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DUTERTES

FIRST YEAR
IN OFFICE:

RICHARD JAVAD HEYDARIAN


DUTERTEs
FIRST YEAR
IN OFFICE
ASSESSING THE
:
BALANCE SHEET
RICHARD JAVAD HEYDARIAN
Copyright 2017 by Albert Del Rosario Institute
for Strategic and International Studies

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Stratbase ADR Institute
The Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi) is an independent international
and strategic research organization with the principal goal of addressing the issues
affecting the Philippines and East Asia.

Victor Andres Dindo C. Manhit


President, Stratbase-Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi)

BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Ambassador Albert del Rosario
was the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines from 2011 to 2016. He also served as
Philippine Ambassador to the United States of America from 2001 to 2006.

Manuel V. Pangilinan
is CEO and managing director of First Pacific Company Limited. He is also the chairman of
MPIC, PLDT, Meralco, and Smart Communications, among others.

Edgardo G. Lacson
is an honorary chairman of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI). He
was the former president of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines.

Benjamin Philip G. Romualdez


is the former president of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines.

Ernest Z. Bower
is senior adviser for Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
(CSIS). He is CEO of BowerGroupAsia (BGA), and a leading expert on Southeast Asia.

Renato C. de Castro, Ph. D


is a full professor of international studies at De La Salle University Manila (DLSU). He
holds the Charles Lui Chi Keung Professorial Chair in China Studies.

Judge Raul C. Pangalangan, Ph. D


is a judge of the International Criminal Court. He was previously a dean of the University of
the Philippines College of Law and publisher of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Epictetus E. Patalinghug, Ph. D


is a professor emeritus at the Cesar E.A. Virata School of Business, University of the
Philippines (UP), Diliman.

Francisco A. Magno, Ph. D


is the executive director of the Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Governance and former President
of the Philippine Political Science Association. He is a professor of political science at DLSU.

Carlos Primo C. David, Ph. D


is a professor of Geology and Environmental Science in UP Diliman. He heads the Philippine
Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development.
CONTENTS

Executive Summary viii

Introduction 1

Domestic Security and Terrorism 2



Terrorism in the Philippines 2
Insurgency and Conflict 4
The Counter-terror Infrastructure 9

Foreign Policy and Strategic Outlook 16

Sound and Fury 16


Search for Autonomy 19
Shifting Gears 22

Human Rights and Democracy 28

Rupture and Isolation 28

Socio-Economic Reform 32

Policy Recommendations 35

Conclusion 38

References

Acknowledgments

About the Author



EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The paper provides an assessment of President Dutertes first year in office by placing
it within the context of challenges in four areas. In terms of domestic security and
terrorism, the latest crisis in Mindanao marks the intersection of an exogenous shock,
namely, the infiltration of so-called Islamic State ideology and its tentacles of global
mobilization, and endogenous policy pitfalls, namely, the deadlock in and neglect
of peace negotiations. To address this, the Philippine government needs to solicit
maximum assistance, not only from neighboring countries, particularly Indonesia
and Malaysia, but also tried-and-tested allies such as the United States, Australia,
Japan, and the European Union. New strategic partners, such as China and Russia,
can also provide support.
In foreign policy, the administration has engaged in a project of establishing a more
independent foreign policy. Its performance, so far, has been a mix of short-term
gains, reversible pitfalls, and medium-to-long term risks to the national interest. On
one hand, strategic relations with the West, including the United States, remain intact,
if not robust, with the Pentagon playing a key role in counter-terror efforts. Reaching
out to China and Russia also provides the benefits of diversification. Yet, Dutertes
conciliatory message vis--vis China and growing reliance on its aid, tirades against
and downgrading of security ties with the West, and effort to downplay maritime
security risks in the regional agenda may weaken the Philippines bargaining chips.
The country should negotiate with China from a position of strength, ensure that
negotiations give it time to develop its deterrence capability and fortify its position on
the ground, and raise the costs of further assertiveness.
The third and fourth areas are socio-economic reform and human rights and
democracy. The Duterte administrations 10-point economic agenda makes it clear
that the government is interested in ensuring a more effective trickle-down of
economic gains. The administration emphasizes environmental sustainability, land
reform and agricultural productivity, infrastructure development, and job creation
through high-quality domestic and foreign investment. Attracting investments from
China and Japan, coupled with expanded tax generation, are expected to fund the
Dutertenomics agenda. Yet, there are lingering concerns: sustainability; the ability
of progressive-leftist cabinet members to work with technocratic economic managers;
policy predictability; the investment environment; the weakening currency and
current account deficit; and the ability and commitment of the president to use his
political capital to pass through progressive, rather than regressive, fiscal reform
packages to the benefit of the majority.
The Duterte administrations greater focus on economic rights, however, has
gone hand in hand with a worrying erosion of basic human rights and civil liberties.
Concerns over extrajudicial killings, the accountability of law enforcement, checks and
balances, the intimidation of opposition members and public space, and the specter
of nationwide Martial Law have cast a dark shadow over the countrys democratic
institutions and long-term political trajectory. Nonetheless, the publics high approval
ratings for the president denote an overall state of satisfaction, so far, over perceived
improvements in basic law and order conditions.

viii
Dutertes First Year in Office:
Assessing the Balance Sheet
richard javad heydarian

T he paper evaluates President Rodrigo Dutertes first year in office by assessing


four key policy areas. The first area is domestic security and terrorism,
with particular focus on the emergence of Islamic State (IS)-affiliated groups in
Mindanao, particularly the Maute group. This group has managed to lay, so far, a
four-month-long siege on the countrys largest Muslim-majority city, Marawi. The
second area is foreign policy, with particular focus on the Duterte administrations
policy towards the major powers of the United States and China and, accordingly, its
approach towards the South China Sea disputes. It also looks at the administrations
relations with other actors, from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) to Russia and Japan.
The third area is socio-economic reform, assessing the Duterte administrations
hits and misses on the imperative of inclusive development after years of
turbocharged, yet concentrated, growth. It looks at internal dynamics within the
Duterte cabinet, particularly the fate of progressive secretaries, who have been
steadily eased out of office. The fourth area is human rights and democracy, with
particular focus on the conduct and implications of the Duterte administrations war
on drugs, its impact on external relations and democratic institutions, and evolving
civil-military relations. Cumulatively, the four areas highlight the performance of
the Duterte presidency in his first year in office, providing insights on the trajectory
of the Philippines under the populist leader.
1
2 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

Domestic Security and Terrorism

Terrorism in the Philippines

The siege of Marawi, led by Islamic State (IS)-affiliated elements under the
supervision of the Maute Group, represents Dutertes greatest political crisis so far.
The president won his election not only based on the promise of law and order,
but also of bringing peace and development to his home island. All of a sudden,
however, he is grappling with the specter of IS and terror contagion across the
whole area. As the president correctly warned, down the road, there is a clear risk
of all-out civil war and communal warfare if and when Christian communities
begin to fully arm themselves against perceived threats, not only from extremist
groups, but also from the broader Moro community in Mindanao. This frightening
prospect, which still looks improbable, would undoubtedly extinguish any hopes of
a peaceful Mindanao under Dutertes term.
In recent months, previously contained and emaciated extremist groups have
shown renewed strength and audacity, largely due to the ideological inspiration, if
not, organizational support, from IS. Throughout the past three years, IS or Daesh1
has rapidly emerged as a major international security threat, rattling even the
great powers in Moscow, Washington, and Paris. The initially-mysterious group,
dressed in dark suits and drenched in bloody campaigns against minority groups in
Syria and Iraq, quickly transformed from a relatively obscure band of extremists
belonging to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawiinto
a full-blown revolutionary force that combines local and international terrorism
with advanced urban warfare tactics and conventional military capability.
Daesh and Al-Qaeda have almost identical doctrines and worldviews, although
Daesh and its predecessor, AQI, were obsessively targeting Shia Muslims whom
they treated as their prime enemy. Both groups have also relied on a steady stream
of international fighters, who sympathize with their ideological doctrine. Their
main difference lies in strategy. For the former, the establishment of a caliphate,
the custodian of the Islamic community (Umma), is a priority, and this demands
actual control and expansion of territory and jurisdiction. While the Daesh focuses
on defeating near enemies, particularly the supposedly heretic regimes in Iraq
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 3

and Syria, whose leaders are Shia/Alewite, the AQ, under the leadership of Osama
bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, focused on symbolic terrorist attacks (i.e. 9/11)
against the far enemy. The AQ was never really committed to controlling large
swaths of land and population, but instead focused on spreading the message of
jihad against the West.
But since the beginning of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coalition
and Iranian (and in recent months Russian) airstrikes against Daesh in Iraq and
Syria last year, the group has gradually changed its strategy. It is now transforming
into a more potent and frightening version of AQ, as exemplified by the bombing
of the Russian plane flying over Egypt and the massacre of hundreds of civilians
across Paris in recent months.
Between late 2014 and late 2015, the group has engaged in no less than 25 plots
and attacks against Western citizens and interests, not to mention bombings in
Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and across the Middle East and North Africa. The dramatic
change in its strategic orientation has been explicit in the groups prime publication,
the Dabiq magazine, which has covered topics such as From the Battles of Al-
Ahzab to the War of Coalitions, Just Terror, and The Failed Crusade. In one
of its publications, the group called on its supporters: At this point of the crusade
[Western airstrikes] against the Islamic State, it is very important that attacks take
place in every country that has entered into the alliance against the Islamic State,
especially the United States, United Kingdom, France, Australia, and Germany
(Ashour 2015).
The Daesh, in global terms, poses three types of risks. The first one is the so-called
lone wolf attacks, whereby sympathizersmostly influenced through Daesh-
affiliated websites and social networksare encouraged to fulfill their supposed
religious duty, not by travelling to the supposed caliphate per se, but staying in the
West and targeting the Crusaders. The second type of threat is related to Daesh
centrally-organized terrorist plots against Western targets, with the Paris attacks
as its prime example. The third type of threat has to do with the establishment
of wilayats (provinces/governorates) globally, especially when affiliate groups
begin to control actual territory, such as what the Boko Haram group in northern
Nigeria managed to accomplish. Once a group pledges bayah (loyalty) to Daesh,
specifically Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph, and manages to control territory
and population, it will have support and official recognition from IS.
4 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

Insurgency and Conflict

Defining terrorism and tagging a specific organization with the label of terrorist is
an often-controversial undertaking. Nonetheless, there is a consensus among experts
and governments, including the Philippine government, that an organization is
deemed as terrorist if it deliberately targets civilian populations and infrastructure
to forward a specific political agenda; in short, if it leverages striking terror into the
hearts of the public as a means to extract concessions from or topple an existing
order. Even non-terrorist groups, such as revolutionary elements with legitimate
grievances, may engage in acts of terror.
In the case of the Philippines, there have been two major sources of insurgency,
one led by the Muslim groups of Mindanao, and another led by the Communists
throughout rural areas in all three major islands of the Philippines. Both the
Philippine Muslim and Communist insurgencies are among the longest-running
in the world, reflecting the depth of political disunity, state failure, and political
instability on the margins of Filipino society. They also reflect the limits of the
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)s ability to cope with armed challenges to
its legitimacy and monopoly on the use of force.
The two major insurgent groups in the country are the Moro Islamic Liberation
Front (MILF)which is the derivative of the Moro National Liberation Front
(MNLF), the more secular-nationalist separatist group created by Nur Misuari
that sparked the first major Muslim insurgency movement in post-independence
Philippinesand the National Peoples Army (NPA), which is the armed wing of
the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its political arm, the National
Democratic Front (NDF).
The MILF is a product of infighting within the MNLF, after the latter began
negotiating with the Philippine government during the Marcos dictatorship.
Those negotiations paved the way for a peace agreement in the mid-1990s, under
the Ramos administration, which eventually created the Autonomous Region of
Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). As we have seen around the world, peace negotiations
often lead to splits within major rebel groups. The commencement of negotiations
with Philippine government in the 1970s led to splits within MNLF ranks, with the
more extremist-radical faction, led by Hashim Salamat, forming the MILF in 1977
and vowing to continue the Muslim peoples fight for independence through armed
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 5

conflict. The MILF has been considered the most powerful insurgency group in
the Philippines, boasting as many as 12,000 troops mainly concentrated in central
Mindanao.
Ethnic divisions also contributed to the breakaway within the MNLF, which
was mostly led by the Tausugs of the Sulu region; the MILF is mostly composed
of Maranao individuals in central Mindanao. The vision of the MILF has been to
establish a separate Islamic state in Mindanao, giving a more religious, Sharia-based
dimension to the MNLFs more secular-nationalist agenda. Nonetheless, after years
of military deadlock and the rise of more moderate leaders like Murad Ebrahim, the
MILF entered into negotiations, beginning in 1997, with the Philippine government.
The result was the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD)
with the Arroyo administration. The MOA-AD raised the hopes for a lasting peace
in Muslim-majority regions of Mindanao, but it was struck down by the Supreme
Court as unconstitutional. The Aquino administration redoubled earlier efforts
to reach a peace agreement with the MILF, culminating in the Framework Peace
Agreement in early 2014. Crucially, neither the Philippine government nor the
United States (US) government considers the MILF as a terrorist group.
The other major insurgency group is the NPA, which wages Protracted Peoples
War (PPW) against the Philippine state. Its vision is to create a Marxist-Leninist-
Maoist regime, established along the lines of Maoist China. It is deeply critical
of the Philippines dependence on the US, and it seeks to establish a command
economy with a vanguard party ruling over the country. It is the brainchild of the
CPP founder, chairman Jose Maria Sison, who rose to prominence as a student
leader in the 1960s and has been tenuously leading the Communist movement
from his place of exile in the Netherlands. Over the years, Sison, who is still
officially the paramount leader of the group, has been pitched in power struggles
with operational leaders who favor a more confrontational approach.
The Communist insurgency reached its peak under President Corazon Aquino
(1986-1992), when it boasted close to 25,000 armed regulars. But after decades of
infighting, internal purges, and relatively effective counter-insurgency efforts by the
AFP, they are now reportedly down to around 4,000 armed regulars. The arrest of
the Tiamzon couple in recent years, coupled with Sisons call for peace negotiations
with the Philippine government, reflects the growing weakness of the Communist
insurgency group, which has been pushed to the poorest provinces in the country
6 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

with limited resources. The CPP-NPA group has been historically strong in the
Bicol region, especially in Camarines Sur, as well as northern Luzon regions (Tarlac
and Pampanga), with also some presence in areas of Mindanao. Unlike the MILF, it
is considered as a terrorist group by the US government and by the previous Arroyo
administration, which was (prematurely) confident that it could crush the entire
group before the end of Arroyos term in 2010.
Though Arroyo failed to achieve her objective, the AFPs counter-insurgency
efforts forced the NPA to adopt an increasingly diffused command-and-control
strategy, which relies less on centralized leadership and more on small cells on
the ground. The internal coherence of the group is now more defined by common
ideology than by tactical acumen and organizational strength and manpower. The
CPP claims that it has 120 guerilla fronts in 10,000 of the more than 40,000 barrios
of the Philippines, but more reliable intelligence estimates put the number of the
countrys villages affected by the NPA at 1,442. Much of their funding comes from
revolutionary taxesfunds collected from small and big businesses, as well as
local residentsamounting to about PHP 4 Million (USD 78.2 Million) a year.
The normalization of Philippines-China ties in the 1970s and the end of the Cold
War dramatically reduced their funding sources from Moscow and Beijing, so the
group relies on a very limited funding support from sympathetic organizations
from around the world.
There have been intermittent peace negotiations between the CPP-NPA and
the Philippine government, with the negotiations at The Hague, Netherlands in
March 1998 paving the way for the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights
and International Humanitarian Law. There was a ceasefire in 2004, but it broke
down due to suspicions that the Philippine government convinced the US to
designate the group as a terrorist organization back in 2002. The government of
Norway is currently playing third-party facilitator in the peace talks. The arrest
of the Tiamzon couple by the Aquino administration and the prospects of a
lasting peace between the MILF and the Philippine government raised hopes of a
comprehensive peace agreement between the Philippine government and the two
major insurgency groups, CPP-NPA-NDF and the MILF. Yet, the Mamasapano
tragedy in early 2015, which led to death of Philippine National Police (PNP) Special
Action Forces and MILF fighters, undermined public and legislative support for the
Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the legal precedent for the establishment of a sub-
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 7

state Bangsamoro political entity in Muslim Mindanao. The result was not only a
deadlock in peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF,
but also the evisceration of the initial positive spillover into parallel negotiations
with the Communist rebels.
Aside from these two major insurgency groups, there are a number of smaller
organizations that have been more categorically and not controversially described
as terrorists by the Philippines, the US, and much of the international community.
Most of them are breakaway factions from either MNLF or MILF and are scattered
across Mindanao. Although claiming that they stand for the principles of a just
and Islamic self-rule in Mindanao for Muslim people, these groups have also been
described as criminal gangs engaged in kidnapping, extortion and other kinds
of criminal activities. They are also seen as radical jihadi groups that are more
aligned with Al-Qaeda, and now IS, than the more moderate strand of Sunni Islam,
represented by the current MILF leadership and the global Islamic movement of
Muslim Brotherhood.
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is an Islamic jihadist rebel group. Most of its
members are young members of Tausug, Yakan, and Sama ethnic backgrounds
from Western Mindanao. The group was formed in mid-1989, under its founding
ideologue Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, attracting disenchanted young cadres of
the MNLF in the Basilan island province. For a long time, it has been considered
the top terrorist organization in the Philippines. Since 1991, it has been involved in
various terrorist attacks against civilians in Mindanao. It has been tied with the Al-
Qaeda. In the early 2000s, it staged two major hostage-takings of Western tourists
in Sipadan and Dos Palmas, which earned them huge ransom funds.
From some 650 members in the early 1990s, the group grew to 3,000 fighters
after the Sipadan hostage crisis in 2000, as more money from kidnap-for-ransom
operations poured in. By 2005, after years of effective counter-terrorist operations
with strong American support, the group was down to 350 members, and barely
reached more than 500 in the following years. It mainly operated in the island
provinces of Basilan and Sulu, as well as the three provinces in the Zamboanga
peninsula in western Mindanao. Its biggest terrorist attacks were the Superferry
14 bombing of February 2004 and the Valentines Day bombings in three cities
in February 2005. Most recently, the group pledged its support to IS, but it has
not demonstrated enough military strength in order to be considered as a wilayat
8 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

(province/governorate) by IS command. More than a decade of close US-Philippines


cooperation emaciated the ASG. Thus, by 2014, US Special Forces in Mindanao
began to draw down.
The Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) is a local jihadi group of militant Islamic
converts from the main island region of Luzon. Their aim is for the Islamization of
the whole Philippines based on the principles of dawah (propagation) and jihad
(struggle). They have been involved in acts of terrorism, in collaboration with the
ASG and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). In 2006, a defense official described them as the
most dangerous group facing the Philippines but, over time, they have waned and
lost traction. By 2008, much of its leadership was neutered and arrested, while the
US pushed for the United Nations (UN) Security Council to list the RSM and eight
of its members among entities affiliated with Al-Qaeda. A combination of domestic
counter-terror operations and international support kept the group in check.
Another group of particular concern is the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom
Fighters (BIFF), which was involved in the Mamasapano tragedy. It emerged as a
splinter faction of the MILF in December 2010, led by former MILF member Umbra
Kato, who began to carve out his own franchise as early as 2008. It opposes peace
negotiations between MILF and the Philippine government, and is committed to
jihad and the establishment of an Islamic state. It has also pledged its support to IS.
It has periodically engaged in fights with the MILF over control of territory around
Datu Piang. One confrontation in August 2011 led to several guerrillas dead on
both sides.
In November 2011, Kato died from a stroke, leaving Ustadz Mohammad Ali
Tambakoa religious studies graduate of Saudi Arabian institutionsas the
BIFF leader. Upon its formation, it claimed that it led the defection of as many
as 5,000 MILF members, but experts believe the number is closer to 300. The
group, nonetheless, has had large access to ammunitions stolen from the 105th
Command, from which Kato and his supporters defected. Originally, the group
operated around North Cotabato, Maguindanao, and strategic areas around the
Liguasan Marsh, but after operational setbacks, it moved to areas around two main
barangays (hamlets): Ganta in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town and Damabla in
Datu Piang town in Maguindanao. Their biggest operation was in September 2013,
together with the ASG, when around 150 rebels besieged army positions in the
village of Lamitan in Basilan. The operation coincided with the Nur Misuari-led
MNLF breakaway factions seizure of Zamboanga City.
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 9

Up until the siege of Marawi, most of these groups were seemingly contained
by a fairly effective counter-terror operation by the AFP in conjunction with
allies such as the US. But, since 2016, the ASG, emboldened by the rise of IS, has
stepped up its kidnap-for-ransom operations in the Sulu and Celebes Seas areas
with particular ferocity. The Maute Group or the Islamic State of Lanaoa former
warlord-militia detachment under the supervision of Maute brothers, Omarkayam
and Abdullah, and with the alleged involvement of their entire immediate family
(Banlaoi 2017)has also rapidly emerged as a leading jihadist-extremist force in
the Philippines, with its center of gravity in Butig, Lanao Del Sur region. Under
the flag of IS, disparate groups have come together with the aim of establishing a
Daulah Islamiya Wilayatul Mashriq (DIWM), or an Islamic State Province in the
Orient. Their daring siege of the countrys largest Muslim-majority city, Marawi,
with the assistance of foreign fighters and other indigenous affiliates, was part of
fulfilling this key task.
Lesser-known groups such as Anshar Khalifa Philippines (AKP) and Khilafa
Islamiyah Mindanao (KIM), along with the better-known Maute Group, the ASG,
and the BIFF, have pledged their allegiance to IS in recent years. By and large, the AFP
seems to be on the verge of a battlefield victory in Marawi. But the broader concern
is further defections to extremist groups ranks if peace negotiations between the
Philippine government and other major Moro rebel groups arent resuscitated in
any meaningful way soon. The other source of concern is the transformation of
Mindanao, on a far larger scale than in previous decades in the age of Al-Qaeda,
into a regional hub for IS affiliates from all across East Asia and beyond.

The Counter-terror Infrastructure

Throughout the past six decades, the Philippine government has been struggling
against various kinds of insurgencies, with administrations adopting different
strategies. It was, however, under the Arroyo administration (2001-2010) that we
saw a major augmentation in Philippine counter-terrorism/insurgency apparatus,
as major allies such as Washington stepped up their assistance to and pressure on
Manila to more effectively engage in the Global War on Terror. Under Executive
Order Number 21, Series 2001, known as the National Internal Security Plan,
10 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

the Arroyo administration launched a Strategy of Holistic Approach to address


the issue of insurgency. Resolving terrorism, ultimately, cant be achieved without
addressing the broader phenomenon of insurgency.
The Strategy of Holistic Approach was a comprehensive approach that employed
socio-economic, politico-diplomatic, and military means to address insurgency
(see Figure 1). It involves all key departments of the government in battling the
various root causes and drivers of insurgency in order to provide a long-term
solution and eliminate conditions that trigger and sustain armed challenges to the
legitimacy of the Philippine state.
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 11

The Arroyo administration, under Operation Enduring Freedom Philippines,


also made sure to incorporate the best practices from previous administrations as
well as to cull out the counter-productive elements of previous campaigns against
insurgency. These practices range from the All Out Friendship or All Out Force
operations under defense minister, and former president, Ramon Magsaysay in the
1950s, to the Oplan Katatagan campaign of President Ferdinand Marcos (1965-
1986), to the Lambat-Bitag campaign of President Corazon Aquino (1986-1992).
Under Arroyos watch, the Philippines managed to maintain the gains of a
previously-negotiated peace agreement with the MNLF, open up negotiations with
the MILF, and progressively stamp out terrorist groups such as the ASG, which lost
many of its key leaders. The relative effectiveness of the Arroyo administrations
counter-terrorism operations was largely a reflection of close cooperation with US
special forces, who played a key role in augmenting the Southeast Asian countrys
counter-terrorism infrastructure.
Beginning in December 2001, the Philippines became part of Operation
Enduring Freedom Philippines, with members of US Special Operations
Command Pacific (SOCPAC) being deployed to support the counter-terror
operations in early 2002. The New York Times, at the time, described the mission as
the the largest single deployment of American military might outside Afghanistan
to fight terrorists since the Sept. 11 attack. The US military began effectively
re-establishing permanent troop presence in Mindanao, with its special forces
providing real-time, critical logistical and intelligence support for the AFP against
the ASG, as well as the AQ regional offshoot, JI. By 2003, the Department of Defense
announced that the two allies would engage in combined operations against the
ASG, with the US sending 350 US special operations personnel to assist Philippine
troops, who enjoyed the support of an additional 750 Americans permanently
based, on a rotational basis, in regional headquarters in Mindanao.
The success of the joint counter-terror operations convinced the US, in 2015,
to begin withdrawing its special forces from Mindanao. In an exclusive interview
with Foreign Policy magazine, Admiral Samuel Locklear, then chief of US Pacific
Command, confidently said: We dont necessarily need a 600-man train-and-
assist mission down there to try to teach them how to do something that they
now know how to do. After 13 years of joint operations in the Philippines, the
Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) drew to a close in
12 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

2015, although some residual forces were left behind as a US special operations
liaison to aid the Southeast Asian countrys ongoing counter-terrorism efforts. It
reflected not only the growing confidence of the US in the Philippines counter-
terrorism infrastructure, but also in the Aquino administrations peace negotiations
in Mindanao.
The Mamasapano tragedy, which undermined the peace negotiations with the
MILF, coupled with the rise of IS, which has built networks of support in Mindanao,
are forcing the US and the Philippines to make some tactical recalibrations. One
way to understand the global threat posed by terrorist groups like IS and AQ is
the balloon effect model. Once these groups are pushed back in their core area,
particularly in the Middle East, they tend to diversify and establish networks and
actual bases in other places of the world, particularly in peripheries like failed or
semi-failed states with significant Muslim populations, from Pakistan to Somalia.
Mindanao, with its massive poverty and long period of conflict, fits into this
category.
In fact, when coalition forces depleted AQ presence in Afghanistan after the
9/11 attacks, they tried to expand their presence in Southeast Asia, particularly
in Indonesia, southern Thailand and Mindanao. Throughout the 1990s, when AQ
was under pressure by Western military reprisals, JI, as the AQ regional affiliate,
reportedly established bases in Mindanao. Thankfully though, the 1997 ceasefire
agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF encouraged the latter
to progressively distance itself from other radical Islamist groups in order to pursue
a peace agreement; AQ and its affiliates lost a potential major ally in Mindanao.
This transition was consolidated under the leadership of moderates like Murad,
who replaced Hashim Salamat as the MILF chief in 2003.
So far, none of the IS sympathizers (who have pledged bayah to al-Baghdadi)
in the Philippines, whether the ASG, the BIFF, the RSM, or KIM, control sufficient
territory and populations to be formally recognized and supported as an IS wilayat.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Murad Ebrahim, head of the MILF,
warned about the rising threat from IS sympathizers in light of the deadlock in
peace negotiations: they are capitalizing on the frustration of the people; they
are trying to say that there is no more hope and we have to return to violence.
The threat is not the MILF turning to full-blown violent jihad, but instead its
transformation into broken pieces of radical extremist groups that control territory
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 13

and population. MILF splinter groups such as the BIFF have already pledged their
support to IS, but they have yet to control significant territory.
Many authoritative studies have shown that the MILF is riddled with multiple
battalions, which are weak links and may have varying degrees of institutional-
kinship-ideological linkages with radical Islamist groups. A breakdown in the
peace process may very well empower these radical factions, emboldening them to
fully secede from the MILFs ranks or effectively sabotage the moderate leadership
under Murad.
With IS facing comprehensive defeat across both Iraq and Syria, it will
increasingly look into launching global terrorist attacks in order to maintain its
image of invincibility and preserve morale within its own ranks and its legions of
supporters around the world. Moreover, it will look into supporting its affiliates,
especially wilayats that have been established in places like Nigeria, the Sinai
desert, or Libya, among others. A breakdown in the peace process in Mindanao will
certainly increase the probability of the emergence of full-blown wilayat affiliates,
which can engage in both insurgency-related activities in Mindanao itself and
terrorist attacks against government and Western targets in the country.
On paper, Mindanao, with its long history of conflict and its porous borders
connecting it to Malaysia and Indonesia, and given the deeply-held sense of
marginalization among Muslim minority population in the country, is a viable
candidate for IS expansion plans. In fact, back in the early 1990s, JI set up camps in
Mindanao under the support of the MILF. But, a combination of effective counter-
terror operationsrobustly supported by US Special Forces and other key allies
and relatively promising peace negotiations with key insurgent groups, namely the
MILF, has so far dampened chances for a full-blown ISIS-led/inspired insurgency
ala Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Nonetheless, there is huge room for concern.
Initially, IS command was just focused on building an actual caliphate in the
Middle East, and under the principle of hijra (migration), asked Muslims from
around the world to migrate there. But once Western and regional powers began
their air strikes against IS targets, there was a dramatic change in its strategic
orientation. How IS affiliates and sympathizers have overwhelmed French, Turkish
and Indonesian authorities says a lot about how serious this threat is and how the
learning curve of authorities should become steeper to stave off any serious attack.
Malaysian authorities have warned about the presence of assassination plots
14 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

against Prime Minister Najib Razak, while the countrys police chief recently
warned about the presence of as many as 50,000 sympathizers of IS in the country.
Downplaying or dismissing the emerging threat is no longer viable. Regional states
have already stepped up their cooperation to thwart any further IS-led/inspired
attacks in the region. Indonesia and Singapore have stepped up their cooperation.
We are both worried about IS and we both have nationals from our countries
involved in these terrorist activities including in the Middle East, Singapore Prime
Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after talks with visiting Indonesian President Joko
Jokowi Widodo in July 2015.
Autocratic countries like Singapore and Malaysia, which employ various forms
of emergency security measures such as the Internal Security Act, have had fewer
legal obstacles in pursuing potential terrorists and cracking down on terror cells. The
Philippines and Indonesia, which have larger populations, weaker bureaucracies,
and a larger sea of discontent in their peripheries, have proven more vulnerable in
dealing with the challenge. In the past decade, the two countries have been relatively
effective in stamping out AQ affiliates like JI, as well as other terrorist groups in the
country. But the rise of IS presents new challenges.
This is why it is extremely important that the Philippines gets the peace process
right, steps up cooperation with major allies in the West and the region, effectively
deploys the 2007 Human Security Act2 to address potential sources of terror, steps
up patrols and monitoring of its porous borders in the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas,
and coordinates precautionary measures with the relevant civil society groups and
major business establishments.
Thankfully, the Philippines has been able to count on the support of the US,
which has deployed Special Forces, intelligence-gathering drones, and large caches
of equipment to aid the AFPs counter-terror operations. Other allies such as
Australia have also deployed surveillance aircraft. In fact, since 2015, Canberra,
worried by the prospect of an IS wilayat in Southeast Asia, more proactively offered
to assist the Philippines to improve its surveillance, intelligence and forensic
investigation in the realm of counter-terrorism. We always consider the potential
threat posed by radicalized Filipinos supporting [IS], a senior Australian police
official told Reuters in 2015, underlining growing concerns in Canberra. We
are concerned with the risk of ISIS elements travelling to the country to promote
violent extremism and, worse, to seek haven or use the country as a transit point in
going to conflict zones.
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 15

Even new strategic partners such as China, which offered a USD 12 Million
defense aid package, are pitching in. China, similar to Russia, is considering
intelligence sharing and joint military exercises with the AFP, with a particular
focus on maritime security and counter-terrorism. Ultimately, however, the real
challenge in Mindanao is getting the peace process right. That is why the certification
of the newly re-drafted BBL as an urgent bill is highly needed at this point in time.
Duterte will have to leverage his grip on the legislature, which is currently led by
two Mindanaon leaders (Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino
Pimentel III), to achieve what the Aquino administration failed to do.
As for negotiations with Communist rebels, they have been hobbled by three
key factors: first, a classic principal-agent problem, namely the tenuous grip of
and the divide between those at the negotiation table, which now includes both
Sison and his affiliates, as well as the Tiamzon couple and regional commanders,
16 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

who have repeatedly launched operations against business establishments and the
AFP to the detriment of the peace process; second, the ingrained and lingering
distrust between the Communist rebels and the defense establishment; and, third,
festering differences over Dutertes lurch to the right, particularly his embrace of the
Marcoses, the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, and increasingly neoliberal
economic policies (Tiglao 2017; Casino 2017). Nonetheless, given Dutertes historic
linkages with the CPP-NPA leadership, his appointment of key communist-
leading individuals to cabinet positions, the release of the Tiamzon couple, and his
willingness to discuss key issues of mutual concern on a simultaneous basis, have
raised hopes that the elusive peace may not be so elusive after all.

Foreign Policy and Strategic Outlook

Sound and Fury

I will be chartering [sic] a [new] course [for the Philippines] on its own and will
not be dependent on the United States, declared President Rodrigo Duterte shortly
after securing a landslide election victory in mid-2016 (Telasur 2016). With those
few audacious words, he became the first Filipino leader in modern history to
openly question the foundations of a century-old alliance, which dates back to the
US imperial foray into Asia in the early 20th century. The tough-talking president
made it clear that any attempt at national independence involves some form of
decoupling from the US. The ensuing rupture lacked neither drama nor suspense,
capturing the imagination of the whole world.
Over the succeeding months, Duterte, who is often dubbed as the Trump of
the East, would push the envelope, crossing one diplomatic red line after the other
in a quest to make his island nation truly independentor at least, this was how
he tried to portray his non-stop tirades against the US. Duterte secured a regular
spot on global headlines when he, first, lashed out at the American Ambassador to
Manila, Philip Goldberg, calling him a gay son of a bitch, just to take, within the
next two months, his anti-American rhetoric a notch higher by personally insulting
no less than US President Barack Obama himself. Leaders of the UN, namely
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 17

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and the European Union were not spared. In one
of his characteristically colorful speeches, he literally flashed his middle finger at
his foreign critics in an unmistakable sign of defiance. When asked about whether
he ever regretted using colorful language against allied nations, Duterte boasted, I
dont give a shit about anybody observing my behavior (Chen 2016).
On multiple occasions, Duterte and his impresarios even questioned the
wisdom and utility of the UN system, arguing that the body is inutile in addressing
global conflicts and out of touch with realities in developing countries. For
them, the doctrine of human rights is neither universal nor valid, since it ignores
communitarian values such as law and order. The Duterte administrations critique
of human rights eerily echoed the so-called Asian values argument, which
autocratic leaders such as Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore) and Mahathir Mohamad
(Malaysia) generously deployed to justify their suppression of basic civil liberties
and democratic rights in earlier decades. Only few months into office, the berserk
president questioned Enlightenment values (i.e., human rights), threatened to end
the Philippines membership in the UN, and terminate its military alliance with the
US (Claudio 2016).
All of a sudden, the Philippines seemed to turn its back on a decades-long
commitment to both the US-led security architecture in Asia and the wider liberal
international order. But Duterte is neither a reincarnation of Gamal Abdel Nasser or
Sukarno, nor the latest heir to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez. He is not
calling for a global revolt of the wretched of the earth against Western colonialism
la Frantz Fanon, nor is he espousing a third way synthesis beyond the clash of
the East and the West la Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who challenged both
capitalism and communism. Duterte is not an ideologue bent on battling what
Jalal Al-e-Ahmad called Westoxification (Gharbzadegi). Though Duterte often
parrots the rhetoric of the founders of the global Non-Aligned Movement (NAM),
and seems familiar with the post-colonial literature of Fannon, Said and Shariati,
his apoplectic pronouncements against the West are grounded in more parochial
concerns.
In particular, he sees Western criticism of his scorched-earth campaign against
illegal drugs as nothing short of a direct challenge to his electoral mandate. After
all, Dutertes whole presidential campaign was based on the promise of eviscerating
criminality and ending the ubiquity of methamphetamines on Philippine streets.
18 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

His decisive electoral victory made him certain in the righteousness of his cause and
reinforced Dutertes notorious peevishness to any criticism, whether from within
or outside the country. Shocked by Dutertes vicious war on drugs, not to mention
his occasional threats to impose martial law and suspend democratic institutions,
Obama and other Western leaders pulled no punches in their explicit criticism of
the Filipino president. This set the stage for what seemed like an inevitable collision
course between age-old partners.
Beyond his brazen defiance of the West, Duterte also sought to reorient the
Philippines (largely hostile) relationship with Eastern powers, namely China and
Russia. During the ASEAN summit in late 2016, Duterte declared, I am ready
to not really break ties [with the US] but we will open alliances with China and...
Medvedev [Russia]. True to his word, the following months saw a swift blossoming
of Manilas strategic relations with Moscow and Beijing, which proved more than
eager to extricate the Southeast Asian nation from Washingtons strategic orbit.
Duterte not only signaled a volte face in Philippine foreign policy, but also sent
shockwaves across the region, as the Obama administration confronted a prickly
ally now blatantly cozying up to the US strategic rivals. The biggest crisis in
Philippine-American bilateral relations went hand in hand with the most ambitious
effort to explore a strategic partnership between Manila and the Eastern powers.
Dutertes geopolitical shock is telltale of how strongmen-populists can (and
may) unilaterally recast a countrys foreign policyor at least try to do so. It
also demonstrates the undeniable nexus between domestic politics and reflexive
political leadership, on one hand, and the behavior of states in the international
system, on the other (Morvscik 1997; Putnam 1998; Wendt 1992).
Eight months into office, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that
Dutertes foreign policy is marked by greater continuity rather than change.
Military cooperation with the US is inching back to status quo ante, largely due to
the institutionalized bonds between the AFP and Pentagon, and the reemergence
of transnational terrorist threats, while bilateral relations with China are yet to
fully normalize, mainly due to lingering tensions in the South China Sea. Rather
than supplanting one strategic patron with another, the Duterte administration is
adopting a de facto equilateral-balancing strategy, which aims to maintain stable
relations with both China and the US. Similar to other Southeast Asian countries,
the Philippines is eager to expand trade and investment relations with China,
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 19

which has offered massive economic carrots to neighboring countries in dire need
of capital and technology. At the same time, however, the Duterte administration
is hedging its bets by maintaining robust military cooperation with the US. This
seeming reversion to the meanafter months of disruptive rhetoric and threats of
game-changing policy shiftsreflects structural constraints, which affect the ability
of mid-sized developing nations to autonomously shape their foreign policies.
In countries like the Philippines, foreign policy decision-making isnt only
personalistic and reactive, it is also largely shaped by the behavior of great powers,
which have the requisite capabilities to unilaterally alter the weaker states external
security environment (Weatherbee 2005). Thus, the Philippines foreign policy
marks the intersection of Dutertes personal preferences, ideological leaning
and strategic priorities; his ability to centralize decision-making by suppressing
opposition and keeping alternative centers of power at bay; and the policy of great
powers, specifically the carrots and sticks they put on the table. Nonetheless, it cant
be denied that Duterte has gone farther than any of his predecessors, at least since
the end of the Marcos regime, in reconfiguring the Philippines relations with the
US and China.

Search for Autonomy

Dutertes call for an independent foreign policy is rooted in a long history of


Philippine strategic subservience to its former colonizer, the US. Throughout the
20th century, the Southeast Asian nation effectively outsourced its external security
obligations to Washington, which enjoyed unparalleled influence over the Philippine
media-security-business complex and exploited full-fledged access to Philippine
military facilities from Luzon to Mindanao. Three key agreements underpinned
the strategic partnership between the two countries: the US-Philippines Military
Assistance Pact (1947), the Military Bases Agreement (1947), and the Mutual
Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951. Throughout the Cold War, the Philippines stood
shoulder to shoulder with the US, serving as a key ally and logistics hub for Western
military operations in Korea and Vietnam (Bello 2006).
The end of the Cold War, however, presented a unique opportunity for the
Philippines to assert its strategic autonomy. In 1992, after years of fruitless
20 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

negotiations over the extension of the Military Bases Agreement, the Corazon
Aquino administration (1986-1992) asked the US to vacate Subic and Clark, its
largest overseas military bases. Earlier, the Philippine Senate, gripped by a nationalist
frenzy, voted against extending the basing agreement. As for Washington, the
collapse of the Soviet Union diminished the value of maintaining a large and costly
forward deployment presence in Southeast Asia. But, within a few years of the
exit of American troops, the Philippines confronted creeping Chinese maritime
expansion. Beijing seemed keen to exploit the power vacuum in the region. In
1994, it took control of the Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef, which lies close to
the island of Palawan (the Philippines westernmost province) and the energy-rich
Reed Bank within Manilas 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The
Fidel Ramos administration (1992-1998) responded by (i) accelerating Philippine
defense spending under the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act;
and (ii) revitalizing Philippines-US military cooperation under the Visiting Forces
Agreement. It was not until the mid-2000s when the Philippines, under the Arroyo
administration, began to adopt a semblance of an equilateral balancing strategy,
which would allow the country to have beneficial relationships with both China
and the US.
In what is largely seen as a short-lived golden age of Philippine-China relations,
President Arroyo and her Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, expanded trade and
investment relations, signed defense agreements, and explored a joint development
scheme in the South China Sea under the Joint Maritime Seismic Undertaking
(JMSU) agreement. Dismayed by the George W. Bush administrations narrow
focus on the Global War on Terror, which extended into the jungles of Southeast
Asia where Al-Qaeda regional offshoots remained active and deadly, the Arroyo
administration desperately sought to diversify Philippine foreign relations and
solicit economic support from external partners such as China and Japan (Morada
2006).
In the late 2000s, however, two factors undermined the blossoming Philippine-
China relationship. First, major Chinese infrastructure investment projects were
embroiled in corruption scandals, which undermined the Arroyo administrations
legitimacy, setting the stage for the 2010 presidential elections that saw the
opposition coming into power. The second, and more decisive one, was Chinas
switch to a more aggressive territorial policy in adjacent waters, beginning with its
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 21

formal announcement of a nine-dash line claim across much of the South China
Sea.
The Benigno Aquino III administration (2010-2016), which won the presidential
elections on the back of a moralistic anti-corruption platform, took a different
approach to China. It showed little interest in attracting large-scale Chinese
investments and adopted a tougher position in the South China Sea, specifically
refusing to pursue an arrangement similar to the JMSU, which lapsed in 2008 and
was mired in controversy and accusations of treason. Initially, many thought that
Aquinos state visit to China in 2011 would help both countries to explore a mutually
acceptable compromise in the South China Sea and revive bilateral investment
relations. The following year, however, the two countries found themselves
caught in a bitter naval showdown over Scarborough Shoal, which falls within the
Philippines EEZ, but lies 900 km away from nearest (naturally-formed)3 Chinese
coastline in Hainan. As the standoff intensified, China imposed non-tariff barriers
on the import of Filipino fruit exports and discouraged its citizens from traveling
to the island nation. Some Chinese hardliners encouraged military punishment
and full-scale sanctions. But after high-stakes backdoor negotiations, both sides
agreed to withdraw their vessels from the contested shoal, diffusing a months-long
diplomatic crisis. As soon as the Philippines withdrew its frigate (Gregorio Del
Pilar) from the shoal, however, China pushed ahead with exercising administrative
control over Scarborough, and denied, except on rare occasions, Filipino fishermen
any access to the fisheries-rich area.
Having lost control of what Filipinos consider as part of their national territory,
the Aquino administration adopted a two-pronged strategic offensive. First of
all, Aquino deepened the Philippines-US military alliance by negotiating the
Enhanced se Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which grants the US military
expanded rotational access to Philippine bases and paves the way for expanded
military aid, logistical assistance, and intelligence support for the host nation.
Through augmented US military presence on its soil, the Aquino administration
sought to create an indirect deterrence against further Chinese adventurism within
Philippine waters. Secondly, the Aquino administration opted for a lawfare (legal
warfare) strategy, filing a landmark case against China at an arbitral tribunal
constituted under Article 287, Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on
the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) at The Hague. The Obama administration, which
22 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

claimed neutrality on sovereignty disputes, was an enthusiastic supporter of the


arbitration as a peaceful, rule-based mechanism to resolve maritime disputes. Since
international arbitration bodies do not have independent compliance-enforcement
capacity, American support for the Philippines lawfare was extremely crucial. The
upshot of Aquino strategy against China has deepened Philippine dependence on
the US (Heydarian 2016).

Shifting Gears

To the delight of the Philippines and its allies, the lawfare strategy produced the best
possible legal outcome. In its final award, the arbitral tribunal ruled against Chinas
doctrine of historic rights, judging it as incompatible with modern international
law, particularly the provisions of the UNCLOS. It also criticized Chinas massive
reclamation activities in the contested Spratlys for inflicting ecological damage on
coral reefs and marine life in the area. Crucially, the court also made it clear that
none of the Chinese-occupied land features in the Spratlys are naturally-formed
islands, which can generate their own EEZs.4 Thus, there are no overlapping EEZs
between China and the Philippines.5 It also ruled that China shouldnt prevent
other claimant states from accessing marine resources in the vicinity of the
Scarborough Shoal, the status of sovereignty of which is beyond the jurisdiction of
courts constituted under UNCLOS.6
The arbitration award, however, was issued just two weeks after the inauguration
of Rodrigo Duterte as the new Philippine president. Consistent with his campaign
pronouncements, where he expressed skepticism vis--vis the utility of the
arbitration award and encouraged direct engagement with China (Mollman 2016),
Duterte decided to effectively set the arbitration issue aside, a position which he
brazenly verbalized in December 2016. In another remarkable departure from his
immediate predecessor, Duterte also expressed skepticism vis--vis the utility of
the Philippine-American military alliance in the South China Sea.
Over the succeeding months, Philippine-American relations suffered a huge
setback as the two allies squabbled over human rights issues. The upshot was a
downgrade in bilateral relations. In its twilight months in office, the Obama
administration, citing human rights concerns, withheld a shipment of American
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 23

firearms to the Philippine National Police (PNP), and postponed the renewal of
the USD 400 Million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid package
to Manila. Meanwhile, Duterte scaled back military exercises with the US. He
cancelled plans for joint patrols in the South China Sea and denied American
warships access to Philippines bases to conduct so-called freedom of navigation
operations (FONOPs). Two major joint military exercises, the US-Philippines
Bilateral Exercises (PHIBLEX) and the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training
(CARAT) exercise, were also cancelled, while the fate of the Balikatan exercises
hung in the balance. In October, during a high-profile state visit to China,
Duterte announced his separation from the US and his interest in joining Chinas
ideological flow to form a new alliance against the world. In recent months, the
Duterte administration has sought to negotiate long-term military agreements
with both China and Russia, which have offered modern weaponries and/or
contemplated joint military exercises and maritime patrols with Americas oldest
ally in Asia (Gomez 2016).
In his first six months in office, Duterte singlehandedly managed to redraw
the regional strategic coordinates, making it almost impossible for the Obama
administration to rally regional support against rising Chinese assertiveness in
the South China Sea. Dutertes seeming strategic defection to China prefaced
the requiem for Obamas much-touted Pivot to Asia policy. This was both an
unforeseen and highly consequential shift in Philippine foreign policy. Almost
unilaterally, Duterte downgraded his countrys relations with the US, which enjoys
high favorability ratings among Filipinos, and upgraded ties with China, which is
largely seen as a strategic threat by majority of Filipinos, particularly the security
establishment (Pulse Asia 2017). As the chairman of the ASEAN, Duterte blocked
any mention of Chinas massive reclamation activities and deployment of military
assets to disputed land features in the South China Sea. As a result, the ASEAN
chairmans statement in April 2017 ended up even softer than that of Laos, a long-
term Chinese ally, the year earlier, when regional states expressed serious concern
over the issue.
Five factors explain why and how Duterte pulled off such a radical reorientation
in Philippine foreign policy. First and foremost, Dutertes brand of populism is
anchored on a wholesale rejection of not only the liberal elite, but also their policy
paradigm. Similar to other successful anti-establishment candidates such as Donald
24 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

Trump (US) or Recep Tayyip Erdoan (Turkey), Dutertes rise to power was based
on a promise to upend the status quo in favor of an alternative system. This would
inevitably involve changes in Philippine domestic and foreign policy. Beginning
with his presidential campaign, and continuing to this date, both Duterte and
his well-organized propaganda machine, which is highly active and dominant in
the social media sphere, have proven uncannily successful in discrediting rival
elite groups, particularly the American-leaning liberals, as subservient to foreign
powers and rapacious oligarchs. In short, any opposition to Dutertes foreign policy
is portrayed as pro-American and unpatriotic.7
In a country that has one of the highest rates of income inequality, poverty
and unemployment, the Duterte administrations anti-establishment narrative
enjoys significant traction. The second factor, which is related to the first, is
Dutertes consolidation of power over the state apparatus. Under his presidency,
the Philippines has seen the rapid centralization of power in the hands of the
executive branch. With much of the Congress defecting to the presidents party, and
the Supreme Court struggling to exert its independence, institutional checks and
balances have fallen into hibernation mode. Duterte has enjoyed extraordinarily
high approval ratings, overseen a super-majority bloc in the legislature, and relishes
full-fledged support of the law enforcement agencies, while the military has been
kept at bay with promises of better equipment, benefits, and salary. The result is the
authoritarianization of Philippine political system, giving Duterte a unique space
to almost unilaterally reshape Philippine foreign policy (Taylor & Frantz 2016).
The third factor is the lack of an explicit US commitment to the Philippines
in the South China Sea. The Obama administration consistently refused to fully
clarify whether it would come to the Philippines rescue in an event of direct
conflict between Manila and Beijing over the disputed land features. During the
Scarborough Shoal crisis, Washington refused to offer direct military assistance
and instead encouraged bilateral negotiations to diffuse the situation. As a result,
Duterte didnt face much domestic backlash when he openly questioned the US
reliability as an ally. If anything, latest surveys shows that a plurality of Filipinos
share similar doubts (Batongbacal 2014; Pulse Asia 2017).
The fourth factor is how China, in contrast to the US, has been unequivocal in
terms of its carrots and sticks in the South China Sea. In fact, Duterte has met the
Chinese ambassador to Manila, Zhao Jianhua, more than any other foreign dignitary
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 25

since winning the presidential elections. Both in public and private discussions,
Chinese officials made it clear that the Philippines would benefit from large-scale
trade and investment deals if it adopted a more pragmatic approach in the South
China Sea, namely setting aside the arbitration case and downgrading joint military
exercises with the US near the contested areas. The sticks were equally clear: if the
Duterte administration continued its predecessors confrontational strategy, China
could move ahead with imposing an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the
disputed areas, proceed with reclamation activities on the Scarborough Shoal, and
expand military and para-military deployments into Philippine-claimed waters. To
drive home its point, China, shortly after the arbitration award was announced,
deployed fighter jets and a long-range bomber to Scarborough Shoal, while
dispatching an increased number of military and para-military vessels to the area
(Akita 2016; Gady 2016).
If anything, under Duterte, the Philippines has experienced rapid personalization
of foreign policy, with the tough-talking president often injecting his personal
preferences and emotions, namely rage and annoyance, into foreign policy
pronouncements. The result, in Weberian parlance, is a Sultanistic-charismatic
form of leadership, which, as studies show, is often accompanied by wild foreign
policy swings due to a relative lack of institutional restraints. Dating back to his
days as mayor of Davao City, the commercial hub of Mindanao, Dutertea self-
described socialist with age-old ties to leading Communists and Moro ideologues,
namely Jose Maria Sison and Nur Misuarihas had testy relations with Americans.
During the Bush administration, when the US was involved in extensive
counter-terror operations in Mindanao, Duterte blocked the 2007 edition of the
annual Balikatan joint military exercises, which were scheduled to take place
within his jurisdiction. In 2013, he denied the US access to the Davao Airport
for conducting drone operations. For Duterte, the Americans are contributors
to the conflict (rather than peace) in Mindanao. He often portrays Americans as
cruel and arrogant, insensitive to the conditions of the developing world. In his
first month in office, however, Duterte sought to find a modus vivendi with the
Obama administration. But any chance for maintaining cordial relations went out
the window when Duterte came under criticism by the US State Department over
his highly controversial war on drugs (Moss 2016; Taylor, Franz & Wright 2016). It
goes without saying that a significant change in any of these five underlying factors
could have direct impact on Philippine foreign policy.
26 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

Duterte kicked off his presidency with an audacious campaign to lessen his
countrys dependence on the US and diversify the Philippines strategic relations,
including with territorial rivals such as China. The ensuing rupture meant that the
century-old Philippines-US alliance is no longer as special and sacred as before.
Yet, since the inauguration of a new president in Washington, Duterte has begun
to sing a different tune, signaling his preference for a potential reset in bilateral
relations. He has praised Trump as a kindred spirita fellow strongman populist
bent on overthrowing the establishmentand even claimed that the new American
president has supported his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs.
Duterte has also given the green light for the implementation of the EDCA,
paving the way for expanded American rotational military access to Philippine
bases, while Washington has expanded its Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to
Manila, which is grappling with the twin threats of terrorism, as IS expands into
the Far East, and insurgency, especially in light of the breakdown in negotiations
between Communist rebels and the Duterte administration. Duterte is particularly
pleased with Trumps inaugural promise not seek to impose [American] way of life
on anyonein effect, not promoting human rights and democracy abroad. The
Trump administrations vow to take a tougher approach against China in the South
China Sea, including more sustained and aggressive FONOPs, has also pleased
Duterte and his senior defense officials, who are worried about Beijings designs
over the Scarborough Shoal and marine resources within Philippine waters. In fact,
Duterte himself made it clear that he will adopt a more confrontational approach
if he discovers minerals [within Philippine EEZ] are already being siphoned by
China. Meanwhile, Chinas pledge of large-scale investments in the Philippines has
yet to materialize, while the two countries have made little progress in negotiating
a mutually acceptable compromise over the Scarborough Shoal alone.
During the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Boracay, the Philippines, as the
host nation, also raised concerns over Chinas rapid militarization of the disputes by
deploying advanced weaponries to the Spratlys chain of islands (Esmaquel 2017).
By all indications, the foundation of Philippine-American alliance is still intact,
and may even recover to status quo ante, while Beijing has yet to fully normalize
bilateral relations with Manila, which is deeply worried about development in the
South China Sea.8 Thus, no one should be surprised if down the road, Duterte
decides to pull off another surprising swing in Philippine foreign policy, this time
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 27

in the reverse direction away from China and towards the US.
A key factor to keep in mind is the deepening influence of the military in
shaping Dutertes defense and foreign policy calculus. There are as many as seven
(former and current) AFP chiefs of staff appointed or set to be appointed to his
presidential cabinet: National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., Dionisio
Santiago as chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), National Irrigation
Administration chief Ricardo Visaya, Office of the President Undersecretary
Emmanuel Bautista, Defense Undersecretary Ricardo David, newly-appointed
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, and the current military chief of staff and
soon-to-be Secretary for Interior and Local Government, Eduardo Ao. Dutertes
two leading advisers on defense and foreign policy, former President Fidel Ramos
and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, were also top military officials before
entering civilian office. As many as 60 former AFP and PNP members have been
appointed to senior government offices in the past year, signifying Dutertes
deference to and efforts to charm members of the security forces, who have also
been promised better salaries, equipment, and benefits. The defense establishment
is also conscious of its growing influence, so much so that on multiple occasions,
key officials like Lorenzana and Ao openly sang a different tunetaking a far
more assertive position on the South China Sea disputes, opposing key concessions
during negotiations with communist rebels, and soliciting US military assistance
in Marawi ostensibly without prior permission from the president. As Duterte,
who denied personally seeking American assistance in Mindanao, lamented,
This is really their sentiment, our soldiers are really pro-American, that I cannot
deny(Ranada 2017; Heydarian 2017a; Casino 2017).
China seems to be aware of the deep bond between the Pentagon and AFP,
and the latters influence on the Duterte administration. This explains why China
has sought to charm the AFP by offering USD 500 Million in loans and USD 12
Million in counter-terror assistance. But it is doubtful that Beijing, which is viewed
suspiciously by majority of Filipinos and lacks any relevant security agreement or
historic interoperability with the AFP, will come close to matching Washingtons
place in the Philippines overall strategic constellation anytime soon. During
Dutertes high-profile visit to Beijing, a perspicacious Chinese scholar bluntly
shared his governments reservations: [Duterte] still could change his words in the
futurein the future nothing is certain (Phillips 2016).
28 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

Human Rights and Democracy

Rupture and Isolation

So far, however, what has defined the Duterte presidency the most is his signature
campaign against illegal drugs, which has come under heavy criticism by key allies,
including the US, Australia, and, to a far larger degree, the European Union (EU).
Differences between Manila and Brussels over the issue have raised the prospects
of a rejection of EU grants with human rights conditions, the suspension of the
Generalized Scheme of Preference-Plus trade privileges for Philippine exports, and
the imposition of targeted sanctions against high-level Filipino officials directly
involved in the ongoing war on drugs. Bitter diplomatic acrimony may explain
not only the lack of interest by EU business delegations, which were initially
interested in visiting the Philippines9, but also the non-invitation of Duterte, the
current chairman of ASEAN, to the G20 Summit in Germany per tradition. As
of this writing, the most troubling aspect of the Duterte administrations external
relations is vis--vis the EU, a top export destination for the Philippines and a
leading investor in recent years (Heydarian 2017).
Dutertes first year in office, however, is broadly consistent with his election
promise to bring about a measure of law and order by striking fear into the hearts of
drug pushers and users. In many ways, the nationalization of his notorious Davao
model of law enforcement is, using the words of Carl von Clausewitz (in Lindell
2009), nothing more than the continuation of politics by other means. As Duterte
put it in quite macabre terms weeks before his electoral victory: When I become
president, Ill order the police and the military to find [criminals and drug pushers]
and kill them. He warned, The funeral parlors will be packed Ill supply the
dead bodies (Rodis 2016). So far, the public response has been broadly positive.
Surveys have consistently shown that the publics perception of law and order
conditions has improved. In a Pulse Asia survey (March 2017), up to 79 percent
of respondents approved of the Duterte administrations performance in fighting
crime. In the publics view, this has been his strongest suit. In his first six months
in office, almost nine out of ten respondents expressed satisfaction with his war on
drugs campaign, according to a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey.
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 29

The ferocity of the campaign against drugs, which reportedly claimed thousands
of lives (exact number is contested), was also partly due to the fact that Duterte
placed an impossibly tight temporal burden upon himself: If I succeed [in
stamping out the drug problem in six months] perhaps that would be my greatest
contribution to the country, but if I fail, kill me (Ramirez 2016). He reiterated this
during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), when he stated, 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 (Lopez 2016).
Central to Dutertes argument, and resulting drug policy, is growing public
dissatisfaction with the existing criminal justice system. To Duterte, and his legions
of fanatic supporters, the system is simply ineffective and too slow to catch up
with realities on the ground. In response, the president has presented himself as
30 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

the guardian of law-abiding citizens against drug users, whom, according to his
narrative, are the source of all criminality and depravity in the society. They are the
ultimate Other that have to be eliminated for the sake of the society. Thus, values
such as human rights, due process, and democratic accountability are broadly seen
as burdensome technicalities and often as obstacles to effective law enforcement.
Along the way, the president has provided de facto carte blanche to law enforcers,
stating: Do your duty, and if in the process you kill one thousand persons because
you were doing your duty, I will protect you. And if they try to impeach me, I will
hurry the process and we will go out of the service together (Mendez 2016).
Despite widespread allegations (from multiple sources) of extrajudicial killings
by law enforcers, a single police officer is yet to be held fully accountable, even if
PNP chief Ronald Bato Dela Rosa, has vowed that he will not allow vigilante
killings of illegal drug or crime suspects, and their unjust killing during police
operations (Gamil 2016). There are growing concerns over an atmosphere of
impunity, particularly over what leading senators such as Panfilo Lacson, a former
PNP chief, bemoan as a clear case of extrajudicial killing (Quismundo 2016).
Domestically, the president enjoys immunity from prosecution while still in
office. His super-majority support in the Congress also means any discussion of
impeachment or accountability is out of question, at least for now. Externally,
however, dark clouds have been gathering. In late 2016, the International Criminal
Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda expressed how deeply concerned she was
with Dutertes war on drugs, warning any person in the Philippines who incites
or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging
or contributing, in any other manner, to the commission of crimes within the
jurisdiction of the ICC is potentially liable to prosecution before the Court. The
international magistrate reiterated that she will be closely following developments
in the Philippines in the weeks to come and record any instance of incitement or
resort to violence with a view to assessing whether a preliminary examination
into the situation of the Philippines needs to be opened (International Criminal
Court 2016). The warnings were followed by the UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein, who called for [c]redible and independent
investigations to ascertain accountability for the shocking number of killings that
have occurred across the country since Mr. Duterte became president (UN News
Center 2016).
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 31

Groups such as Human Rights Watch have warned about further diplomatic
isolation of the Philippines over the issue (Kine 2016). The UN Special Rapporteur
on Extrajudicial Killings, Agnes Callamard, has repeatedly called on the Duterte
administration to allow her team to conduct investigations on the ground
(Viray 2016), while Senator Antonio Trillanes and Congressman Gary Alejano,
two members of the political opposition, along with Jude Sabio, a human rights
lawyer, have separately filed a supplemental communication with the International
Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague as a possible prelude to full prosecution of
Duterte on the grounds of crimes against humanity. Legal experts, however, are
divided over whether the case will ever gain traction, given the severely limited
precedents on the issue (no single Asian leader has been prosecuted yet) and
the exhaustive prerequisites, especially the need to prove that domestic judicial
institutions havent, cant, or refuse to hold their leaders accountable for heinous
crimes (La Vina 2017; Maraon 2017).
In policy terms, there are two basic questions over Dutertes war on drugs.
The first one is the enormity of the drug problem in the country, since data from
the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and
Crime (UNODC) suggest that drug usage and addiction rates in the country are
either below or close to global average rates. This doesnt mean that the problem
doesnt exist, but raises questions over whether the Philippines is a narco-state
or on the verge of becoming one (Iyengar 2016; Diola 2016; Philippine Star
2016). The second issue is whether the solution is a draconian crackdown by law
enforcers or instead, an investment in the judiciarys penal system.
Just to put things into perspective: the country only has around 2,000 courts
for a population of more than 100 million individuals (a staggering 1 to 50,000
ratio). A single judge, on average, is in charge of as many as 644 cases per year,
while prisons run, on average, close to a 400 percent overcapacity rate. By every
single measurement, the problem is clear: there is massive underinvestment in the
penal system, thus its slowness and ineffectiveness. Thankfully, Duterte has sought
to increase not only the budget of law enforcement agencies (by 24.6 percent), but
also the judiciary (by 21.5 percent). Yet, the judiciarys share of the national budget
remains extremely small, at 0.97 percent of the national budget (Abadines 2017).
A restoration of the death penalty or a decrease in age of criminal liability doesnt
address more fundamental concerns with capacity building in the judiciary, law
32 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

enforcement and broader criminal justice system. Rhetorical and practical assaults
on human rights and due process will only weaken already fragile state institutions.

Socio-Economic Reform

Ultimately, as surveys consistently show, Filipino people are most concerned


about basic economic issues. As a Pulse Asia survey (March 2017) shows, the
three leading urgent issues for the Filipino people are wage increase (43 percent),
inflation control (41 percent), and job creation (39 percent), which happen to be
the areas where Duterte received his lowest performance approval ratings. The
issue of fighting crime was a comparatively low priority among the majority class D
(29 percent) and E (24 percent), as compared to the smaller ABC class (38 percent).
Foreign policy issues were at the bottom of the populations priority list, with only
6 percent of interviewees determining it as a top three urgent concern (Pulse Asia
2017).
While the Philippine economy remains robust in terms of annual growth rates,
it is mainly riding on the momentum of the past reforms under the Aquino and
Arroyo administrations. Investor confidence in the overall business environment
and policy predictability declined in Dutertes first six months, as measured by the
Bangko Sentral confidence index. The Philippine currency has also experienced its
steepest depreciation in a decade, reflecting a deteriorating Balance of Payments
condition, which hit a three-year low in the same period (Agcaoili 2016). In theory,
currency depreciation should help exports, but that assumes the export sector is
robust, external markets remain open, and rates of depreciation are calibrated
rather than a product of exogenous shock or declining macroeconomic stability.
After all, throughout its first year in office, the Duterte administration struggled
to craft a coherent socio-economic agenda to optimally reflect the heterodox nature
of its cabinet. While progressive-leftist secretaries pushed for tighter control over
the mining sector, a higher minimum wage, a moratorium on land conversion,
and an increase in pension funds, the technocrats emphasized the contribution
of the mining sector, the necessity of preserving productivity and employment
over wages, maintaining flexibility in land acquisition for industrial and property
development, and fiscal sustainability of pension funds. There have also been
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 33

internecine bureaucratic squabbles over issues such as rice importation, which


later spilled over into the public domain and led to the dismissal of senior officials
(Racamora 2017).
External factors (e.g., the US Federal Reserves interest rates, global trade,
etc.), which are expected to have a fairly even impact on regional economies with
similar levels of exposure to global markets, are obviously at play. But there is also
growing concern over regulatory certainty and political stability in the Philippines.
Prominent economists, such as Cielito Habito, have raised alarm bells over the
slowdown in total investment, household consumption, and government spending
amid an uptick in inflation under Dutertes watch (Habito 2017a; b). By the end of
Dutertes first year, the country posted its first current account deficit in 15 years,
raising concerns over the macroeconomic health of the country (Reuters).
Eager to reassure the business community, the government launched the
Dutertenomics agenda in April 201710, placing particular focus on infrastructure
development. The Build, Build, Build platform is largely tied to Dutertes
commercial diplomacy, particularly vis--vis China and Japan, which have pledged
billions of dollars in terms of infrastructure investment deals in the Philippines.
34 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

The challenge ahead, however, is to ensure whether (i) the government can raise
sufficient tax revenues to fund infrastructure projects; (ii) ensure full transparency,
bidding competitiveness, quality-control, and environmental sustainability for big-
ticket projects, especially those led by China; and (iii) avoid a debt trap by negotiating
viable and low-interest projects (Mangahas 2017; Chellaney 2017). Cognizant of
concerns over fiscal viability and a debt spiral, the Duterte administration has

presented a well-distributed modality for funding big infrastructure projects, with


Official Development Assistance (ODA) and Private-Public Partnership (PPP)
schemes representing a relatively small share compared to that of the General
Appropriations Act (GAA) and government-owned and controlled corporations
(GOCCs; see figure 3). Yet, this also means that the passage of the Tax Reform for
Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) package, before October and the Congress
adjournment, is of paramount importance. Above all, the TRAIN should remain
truly inclusive, rather than regressive, while ensuring inflation and the overall
business environment arent adversely affected.
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 35

Policy Recommendations

A. Foreign Policy

While the overall effect of the Duterte administrations foreign policy has been
broadly defensible, there are still major areas of concern. First and foremost, there
is a necessity to bridge differences over human rights and democracy concerns
with our partners in the EU, which are committed to institutionalized dialogue
in order to genuinely empower civil society groups, providing support to indigent
communities, enhancing delivery of basic public services through capacity-
building measures, and advocating peace and development in Mindanao. This can
be achieved by a more sober, coherent and mutually respectful dialogue, which
takes the legitimate concerns of both sides into consideration. While Manila should
reassure Brussels about its commitment to rule of law and human rights, the EU, in
turn, can provide financial and technical assistance to the Duterte administrations
campaign against illegal drugs via the establishment of rehabilitation centers and
the provision of cognitive behavioral therapy for drug dependents.
The Philippines position in the South China Sea should be one of strength,
rather than of accommodation or any appearance thereof, whether in the form of
rhetoric or inaction on the ground. This is why it is extremely important for the
Duterte administration to optimally leverage the Philippines landmark arbitration
award by shunning statements and actions that underplay its relevance, finality
and binding nature per international law. The Philippines should also use its
chairmanship of ASEAN to push for responsible behavior among claimant states
in the South China Sea, rather than accommodate Chinas interest in avoiding any
scrutiny of its action. This is why it is crucial for the Philippine government to
indirectly raise the arbitration award in upcoming multilateral discussions vis--vis
the South China Sea, especially the forthcoming East Asia Summit in November (for
instance, emphasizing the importance of compliance with UNCLOS and regional
principles such as the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South
China Sea); advocate and pressure concerned parties to sign up to and finalize the
negotiation of a legally-binding and consequential (rather than vacuous and purely
symbolic) Code of Conduct (COC); and also strengthen quadrilateral cooperation
36 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

among ASEAN claimant states, which have been at the receiving end of Chinas
rising maritime assertiveness.
The Philippines should raise the costs of Chinese assertiveness by not only
leveraging its chairmanship of the ASEAN and emphasizing the binding nature of
the Arbitral Tribunal award at The Hague, but also maintaining security cooperation
with key partners, particularly the US but also Australia and Japan, and ensuring
maximum interoperability in an event of a contingency in the South China Sea.
After all, there are no guarantees against unwanted clashes in the disputed areas, or
a conflict over Scarborough Shoal, if and when Beijing proceeds with developing
military facilities on the disputed land feature. By all accounts, China is completely
undaunted in its adjacent waters.
The Philippines, similar to other claimant states, should also strengthen its
position on the ground by maintaining and upgrading facilities in Thitu Island
and other major land features under the Philippines administrative control. In
the end, nothing beats effective and continuous exercise of sovereignty, which
is also decisive in adjudications involving title to claim or sovereignty disputes.
Yet, the Duterte administration should ensure that the nature of disputed land
features would remain unaltered, lest we end up violating international law. Short
of a wholesale revamping of disputed land features, the Philippines is operating
perfectly within the purview of its rights in the area. There shouldnt be any mutual
exclusivity between ongoing negotiations with China or over a COC, on one hand,
and the Philippines right to fortify its position on the ground on the other.

B. Counter-terrorism

It is paramount for the Duterte administration to pass the revised BBL before
the adjournment of the Congress in October in order to revive deadlocked peace
negotiations. It is also crucial for the negotiations with Moro rebel groups to be
optimally inclusive, ensuring that not only MILF, but also other major groups, such
as the MNLF, have sufficient voice in shaping the Bangsamoros future.
The Philippines should step up trilateral cooperation with other regional states,
particularly Malaysia and Indonesia, in the realm of counter-piracy and counter-
terrorism, while seeking maximum assistance from tried-and-tested allies such as
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 37

the US and Australia. The EU and Japan could help in terms of the peace process and
post-conflict rehabilitation and development. Intelligence, training and equipment
assistance from new strategic partners such as Russia and China should also be
welcomed, albeit in consonance with broader national interests and the democratic
principles of the Philippines.

C. Human Rights and Democracy

While broadly supportive of Dutertes war on drugs, the Filipino public has
also consistently expressed its preference and support for a more comprehensive
and humane policy approach, which addresses the root causes of the prevalence of
drugs (i.e., poverty, corruption among law enforcement officers, absence of rule of
law), is based on actual and verified data rather than semantics and paranoia, and
has a more public health-focused, rehabilitation-centered orientation.
Key partners such as Japan, the EU, Australia, and the US can provide necessary
financial, logistical and technical assistance to ensure a more public health-focused
and comprehensive approach to the drug epidemic in the country.
The declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, which has been affirmed by both
the Congress and the Supreme Court, should operate within the boundaries of the
1987 Constitution; preserve the basic political rights and civil liberties of citizens;
and be applied with utmost diligence and calibration in terms of geographical and
temporal scope, and in ways that are commensurate to the scale of terrorism threats
in the country.

D. Socio-Economic Reform

The Duterte administration should put economics at the center of its national
agenda. Inclusive and sustainable developmentthrough upgrading public
infrastructure, attracting high-quality foreign direct investment, increased
agricultural productivity, and robust industrializationshould be at the forefront
of the governments national policy priority.
President Duterte should maximize his political capital and super-majority
38 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

support in the Congress to pass necessary legislation that will make the country
more competitive and investment-friendly, while ensuring anti-labor practices,
such as contractualization and anti-farmer practices like land conversion schemes,
which undermine land reform, are addressed within the four corners of the 1987
Constitution.
The Duterte administration should address lingering concerns over the
regressive and potentially disruptive impacts of TRAIN, which is crucial to funding
the Dutertenomics infrastructure agenda, but should also take into consideration
the interest of the broader population, especially those at the lowest rungs of the
economic pyramid. Crucially, the focus should be on tax effort, rather than tax
rate alone, since the Philippines continues to have among the lowest rates of tax
collection among emerging market peers and regional states.

Conclusion

This paper provides an overall assessment of President Rodrigo Dutertes first year
in office by placing it within the broader context of the Philippines key challenges
in four primordial areas. In terms of domestic security and terrorism, the paper
argues that the latest crisis in Mindanao, specifically the Battle of Marawi, marks
the intersection of an exogenous shock, namely, infiltration of so-called IS ideology
and its tentacles of global mobilization, and endogenous policy pitfalls, namely, the
deadlock in and relative neglect of peace negotiations with the MILF and other key
moderate rebel groups. To address the challenge, the Philippine government needs
to solicit maximum assistance, not only from immediate neighboring countries,
particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, but also tried-and-tested allies such as the US,
Australia, Japan, and the European Union. New strategic partners such as China
and Russia can also provide necessary support, whether in terms of intelligence,
equipment or development and reconstruction aid.
In the area of foreign policy, the Duterte administration has engaged in an
ambitious project of establishing a more independent foreign policy, which,
according to the current commander-in-chief, simply denotes less dependence
on and deference to traditional allies, namely, the US. The paper argues that the
governments performance in this area, so far, has been a mixture of short-term
ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 39

gains, reversible pitfalls, and medium-to-long term risks to the Philippines national
interest, particularly in the South China Sea. On one hand, President Duterte
should be commended for a hyperactive foreign policy, which saw him visiting
17 countries in less than a year and securing up to USD 40 Billion in pledges of
government-to-government and business-to-business trade and investment deals.
Despite frequent diplomatic dustups over human rights and democracy issues,
strategic relations with the West, including the United States, remain intact, if not
robust, with the Pentagon playing a key role in aiding ongoing counter-terrorism
efforts in Mindanao and still enjoying privileges under existing bilateral security
agreements with the Philippines. Reaching out to China, the worlds second largest
economy, and Russia, the worlds second largest arms exporter, also provides the
Philippines benefits of strategic diversification. Yet, Dutertes often-conciliatory
message vis--vis and growing reliance on Chinese defense and economic aid,
tirades against and downgrading of security ties with the West, and conscious effort
to downplay maritime security risks in regional agenda run the risk of weakening
the Philippines bargaining chips in the South China Sea. Thus, the Duterte
administration should move into its second year in office with certain tactical
readjustments in order to better protect the Philippines vital national interest. The
Philippines should negotiate with China from a position of strength, ensure that
negotiations give it sufficient time to develop its deterrence capability and fortify its
position on the ground, and raise the costs of further assertiveness and aggressive
behavior by competing claimant states.
The third and fourth areas are socio-economic reforms and human rights
and democracy. The Duterte administrations 10-point economic agenda, which
was released shortly after his election victory last year, makes it clear that the
government is interested in not only pursuing the macroeconomic reforms of the
two previous administrations, which focused on fiscal discipline and monetary
stability, but also ensuring more effective trickle-down of recent economic gains.
To enhance economic inclusiveness, the Duterte administration has emphasized
environmental sustainability, land reform and agricultural productivity,
infrastructure development, and job-creation through high-quality domestic
and foreign investment. The appointment of progressive-leftist cabinet members
was a key element of this new strategy. Attracting investments from China and
Japan, coupled with expanded tax generation, are expected to fund the so-called
40 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

Dutertenomics agenda, which is primarily focused on infrastructure development


across the country, including in the presidents home island of Mindanao.
Yet, so far, there are lingering concerns over the sustainability of the Dutertenomics
agenda; the ability of progressive-leftist cabinet members to effectively work
along with the technocratic trio in the budget, finance and economic planning
departments; doubts over policy predictability and investment environment; the
weakening currency and the first current account deficit in a decade-and-a-half;
and the ability and commitment of the president to leverage his political capital to
pass through progressive, rather than regressive, fiscal reform packages, which will
benefit the majority of the population.
The Duterte administrations greater focus on economic rights, however,
has gone hand in hand with worrying erosion of basic human rights and civil
liberties, which constitute the core of political rights of the citizens. Concerns
over extrajudicial killings, accountability of law enforcement officers, civilian
checks and balances, intimidation of opposition members and public space, and
the specter of nationwide Martial Law, have cast a dark shadow over the countrys
democratic institutions and long-term political trajectory. Nonetheless, the publics
high approval ratings of the president denote an overall state of satisfaction, so far,
over perceived improvements in basic law and order conditions.

ASSESSING THE BALANCE SHEET 41

1
In following sentences, IS and Daesh will be interchangeably used.
2
In February 2007, the Philippine Senate passed the Human Security Act (HSA) otherwise known as
Republic Act No. 9372: An Act to Secure the State and Protect our People from Terrorism. Previously the Act had
been known by various titles including An Act to Deter and Punish Acts of Terrorism and for Other Purposes
(Senate Bill No. 2137) and An Act to Define and Punish the Crime of Terrorism, the Crime of Conspiracy to
Commit Terrorism, and the Crime of Proposal to Commit Terrorism, and for Other Purposes (Senate Bill
No. 2187). Thus, the Human Security Act exists as an instrument of counter terrorism as opposed to human
security policy. Sections seven to sixteen of the HSA deal with the surveillance, interception and recording of
communications. Section seven details that: A police or law enforcement official and the members of his team may,
upon a written order of the Court of Appeals, listen to, intercept and record, with the use of any mode, form, kind
or type of electronic or other surveillance equipment or intercepting and tracking devices, or with the use of any
other suitable ways and means for that purpose, any communication, message, conversation, discussion, or spoken
or written words between members of a judicially declared and outlawed terrorist organization, association, or
group of persons or of any person charged with or suspected of the crime of terrorism or conspiracy to commit
terrorism. Section sixteen of the HSA outlines the penalties for malicious interceptions and/or recordings: Any
police or law enforcement personnel who, not being authorized to do so by the authorizing division of the Court
of Appeals, tracks down, taps, listens to, intercepts, and records in whatever manner or form any communication,
message, conversation, discussion, or spoken or written word of a person charged with or suspected of the crime
of terrorism or the crime of conspiracy to commit terrorism shall be guilty of an offense and shall suffer the
penalty of ten (10) years and one day to twelve (12) years of imprisonment. The HSA lists a series of penalties
for law enforcement personnel if they do not follow the statutes of the HSA. These penalties take the form of
lengthy prison sentences. Importantly the individual personnel or their direct superiors are held accountable not
the agency as a whole. From this one can tentatively suggest that the HSA is designed to penalize rogue individuals
as opposed to non-performing agencies. Section 50 of the HSA that states: Upon acquittal, any person who is
accused of terrorism shall be entitled to the payment of damages in the amount of Five Hundred Thousand Pesos
(P500,000.00) for every day that he or she has been detained or deprived of liberty or arrested without a warrant
as a result of such an accusation. The amount of damages shall be automatically charged against the appropriations
of the police agency or the Anti-Terrorism Council that brought or sanctioned the filing of the charges against the
accused. Source: Eddie, P. (2007) Legislating for Terrorism: The Philippines Human Security Act 2007, Journal
of Terrorism Research. 2(3): 24-30.
3
China has built artificial islands in the Spratlys (and Paracels), which arent recognized as full-fledged
islands with corresponding maritime entitlement claims (i.e., EEZ), as naturally-formed islands such as Hainan or
the Philippine archipelago (See Art. 121 of UNCLOS).
4
In an event of overlapping EEZs, claimant states, in accordance to UNCLOS, are obliged to negotiate
maritime delimitation and resource-sharing arrangements.
5
In practical terms, it meant that China had no sovereign rights over hydrocarbon and marine resources
with the Philippines EEZ, with the exception of the resources within the territorial sea of contested rocks within
the Philippines EEZ, namely Scarborough Shoal.
6
See Final Award. PCA Case No. 2013-19, Permanent Court of Arbitration, July 12, 2016, https://pca-
cpa.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/175/2016/07/PH-CN-20160712-Award.pdf. For an excellent overview of the
Philippine-China arbitration showdown see Batongbacal, J. (2015) Arbitration 101: Philippine v. China Asia
Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Issue 6, January 2014.
7
For those who dared to openly criticize Dutertes pivot to China, they have been smeared (mostly on
social media by Duterte supporters and trolls) as warmongering, pro-American stooges. This author was among
the victims of this smear campaign.
8
For further analysis see Richard. J. Heydarian. Dutertes Uncertain China Gamble. Asia Maritime
Transparency Initiative. Center for Strategic and International Studies. November 3, 2016; Duterte and China
9
Based on conversations with relevant diplomats and officials based in Brussels in October 2016.
10
Disclosure: The author was invited as a resource speaker, strictly in his capacity as an independent
scholar and prominent international affairs commentator, during the first Dutertenomics Forum in Conrad Hotel,
Pasay City, April 18, 2017.
42 DUTERTES FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ADR Institute gratefully acknowledges all those who have extended their support,
cooperation, and commitment in the development of this project. This publication
would not have materialized without their help.

We are fortunate enough to engage with insightful persons from different


sectors, namely: the academe, public and private sectors, as well as civil society
organizations, who have shared their expertise and have actively contributed to
discussions in various fora.

We would also like to thank Prof. Victor Andres Dindo Manhit, President of
the ADR Institute, for his leadership, vision, and guidance in making this endeavor
possible.

Last but not the least, we would like to thank the following for their hard work
and dedication, and for working tirelessly towards the completion of this project:

Deputy Executive Director for Research, Ms. Angelica Mangahas, and Senior
Research Associate, Ms. Weslene Uy, who both served as the editorial staff;

Our design consultant, Ms. Carol Manhit, for the publication lay-out and cover
design;

And the rest of the ADRi team headed by Executive Director, Atty. Katrina
Clemente-Lua, Deputy Executive Director for Programs, Ms. Ma. Claudette
Guevara, Program Associate, Ms. Vanesa Lee, and External Affairs and Social
Media Associate, Ms. Krystyna Dy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Javad Heydarian is a non-resident fellow


with the Stratbase ADR Institute (ADRi), an academic,
opinion columnist, and media pundit as well as policy
adviser, focusing on the Asia-Pacific region. He has
taught political science at Ateneo De Manila University
(ADMU) and De La Salle University (DLSU), and
was the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) in the
Philippines awardee in 2016 for his contributions to
social sciences.
Authoring more than 800 articles and several books,
he is a regular opinion writer for Aljazeera English
(Doha) and The Straits Times (Singapore), Nikkei
Asian Review (Tokyo) and South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), and a
columnist for the Manila Bulletin. He is currently a resident political analyst for
GMA Network, and previously resident foreign affairs analyst for the ABS-CBN
News Channel (ANC).
He is a regular contributor to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Council Foreign Relations
(CFR), and also contributed to Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment,
Australias Lowy Institute for International Policy, Indian Council on Global
Relations (Gateway House), and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
(RSIS). As an international affairs expert, he has been consulted by (as a reviewer)
by leading global publications such as the Oxford University Press, and written for
major scholarly publications such as Harvard International Review, Asian Security,
The Routledge Handbook of Asian Security, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs,
among others.
As an academic and expert, he has been invited to speak at the worlds leading
universities, such as Columbia University, Stanford University, Harvard University,
Australia National University and the National University of Singapore. He has
written for and/or interviewed by, Aljazeera English, BBC, Bloomberg, CNN
International, CNBC, Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Affairs, The New York
Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Economist,
Reuters, USA TODAY, The Nation, NPR, Spiegel, among other leading global
publications and news outlets.
His latest book is The Rise of Duterte: The Populist Backlash against Elite
Democracy (Palgrave, London/New York).