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Tribune Editorial

Independent policy pays off

Wednesday, 24 January 2018 00:00 Published in Editorial

President Duterte’s pragmatic approach on the maritime dispute where it takes no sides has given the country a firm neutrality which is in accordance with the national interest.
The Palace said the administration has refused to be drawn into the flareup of friction between the United States and China that resulted in a Chinese protest of an American warship passing near a disputed shoal.
“The United States can take care of its own interest”, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said adding that “we do not wish to be part of a U.S.-China intramural” in the disputed South China Sea.
China accused the U.S. of trespassing in its territorial waters when a guided missile destroyer sailed near Scarborough Shoal to promote freedom of navigation in the disputed waters.
Rody has taken a radical shift in diplomatic relations from his rabidly pro-American predecessor, Noynoy, who brought the dispute with China to international arbitration in 2013 in a process where China refused to participate.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) issued an award to the Philippines which in essence invalidated China’s nine-dash line boundary in the disputed region but China ignored the decision.
Rody said he will not press China on the 2016 arbitration ruling but promised to take it up with China under a friendlier atmosphere.
China has carried out extensive land reclamation work on many of the islands and reefs it claims, equipping some with air strips and military installations that have alarmed rival claimant countries and Western governments led by the United States.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Saturday that China would take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty after the USS Hopper sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana even chided the US saying it did not notify the Philippines of its naval operation near Scarborough.
“We have no say over whatever the Americans do in the South China Sea. They (US) do not inform us beforehand of their activities there,” Lorenzana said.
China, meanwhile, appreciated the government’s decision to allow China to do research at Benham Rise in a joint project with the University of the Philippines.
One of the many mouthpieces of the Chinese government said Duterte’s granting of permission to China’s scientific activities and accordingly offering facilitation, reflects the president’s high-level trust in China, and meanwhile is an embodiment of the concept of “setting aside disputes and pursuing joint development” advanced by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
The steps taken by the administration has reestablished mutual trust between Beijing and Manila that has been thrown into the freezer during the term of Noynoy.
Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano is a main critic of the joint exploration saying that “allowing a Chinese national think tank to conduct so-called scientific research over Philippine waters… is careless and absurd.”
China said the marine activities of the two countries at Benham Rise are purely for scientific purposes, with no intention to jeopardize the Philippines’ “justified” interests there.
“We hope Duterte can stand up to domestic pressure and focus on cooperation with China rather than strategic calculations” a Global Times editorial said.
Rody had taken positions on the diplomatic arena that baffle his critics as well as both the United States and China.
In several meetings, he had approached the Chinese leader and broached the country’s sovereign claims on the disputed areas some of which the Chinese had already reclaimed and had set up structures.
On the other hand, he had rebuffed the United States and other Western nations who are pressing him to demand China comply with the arbitral ruling.
Rody’s stand, however, is only confusing in that it has departed from the familiar role of the Philippine leader acting as a US factotum in the region.

Stop ruining Rody’s political capital

Tuesday, 23 January 2018 00:00 Published in Editorial

The internecine feud between the House and the Senate over the manner of voting in a proposed constituent assembly (con-ass) has become a major hurdle for the charter change (cha-cha) for Federalism move that may greatly erode public perception on the need to even change the Constitution.
The initiative for change of President Duterte seeks two simultaneous radical transformation which would consist of a practically new Constitution and the shift from a unitary presidential government to a Federal system.
The mere mention in the past of cha-cha invites public suspicion of self-serving designs for political perpetuation.
Rody succeeded in great measure to convince many Filipinos of the need to revise the Constitution and to pursue the Federalism shift as a solution to the persistent problems of the country. But the problem would be the proposed provisions that tend to curtail certain freedoms.
Right after assuming the presidency, Rody called on his allies to facilitate the shift which regrettably resulted in a serious rift between the two chambers of Congress that know no alliances but only among members of the Senate and the House.
The basic need of the public is information on what Rody believes constitute lasting change to have it approved in a plebiscite.
Instead, the public is being treated to the spectacle of the House and the Senate trading threats to protect their respective turfs.
The Senate said it will not go with the House in its insistence for a unicameral vote under the con-ass insisting that the intent of the Constitution was for separate voting of the two chambers despite the unified assembly.
Now, senators and Representatives are trying to outbluff each other on whose stand will prevail.
An oddity in the imbroglio is that it does not know any alliances as leaders of the Senate and the House, who are naturally within the broad administration coalition and headed by two PDP-Laban stalwarts, Senate President Koko Pimentel and Speaker Sonny Alvarez, They have fortified their positions in the feuding chambers.
The key to the resolution of what is obviously a deadlock would be the dominant party itself by prodding Pimentel and Alvarez to reach an agreement that is essential in speeding up the already tight timetable for the Federalism shift.
The extended friction had also prompted some experts to declare that cha-cha is dead in the water.
The Federalism move, however, is far from over since the rush apparently is linked to the target of holding the plebiscite alongside the barangay elections in May which is too ambitious.
The more practical phase would be that of being advocated by original Federalism proponents such as former Senate President Nene Pimentel who wants Congress to stress on public information rather than rushing the process.
Not siding with any of the protagonists, Pimentel, however, said the con-ass should be transparent and inclusive which should attend mainly in holding public consultations even in remote areas.
The process should be “open, public, and covered by media” so that the people will be able to participate and air their side, he added.
Pimentel, who favors the forming of a constitutional convention to push cha-cha, however, said the primary target should be to completely attain a Federal State since he expects a different administration would have less commitment than Rody who is an advocate of the shift.
He said, however, people must be allowed to participate through public hearings all over the nation.
There is also a proposal that if the target is to hold the barangay elections and the plebiscite together then it should be moved to May next year instead of this year.
The two chambers of Congress should first arrive at an agreement to work together which would also underline to the public the value of what is being offered to them.

New terror battleground

Monday, 22 January 2018 14:14 Published in Editorial

The US government has officially transferred its “war Ton terror” in the Philippines’ theater with the so-called “Pacific Eagle — Philippines” which on the plus side would mean unlimited military financing and support but the payback for which is the increased American military presence.
Wall Street Journal said in a report that American government money will be infused to boost military and aid efforts to combat extremism.
The new counterterrorism mission would be eligible for the same funding used to finance long-running wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, WSJ, quoting US military officials, said.
The Trump administration elevated the U.S. mission in the country to an Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) and the decision was made last September “in response to a Philippines government request for more support to fight extremist groups.”
The armed forces then was battling the Islamic State (IS)-inspired Maute Group which had sought to turn Marawi City into an IS caliphate for Southeast Asia.
The U.S.-backed Philippine military prevailed after a five-month battle but Marawi City was left in ruins.
WSJ said between 200 and 300 American troops are currently serving in advisory roles in the country. In addition to advisory troops, technical support and equipment, the US mission is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance by drone.
At least 165 state troopers and 47 civilians died during the battle for Marawi City. Officials estimate around 1,000 IS fanatics including militant leaders Oma Maute and Isnilon Hapilon.
OCO funds typically are exempt from limits on routine spending and have financed U.S. wars known by such names as Operation Enduring Freedom, according to WSJ.
A US government official said elevating the mission in the Philippines was necessary to give it the kind of credibility it needed “to prevent IS from getting a foothold in southeast Asia.”
US officials are worried that dire humanitarian conditions facing marginalized Muslim communities in devastated Marawi City, for instance, may stir up the same resentment that drove support for IS in the region.
“IS has been beaten surely in Marawi, but the conditions are worse now than when IS took over” Justin Richmond, a U.S. veteran, was quoted in the WSJ report.
The new effort carries its own designation, the first such formal operation against Islamic State in East Asia, it reported.
Some U.S. officials have speculated that halting the previous mission was a mistake because it led to a vacuum that allowed Islamic State to expand and eventually capture Marawi.
The US government considered the Marawi City siege as a wake-up call on the spread of extremism in the Asian region.
The US which is the proponent of the war on terror after the tragic 911 attacks definitely has credible assessments on the degree of IS threat in the Philippines and in Asia.
President Duterte’s assessment was that while the military has liberated Marawi City, the country has not seen the last of the IS threat and that a bigger threat looms unless the structural problems in Mindanao are addressed.
Since the Marawi City battle ended, the military has been battling smaller pockets of IS supporters in Mindanao particularly in its remote areas.
That incipient threat is the compelling reason for the Federalism push since among the goals of the government system shift is to provide a legal ground for the creation of a Bangsamoro state which will provide a wide degree of autonomy to the Muslim regions in Mindanao.
The threat also justifies the impatience of Rody and his allies for the Federal State to take shape before the IS regroups and launch more destructive adventures feeding on discontent of the marginalized Filipinos in Muslim regions.

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