export market next to Japan. Unlike communist China, both the Philippines and the U.S. have compatible democratic institutions and both subscribe to the rule of law and adhere to the norms of international order. China doesn’t.

In these troubled times, the Philippines has reached a dangerous crossroads where she has to determine which road to take. While it is tempting to try new and uncharted roads, President Duterte should – nay, must! – take the road that would lead the country to economic prosperity and the preservation of individual freedom for her citizens. And if he takes the wrong turn, it could lead to perdition.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)