Duterte scores enduring gains in PH, surpasses predecessors — expert

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US-based non-government strategic insights and policy solutions research organization, published “Duterte’s Underappreciated Foreign Policy Gains” on July 25, 2018, an analysis of Lucio Blanco Pitlo, a Filipino research analyst and academic Social Science lecturer, describing the “symbolic, actual and enduring gains” which President Rodrigo Roa Duterte achieved in his two years in office.

“The President has scored symbolic, actual and enduring gains in his two years in office that surpass those of his predecessors,” Pitlo said.

Pitlo said while President Duterte is criticized for being “pro-China” and “defeatist” on his public pronouncements on the West Philippine Sea, he has actually taken concrete action to protect the country’s sovereignty in disputed waters.

“Criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy largely focuses on his rhetoric. Some have described his policies as defeatist and an attempt to appease China, especially in relation to the West Philippine Sea (WPS). At the same time, he is seen as confrontational toward the US and Europe for what Duterte considers unwanted interference in Philippine domestic affairs,” Pitlo said.

Pitlo pointed out Duterte’s official visits to Philippine-claimed islands and features, Kalayaan (Spratlys) Islands and Pag-asa (Thitu), which his predecessors and foreign counterparts did not take, the construction projects in the area, and the highest military budget, were some of the concrete actions his administration has undertaken.

Unlike Duterte, previous administrations wanted to undertake major improvements in Kalayaan island facilities hesitated out of concern on how other claimants would react.

In May this year, construction works started in Pag-asa, Patag (Flat), Likas (West York) and Kota (Loatia) Islands to erect lighthouses. Several new buildings on Pag-asa are also being constructed.

Pitlo said the “Second Horizon Modernization Program (2018-2022)” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as a landmark step Dutere has taken to enhance the country’s security forces.

“While the President has emphasized dispute management, it is erroneous to say that he is not investing in the country’s external defense,” Pitlo said.

Duterte administration approved the $5.6 billion defense budget, more than three times fold of the previous administration’s $1.7 billion allotment.

The Duterte administration also purchased items for the armed forces earmarked for the “Third Horizon (2023-2028)” ensuring that procurement will take place before his term ends.

Among the approved for acquisition include two squadrons of multi-role fighter aircraft, a frigate, long-range patrol aircraft, drones, and offshore patrol vessels.

Pitol said while Duterte is true to his policy of “being friends to all and enemies to none,” his administration is also “diversifying arms suppliers and has been getting arms donations (e.g., China, Russia, US, and South Korea) and better terms. Goodwill visits by US, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and Indian naval and coast guard ships were also welcomed.”

“Military exercises with the US continue despite Duterte’s anti-US tirades. The AFP’s modernization is geared toward making it more responsive to evolving threats confronting the country, including terrorism and external security challenges,” Pitolo said.

“These actions show that assessing Duterte’s foreign policy by focusing on his rhetoric alone can lead to erroneous conclusions. The controversy generated by his remarks often distracts attention from meaningful and concrete measures being taken to reinforce the country’s position in the West Philippine Sea,” Pitlo said.

Pitlo is a research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation; lecturer at the School of Social Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University; and contributing editor for the Asian Politics & Policy Journal.

Established in Washington, D.C., over 50 years ago, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a bipartisan, nonprofit policy research organization dedicated to providing strategic insights and policy solutions to help decision makers chart a course toward a better world.