Digong’s ‘neutral’ foreign policy

By Perry Diaz

Duterte-and-flag.3President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte made a big splash in the international scene by declaring that he was pursuing an “independent” foreign policy. Then he declared his “separation” from the U.S.; threatened to terminate military treaties with the U.S. and proposed defense alliance with China and Russia. The world leaders did not bat an eye. But when his campaign against drug lords turned bloody – more than 3,000 drug pushers and users in less than 60 days – U.S. President Barack Obama indicated some concerns. Digong didn’t take it too well and called Obama “son of a whore.” Obama nonchalantly ignored him, saying: “I have seen some of those colorful statements in the past. Clearly he’s a colorful guy.”

Duterte-and-TrumpBut the newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald J. Trump took a different tact. He called Digong while he was still president-elect and they talked for several minutes. He praised Digong on his campaign against illegal drugs, saying he was doing it the “right way.”

There seems to be great expectations from a Trump presidency, which could give U.S.-Philippines relations some room for “reconciliation” particularly now that Obama has left office.

On the international scene, expect a great deal of geopolitical movements in an emerging multi-polar world order with the U.S., Russia, and China competing for dominance in world affairs.

Sino-American conflict

Trump-Xi-Putin.4While Trump seems comfortable with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has irked Chinese President Xi Jinping when Trump questioned the “One-China” policy that has maintained U.S.-China relations on an even keel for the past four decades. Trump made it known that he is not committed to the “One-China” policy. “Everything is under negotiation, including One-China,” he said. Beijing angrily responded, saying that the “One-China” policy is “non-negotiable.”

Trump also accused China of currency manipulation and unfair trade practices. In addition, he questioned China’s reclamation of seven reefs in the South China Sea and building militarized artificial islands around them.

With the Senate expected to confirm Trump’s nomination of Rex “T-Rex” Tillerson as Secretary of State, the situation in the South China Sea could spiral into a war between the U.S. and China. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Tillerson likened China’s illegal occupation of several reefs in the Spratly archipelago to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He said that the White House needed to send China a “clear signal” that such activities had to stop. He also said that the U.S. would defend “international territories” in the strategic waterway and block China’s access to these islands.

Tillerson’s blunt warnings and proposed actions did not dwell too well with Beijing who told Washington to tread carefully “to avoid harming the peace and stability of the South China Sea.” Declaring that China has “irrefutable” sovereignty – China used the term “indisputable” before – over the disputed islands, China’s state-owned media warned that any attempt to prevent China from accessing her interests in the region would risk sparking a “large-scale war.” Interestingly, China had already deployed “significant” weapons systems, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile system, on these islands.

U.S.-Philippines alliance

James-Mad-Dog-MattisMeanwhile, the newly Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense, Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, will be going on a three-day visit to Japan and South Korea on February 1 to reassure them of Washington’s commitment to the security of the volatile Asia-Pacific. There are 28,500 American troops in South Korea and 50,000 in Japan.

But while Japan and South Korea welcomed the deployment of U.S. forces to their countries, the Philippines was wary of American presence in the Philippines, which has three defense agreements with the U.S., including a Mutual Defense Treaty. President Duterte whose hatred of the U.S. has led him to distance from the U.S. and got closer to China and Russia, wants to get rid of all foreign troops out of the country within two years and that he was willing to revoke base-hosting agreements with the U.S.

Last January 26, the Philippines’ Defense Secretary Gen. Delfin Lorenzana – concerned that the Philippines will be caught in the middle of a U.S.-China conflict in the south China Sea – said in a press briefing, “I’m waiting for my counterpart, Secretary Mattis. I’d like to talk to him to get his sense about these [security] policies because he will be the one to implement that.”

Then he said something that was never mentioned before: The Philippines should “maintain neutrality in its foreign policy.” Huh?

Neutrality and mutual defense

Duterte-and-Lorenzana-and-generalsLorenzana said, “We are very wary. Let’s see. We will think very hard if it will be implemented by the US, those pronouncements that they will prevent the Chinese from retaining these islands. We will react accordingly when the time comes, when they will start to do that… We might be caught in the middle.” Then he added, “In the first place, how can they [Chinese] prevent them [Americans] from going there? They [Americans] are already there…. We will have to discuss with the National Security Council if and when the Americans will really come to the South China Sea and implement those pronouncements.” There is not much that the Philippines could do to stop a U.S.-China conflict in the South China Sea. However, if war breaks out between the U.S. and China, the U.S. could invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Philippines would be expected to come to her aid. And this was what Lorenzana was trying to avoid when he mentioned a “neutral” foreign policy.

But in a press conference on January 27, Lorenzana said the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allows American troops to build facilities in Philippine military bases – is “still on.”

“According to the Pentagon, they will start constructing some facilities in the EDCA chosen camps… Basa Air Base, Bautista Air Base in Palawan… I think the first they will develop is Basa… with a runway and put up facilities also for their troops. Mga imbakan nila ng mga gamit nila kung nandito sila [It will be a storage for their equipment here],” Lorenzana said, adding the American troops could come back anytime should they decide to leave. He also said construction of facilities may start anytime as construction costs were already included in the U.S. fiscal year of 2017.

Lorenzana also reportedly said, “Aside from Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) and Philippines-U.S. Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX), other military exercises with the U.S. troops will continue.”

Now, that’s a total turnaround in just a day – from pursuing a “neutral” foreign policy to total commitment to implementing EDCA and continuing with joint military exercises, particularly the Balikatan or shoulder-to-shoulder joint exercises.

Duterte-and-Abe-tastre-durianWhich makes one wonder: Did Trump call Digong secretly in the middle of the night reassuring him of Uncle Sam’s commitment to the security of the Philippines? Or was it just a “guni-guni” (imagination) during one of Digong’s sleepless nights? Or did Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe make good of his pledge of $6.88 billion aid package when they had breakfast at Digong’s private residence in Davao City? And didn’t Abe and Digong agree that the Philippines, Japan, and the United States would work cooperatively together? That’s a lot of questions but the answers are clearly manifested in recent geopolitical movements that translate favorably to the mutual benefit of the Philippines and America. Isn’t that what “mutual defense” is all about?

The bottom line is: “Neutrality” and “mutual defense” are mutually exclusive. They cannot be applied together; it’s either one or the other. If Digong wants to pursue a “neutral” foreign policy, he has to terminate all defense agreements with the U.S. and start buying warships, submarines, and fighter jets for the defense of the Philippines.


3 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Ado Paglinawan says:

    I think you should really read my book “A Problem for Every Solution” first released July 2015 in order to understand what’s going on down here.

    As early as then, I predicted a change in paradigm if the next president would implement an independent foreign policy that is mandated by the Constitution of 1987.

    What is being precluded from all public discourse in the United States about the South China Seas, however, is how China views its own self-defense. Impeccable anywhere in the North and Northwest, but very vulnerable in the Northeast and the South, where it has had more than 400 invasions since time immemorial.

    With Barack Obama’s announcement of a US pivot to the Asia Pacific in the year 2020 by as much as 60% of its military presence, definitely China has to do something.

    Obama succeeded in conning former Philippine president BS Aquino, who has always been a village idiot to me, into signing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, thus allowing the United States to prestage the Filipinos as its proxy allies. This would mean that the US through proxy can technically beyond the Philippines’ 12 miles sovereign limits, extend its eagle’s wings further to 200 miles of exclusive economic zone.

    The US, so used to its exceptionalism not being challenged, however became motionless when the Chinese Coast Guard did not leave Scarborough Shoals in 2012 after sending a Philippine gray ship home after a standoff.

    This sent a wrong signal to the Chinese.

    According to The National Interest, a foreign policy roundtable: “On the evening of June 15, 2012, the Philippines conceded a dramatic ten-week standoff to China by withdrawing its maritime vessels from the waters surrounding Scarborough Reef, a group of tiny outcrops 120 miles west of Subic Bay…

    “Soon after the Philippines departed the reef, Chinese officials and pundits began speaking of a “Scarborough Model” for exerting regional influence and annexing disputed territories. Inspired by events, leading Chinese scholars are now exploring strategies of “extended coercion” (a play on extended deterrence) through which China could pressure U.S. allies while keeping Washington at bay.”

    You see everything about the regional conflict there, cannot be taken in a vacuum and even through past US experiences around the world. Chinese wisdom outdates American hegemony by thousands of years.

    The Philippines then under the “tuta-lage” of Washington shifted its focus in seeking a “rule-based” solution of the problem through an expensive arbitration process in The Hague through the Permanent Court of Arbitration. China did not participate in the exercise except to inform the arbitration body that it is against its national laws and its caveat to the UNCLOS to engage in any compulsory arbitration and settlement outside of bilateral talks.

    When the PCA decided that the nine-dash line claim of China is not valid, and awarded to the Philippines everything it asked for, the Chinese just shrugged it off as a decision the Philippines bought. Indeed, the process was more of monologue than anything else with Manila paying for all the court expenses and the judges’ compensations.

    In effect what we got was merely a “third” opinion. The PCA is not organic to the United nations nor in anyway connected to the UN. In fact the UN said it has nothing to do with it. Wow that hurt, after spending close to half a billion dollars, the Philippines only got a paper tiger.

    The PCA is neither permanent nor a court. It has no agency to enforce its decisions. If we want anything further, we have to elevate matters to the International Court of Justice, whose decisions are implemented by the UN Security Council where China has a veto power.


    This is what idiots in the FilAm Community like LNL and horde of morons led by RR, TL in San Francisco and ELF in Washington DC continue to selectively ignore.

    What did they do instead? Drive a Sinophobic campaign they say was worldwide and when Rodrigo Duterte won over their candidate Mar Roxas in the May 2016 presidential elections, they threw the hammer at him just because he opened bilateral talks with China.

    For the meantime, China has occupied four more islands, reclaiming it and building military fortifications on it that is more likely nuclear powered.

    This is really Sovereignty 101. According to Carl Thayer, my favorite professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy at the University of South Wales, sovereignty is the actual occupation, continuous administration, control and defense of a given territory.

    Contrast this with the paper tiger we got from the PCA and easily you will find wisdom in Duterte’s own pivot toward China.

    What is the US next move in the South China Seas? Invoke provisions of the United Nations Convention of the Laws of the Seas, of which it is not a signatory?

    And even if it were, the Philippines is now tolerating the Chinese presence in the islands, and in fact reviewing the EDCA with an option for abrogation. So where will the US base any legitimacy to drive away China from the Spratly and Scarborough?

    Duterte has the best of both worlds now. By opening warmly bilateral relations with China, his first visit to Beijing netted economic benefits in double digit billions of dollars, sending Shinze Abe and the Japanese to catch up with their own version of another tranche that almost exceeded the Chinese concessions.

    This tops the sum of all foreign assistance combined that the Philippines has received from Marcos in 1965 to BS Aquino in 2016. This is happening while Obama through his toy ambassador Phillip Goldsberg before exiting tried to leverage
    a few hundred millions of Millenium Development funds, a definite sign that the State Department has not yet quite adjusted to the new normal in Asian relations.

    Our fishermen are now freely moving in and out of Scarborough Shoals, protected from pirates by the Chinese Coast Guard. The president has also floated the idea of replicating this partnership in the Sulu and the Celebes Seas to neutralize the Abu Sayaff terrorist and piracy incursions from Malaysia.

    Duterte’s move has already rendered any war in the region as impossible unless the US coverts itself openly into a rogue nation.

    But before it even attempts to do so, the US military has already been briefed by China even before Donald Trump was sworn into office of its Dong Feng glider missile technology that was originally designed to kill any aircraft carrier and submarine anywhere in the Pacific up to the Indian Ocean with just its conventional warheads. But now, the horrific update to that is China has also developed its own inter-continental ballistic missiles that as of the present can carry up to five nuclear warheads each to any part of the globe. US experts agree that descending of 10 machs, there is no American technology that can yet stop that.

    This is why Duterte is convinced that EDCA may have to be scrapped. We cannot allow any part of the Philippines serving as any permanent aircraft carrier magneting any conventional or nuclear attacks by China.

    The same is true with Japan and South Korea that hosts American military bases. In the event of any hostility between China and the US, not just Okinawa and 23 US bases in Japan but Tokyo, not just the 15 US bases in Korea but Seoul, immediately become fair game.

    My book had other prognoses.

    Neutrality and mutual defense are only mutually exclusive under a cold war mentality. Delfin Lorenzana can now start to study how we can renegotiate our Mutual Defense Treaty with the United State to a language that is more deliberate and definitive. We need to see in ink an unequivocal statement defining the immediate response of the Americans in case of any attack on the Philippines by any foreign country. The territorial coverage could also be enlarged to cover all declared territorial claims of the Philippines especially the Spratly Islands, the Scarborough Shoals and Sabah.

    With the treaty redefined as such, we in effect have two countries China and the US guarantying our defense. We don’t even need to buy a paperboat to secure our national interests.

    Duterte of course is at peace with the Chinese presence guarding our islands, but has served notice to Beijing that any activity dealing with any form of economic exploitation will immediately draw a response from Manila demanding substance to the Chinese offer of “meeting us halfway”.

    This is Duterte’s win-win-win formula in the South China Seas. In May 2017 he will return to China to participate in a summit for the formal revival of China’s New Silk Road. Suffice it to say, Obama’s Trans Pacific Parnership (TPP) as a counterpoise to this Chinese initiative is now dead in the water.

    If anyone reading this has better doable option, please email me at mymaestro@rocketmail.com so I can update my book.

    “A Problem for Every Solution” is available for $25 inclusive of shipping and handling. Send your money order to Paglinawan Book at 6532 Bowie Dr., Springfield VA 22150, with your name and address for USPS Prioriy Mail return delivery.

    Hurry, I only brought 40 copies with me from the Philippines. #

  2. Ado Paglinawan says:

    perry, could you just make this correction:
    “Neutrality and mutual defense are mutually exclusive under a cold war mentality.” should read:
    Neutrality and mutual defense are only mutually exclusive under a cold war mentality.

    • perry says:

      It’s corrected. I agree with your statement; however, we’re in a de facto cold war. And it’s going to be a long, long cold war, unless a shooting war starts, which could happen anytime.


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