Navigating the minefield of President Duterte’s pivot to China

[Photo credit: BBC]

By Yvonne

The episode in the popular TV show ‘Madam Secretary’ aired on CBS network on March 12, 2017, depicted a fictional Philippine president whose pivot to China alarmed U.S. leaders to the point that the ‘Secretary of State’ made a visit to the ‘President’ to dissuade him with an offer of more military aid to bolster his personal ambition. Instead of taking on the offer, the fictional president sexually harassed the secretary who, in return, punched his face bloody. The secretary was quickly escorted out of the country and U.S. officials mulled the option of removing him through a military coup, if not by assassination. But none of these options were pursued when U.S. officials uncovered a scandal that they used to blackmail the president into submission.

Although the episode was fictionalized it became controversial because of some striking similarities with the current political situation in the country. Some conspiracy theorists pointed to the possibility that U.S. officials might have influenced the TV production as part of a destabilization plot against Duterte. Indeed, President Duterte’s pivot to China is stirring a hornet’s nest and the ongoing debate on its ramifications to the country, and to the international community, has been divisive and intense.

Expectedly some administration officials are quick to heap praise on Duterte’s action pointing out to the commitment of billions of dollars in economic assistance and trade agreements that he brought home after his recent visit to China. On the other hand, many, including this writer Yvonne, viewed his action with skepticism and believe that it will not reap benefits for the Philippines beyond what can be expected historically from its foreign relation with China without the pivot. And overall, it may be less than a zero sum equation.

As one of the superpowers, China (or should I say Beijing?) is a major player in international political arena and is very adept at playing political poker. Duterte is gravely mistaken if he thought China would shower the Philippines, or him for that matter, with special accommodations in exchange for his pivot or open-arm embracing of China. Beijing has a very good read on the psyche of Filipino politicians and knows which buttons to push for the likes of Arroyo, Binay, and now with Duterte, to get the most advantage for China to the detriment of others. The fondness of Beijing’s for Arroyo when she was president, and for Binay when he was a leading presidential candidate, are classic examples on how expertly the Chinese leaders play their hands.

What his supporters hyped as Duterte’s successful trip to China is actually a big disappointment in that he did not come home with economic aid in exchange for his pivot. What he got are commitments for a loan package (not aid package) and trade agreements that are likely to be onerous. The loan package is likely to contain preferential covenants for the purchase of Chinese products and services absent competitive biddings. And the trade agreements are likely lopsided in favor of Chinese companies.

According to analysts, China typically requires counterpart financing from the borrowing country in the range of 20% to 50% of her loan commitments. The loans are also tied to having access to a range of natural resources – oil, farm, fisheries, and metals – from the borrowing country with Chinese companies getting separate juicy contracts to extract those natural resources. Thus, it is not surprising, but alarming, that the Duterte administration has not made public any details and conditions for the Chinese loan commitments and trade agreements.

On the other hand, the Philippines will lose a significant amount of U.S. aid in return. As reported in the press, the U.S. decided to defer economic aid to the Philippines until such time that the country is able to “demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, investments in its people and economic freedom.” The previous aid package to the Philippines was a substantial amount of $434 million. Of course, the U.S. used diplomatic language to express its dismay with the pivot just like when President Obama diplomatically described Duterte simply as a “colorful guy” in response to the latter’s obscenity-laden rant against the former U.S. president.

Beijing is likely to view its new political relationship with Duterte with extreme caution and skepticism due to his fickle-mindedness, volatile temperament and lack of coherent foreign policy. His pivot to China is one of political expediency and not rooted on nationalistic ground and principles – thus it is bound to be short-lived as is shown in the sudden and unexplained cancellation of a Chinese commerce minister’s visit to the Philippines last month to sign some 40 joint projects worth billions of dollars.

If anything, Duterte’s pivot provided Beijing with a timely face-saving opportunity to deescalate the heightened tension in the South China Sea. Many political analysts viewed China’s flexing of military muscles in Southeast Asia as maybe intended to arouse nationalistic fervor among the Chinese to divert their attention from the worsening economic situations at home, the escalating citizen’s demand for government openness, and from the increasing political unrest in Tibet.

Is spite of its being the second largest economy in the world today, China is in broad economic turmoil due to its slowing economy and overextended financial burden. It will be recalled that the worsening economic problems in China caused a near meltdown of the world financial markets some two years ago. And President Trump’s protectionist stance and efforts to bring jobs back to the U.S. will only make things more difficult for the Chinese economy. For example, Jack Ma, founder and chairman of Alibaba, a leading Chinese company, committed to help President Trump create one million jobs in the U.S. in the next five years. Although Jack Ma’s commitment is highly unrealistic, it highlights the effect of Trump’s new policy of taking jobs back to the U.S. to the detriment of China.

While Duterte extended his open arms with China he showed a willingness to do the same with Russia. It can be assumed that Beijing is aware of Duterte’s political gambit to play the U.S., the Chinese, and the Russian cards to his advantage, reminiscent of how martial law dictator Ferdinand Marcos skillfully played the Russian card to keep President Reagan’s support of the Marcos dictatorship going. It seems like Duterte is following the Marcos playbook (including his threat lately to impose martial law) but Duterte is a political novice that can easily be the one to fall into Beijing’s own political gambit.

A political novice himself, Pres. Trump created a diplomatic breach when he called Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, essentially brushing aside the U.S. one-China policy. The resulting international uproar forced Pres. Trump to do an about-face and issue a statement confirming his administration’s commitment to the U.S. one-China policy. Is the about-face connected with the unexplained cancellation of the Chinese commerce minister’s visit to the Philippines, a sort of ‘let’s keep the status quo’ message?

What about the Chinese minister’s abrupt cancellation of visit to the Philippines? Was it an attempt to keep Duterte in check and prevent him from getting too bigheaded? Or was it due to his administration’s failure to come up with counterpart funding for the Chinese loan commitments?

To be sure, China’s flexing of military muscles is a threat not only to her neighboring countries, and the U.S., but it is problematic to China as well because of the groundswell of defensive response to China’s military provocation. There is already an increasing clamor in Japan to amend its Constitution to allow for the creation of an offensive capability to its armed forces. In India, a country with nuclear arsenal, the government is accelerating the upgrade of its military capability using its sophisticated railways system should there be a disruption of passage through the South China Sea. And Vietnam, a country with proud history of standing up against superpowers, has shown an increasing willingness to engage the Chinese in armed skirmishes.

On the other hand, the Trump administration has just made public its proposed federal budget for the next year that includes a very substantial increase in military and defense spending, partly in response to China’s flexing of power in Southeast Asia.

Will China respond in kind to the U.S. increase in military spending next year? Highly unlikely because of the strain it will cause on her already slowing economy and overextended financial burden. In fact, China reduced its military spending last year after years of increasing military budget. Consider, for instance, that her newest aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is not entirely new but a refurbished Soviet carrier Varyag. This reminds us of Pres. Reagan’s very expensive star wars defense program – it was designed to bankrupt the Russian economy if the Russians attempted to match the initiative.

Of late there have been reports of armed military installations in the Chinese reclaimed islands in South China Sea. While these are matters that are of serious international concern, some analysts believe that the installations have limited military capability because the Chinese would not be folly enough to expose their highly guarded military secrets to U.S. eavesdropping. The U.S. can always invoke its right to safe passage to make close-by navigation runs, overhead and underwater, for military intelligence gathering activities.

And will China pull back its military capability and exercise restraint simply because of Duterte’s pivot? It is highly unlikely. According to U.S. congressional report, “China still maintains intermediate range nuclear missiles, DF-21s and possibly DF-3s, at its Lianxiwang Launch Complex. Originally these were targeted at U.S. military forces in the Philippines, but China’s missiles have remained pointed at Filipinos long after the departure of U.S. forces. The anti-ship ballistic missile of People’s Liberation Army Navy has extended its attack range to the Philippines.”

According to the US Navy’s unclassified intelligence assessment report, “the introduction of long-range anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), non-PLA(N) weapons such as the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), and the requisite Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) architecture to provide targeting data will allow China to expand its combat capability further into the Philippine and South China Seas”.

To be sure, many professional military insiders in the Duterte administration do not share Duterte’s seeming belief that a pivot to China woud result in benefits to the Philippines more significant than without the pivot. Could it be that Duterte’s public pronouncement of newly found friendship with Beijing is just a smoke screen to appease his major political donors and supporters? Why, for instance, were Bongbong and Imee Marcos part of the Duterte entourage to China when they are not cabinet members and have no known businesses that would potentially benefit from a Chinese connection? Is it payback time for the Floirendos, and the Lagdameos, the banana magnates from Davao whose biggest export market is China?

On the other hand, in spite of Duterte’s public pronouncement of distancing from the U.S., his administration continues to seek U.S. military assistance quietly. This includes a request for the sale of two AN/SPS–77 Sea Giraffe 3D Air Search Radars, support services, including installation, operator training, and system operational testing, with a total estimated cost of $25 million. “The AN/SPS–77 Air Search Radars will be used to provide an enhanced ability to detect and track air contacts. The radars will be installed on two Hamilton-class cutters acquired through the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program.” As of last month the U.S. Congress was still deliberating approval of this request.

Additionally, although the proposed sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippine National Police was halted while still in the pre-notification process, the U.S. State Department, upon the request of the Duterte administration, is considering a proposal to send $1.9 million worth of barrel blanks for the manufacture of small arms in the Philippines.

These requests for U.S. assistance to beef up the Philippine military and police capabilities do not look like distancing from the U.S. So is Duterte’s public pronouncement of pivot to China, coupled with severing military ties with the U.S., for real? Or, are these posturing just for public consumption? Or, as some of his apologists would say it, “the President is only joking?”

There is no doubt that it is in China’s own interest to deescalate the tension in South China Sea and to dial down the political rhetoric. Duterte’s pivot to China may have just given Beijing the pawn it needs in its game of political chess with the U.S. And in any game of chess, the pawn can easily be sacrificed.


121 Responses to “Navigating the minefield of President Duterte’s pivot to China”
  1. karlgarcia says:

    Not just his pivot to China.
    Being a friend to everyone in his independbt foreign policy he made commitnents or pledges like 2.5 bilion folars if agricultural exports to Russia. An idle island or two used as export processing zones dedicated to the middle east.

    There is no way he can do all of that even if he wanted to.

    I wanted not to be to harsh with scepticusm towards China, but they are not even hiding their ill intentions, they are just making palusot when caught.

    • Yvonne says:

      I’ve been wondering how the Duterte administration can articulate an effective foreign policy, much less an independent foreign policy, when it would already become embroiled in controversy and disarray over a very simple task of appointing a qualified Secretary of Foreign Affairs. What an embarrassment!

      • karlgarcia says:

        You are the expert detective on citizenship Yvonne, Cayetano might still want to pursue the DFA portfolio if his citizenship issue will be slowly forgotten.

        • Yvonne says:

          The questions about Cayetano’s citizenship is probably not going to be forgotten anytime soon, not necessarily for political reason but because it makes a good study in citizenship lesson. The matter of citizenship of Yasay when he was appointed chair of SEC, that of Grace Poe when she ran for the senate, and that of Cayetano when he ran for elective office in Taguig, did not make the news because the legalities of dual-citizenship was not well-understood and discussed yet at that time. But with increasing political activism these days, dual citizenship is undergoing increasing public scrutiny.

          Duterte is likely trying to avoid a repeat of the Yasay fiasco that, as has been reported in the press, he now wants Cayetano to stay in the Senate instead of taking the helm at the DFA as previously offered to him. This signals some nervousness in Duterte that questions about Cayetano’s citizenship could derail his appointment to the DFA.

          After I first mentioned in Raissa’s blog site that Cayetano’s name appeared in the Federal Register and the date he relinquished his U.S. citizenship, lawyer/columnist Rodel Rodis wrote, a week later, an article in the Inquirer questioning Cayetano’s citizenship. This was followed by a counterpoint article by Oscar Franklin Tan, also of the Inquirer.

          Cayetano responded to the article that he indeed held dual citizenship at one time but he did not have dual allegiance which is abhorred by our Constitution. But the questions remain: What did Cayetano do with regard to his dual Filipino-U.S. citizenship and when did he do it? When did he acquire and surrender his U.S. passport?

          There is a legal theory that mere possession of a passport is, by default, an admission of a person’s allegiance to the country of his passport. After all, a person may be born a U.S. citizen, for instance, without his consent of his birth citizenship but when he elects to obtain a passport he is making a conscious decision to give his allegiance to his country of passport. So if and when Cayetano is appointed chair of DFA all these questions, and more, will come into play. Can Duterte afford another Yasay debacle?

          • karlgarcia says:

            many thanks!

          • parengtony says:

            My gut feel is that one clear strategy of Duterte and his sponsors is to contain the rise in popularity of anyone who has the potential of gaining political power and subsequently threatening the China-Marcos agenda. We are seeing this with VP Leni, Sen. Sonny Trillanes, and Sen. Leila.

            Perhaps Sen. Cayetano, who has not provided any significant articulation on where he stands on Duterte’s China-Marcos agenda, is not considered a real member of Duterte’s innermost circle. And those who are would be very hesitant to allow Cayetano the golden opportunity to shine as DFA Sec..

            Cayetano’s political future with this administration is problematic.

    • karlgarcia says:

      To summarize: Our quid quo pro with Russia, China and Middle East are food and Human Capital. Since Circumstances in the Middle East ate changing a bit, we might provide less human capital to them, but we can still provide food.

      We can not feed them all.

      We must not commit to many recepients spreading our selves too thin.

      Again nice to have many friends, but we must not throw away old friends and we must not forget to verify before trusting.

    • Yvonne says:

      The timing of the publication of my essay and that of the editorial opinion on the same day is coincidental.

      But I find highly suspicious the timing of Chinese signing of the loan package worth billions of US dollars last week, as mentioned in the Inquirer, coming at the height of the public uproar over the Benham Rise incident. The timing looks like Beijing gave President Duterte a much needed means to dial down the noise and disarm his critics for his lack of action, or failure to take action, over the Chinese incursion on Benham Rise.

  2. NHerrera says:

    Welcome back Yvonne. A timely, well-crafted article as PH is now pre-occupied with another one: Benham Rise.

    If I may, I hope the picture below puts your article in a nutshell:

    • chemrock says:

      Nice work Yvonne for encapsulating big chunk of points here for discussion.

      A minor correction if I may. The $434million from Millenium Challenge that has been withdrawn by the US is not aid money. It is a grant. In peso terms it’s Php 27 trillion, compared to the Php 6 billion grant promised by the Chinese to build 2 bridges over Pasig (per report in link provided by Joseph above).

      • NHerrera says:

        May I address to either or both of you, Yvonne, chempo:

        Granted, China is currently saddled with many problems, among which are,

        – the economic and military issues arising out of the uncertain relations with and thrusts of Trump’s US;

        – its own economic slowdown, pre-Trump,

        still, in relative terms, it has a lot of money. So the money (loans really for the most part with favorable terms to itself we are sure the shrewd Chinese will extract) going to the Philippines really furthers its investment adjustment, as well as further its Nine-Dash Line objectives — killing two birds with one stone so to speak — isn’t it?

        • parengtony says:

          May I highlight two points:
          1. Yes, shrewd with money is a very appropriate characterization of Duterte’s sponsors/allies..
          2. Thus, y’all FOLLOW THE MONEY!

      • Yvonne says:

        Thank you Chemrock for the clarification – much appreciated.

      • @ chemrock

        I appreciate learning the distinction. Am learning something new everyday. Thanks.

        Grants are gifts – financial aids that are given to us at no cost and do not have to be paid back in the future.

        Duterte’s ego is costing the Philippines and its future generations a lot. Judging by reported accidents arising from infrastructures built by China in other countries and in theirs, a chill runs through my bone at the risk this President is exposing all of us.

    • Yvonne says:

      Thank you NHerrera. Your illustration adds clarity to the discussion as usual, as you have done typically in previous blog topics. I hope the downward trajectory of the ‘most probable result’ of the pivot in your illustration is not ominous. One day I will need you to walk me through the process of making those nice illustrations.

  3. Micha says:

    On 11 January, secretary of state designate Rex Tillerson warned that the US would interdict Chinese naval forces in the South China Seas: ‘We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to these islands also is not going to be allowed.’ It would be a ‘danger to the global economy’ if China were to ‘dictate access to the waterway’

    A few days later, Newt Gingrich, former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives and confidant of Donald Trump, told the German weekly Der Spiegel, ‘Well, frankly, on the South China Sea, I suspect we will try to communicate with the Chinese that they are not going to become the leading naval power in our lifetime’

    Strong words both from two Republican hawks.

    Yesterday, after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Rex Tillerson talked about respecting mutual interests, building cooperation, and pursuing a policy of non-confrontation – puzzling incoherent statements from Trump’s top diplomat.

    One could only speculate that,

    1. Behind closed doors, Tillerson delivered an uncompromising language that either the Chinese back off from its regional aggressiveness or the US will bombed the Chinese eyeballs out of their sockets.


    2. After having been shown the Chinese ace card (probably some enhanced military capability), Tillerson delivered that disappointing meow of a message.

    I personally wouldn’t bet on #2 since in reality, the US is still the top ranked, pound for pound, when it comes to military and technological muscle – its Pentagon budget is bigger than the combined budget of the rest of the top ten countries’ military spending including China and Russia. That and the fact that the US maintains some of its biggest overseas military bases right behind and in front of China’s door (South Korea and Japan).

    As for our Duterte, I for one will support 101% any and all efforts to get rid of this murderous maniac.

    • Yvonne says:

      Certainly the election of U.S. President Trump, which Beijing most likely did not expect and is caught unprepared for, change drastically the dynamics of the political and military calculus in South East Asia.

      So I’m not surprised that Duterte seems to be softening his once hardline approach to the U.S.

      • Micha says:

        He might have felt really good telling Obama to go to hell but as long as he doesn’t have viable strategic plan on how to actually wean the country from US dependence on multi-lateral areas (social, economic, military), he’ll very soon find out America will have the last laugh and will come real hard on him.

        • Yvonne says:

          Duterte might as well have written the lyrics of the song ‘I started a joke’ by the Bee Gees:

          “I started a joke which started the whole world crying
          But I didn’t see that the joke was on me oh no
          I started to cry which started the whole world laughing
          Oh If I’d only seen that the joke was on me”

          “I looked at the skies running my hands over my eyes
          And I fell out of bed hurting my head from things that I said
          ‘Till I finally died which started the whole world living
          Oh if I’d only seen that the joke was on me”

          • NHerrera says:

            What an apt thought, that association with the lyrics of the Bee Gees. (Without YouTube-ing, I can hear the music in my mind.)

  4. andrewlim8 says:

    Well written and well-argued, Yvonne. Congrats.

    On my wish list for public release, if available:

    1. Intelligence intercepts on China-Phil conversations, emails, phone calls, meetings on this issue.

    2. Any intel on illegal drug manufacturing inside China with the knowledge and tacit support of their government.

    They have it on the Russians and Trump. This will blow it out of the water.

    • NHerrera says:

      Yummy that wish list.

      Aside from the communication between country leaders, locally, Alvarez, Pimentel, Cayetano, Pacquiao, Panelo and the lot of them are internet users too. Saw some of them fingering those gadgets during Hearings. Unlike Enrile, I am sure they were not using their tablets/ phones to play “Candy Crush.” Yummy, too, the dossiers from the communication among them.

      (Of course, the Chinese are into internet snooping too for the other side.)

    • Yvonne says:

      Some analysts believe that the next global war is going to be fought not through military armaments which almost guarantee total annihilation on both sides, but through some other novel means such as attacks on the digital superhighway to cripple electric grids and water supplies, paralyze banks and financial institutions, paralyze transportation and communication systems, or otherwise wreck havoc to soft targets.

      Having said that, a component of that future war is probably the waging of psychological battle to influence elections through the widespread use of propaganda – false news and the so-called “alternative facts”. Or it could be the waging of battle to destroy the moral and physical fiber of an opposing country by flooding and addicting its citizens with illicit drugs. Is it no wonder that the flow if illegal drugs from Chinese sources goes on unabated? Certainly, a nation that is morally and physically weakened is easier to control and defeat.

  5. Sup says:

    Some nice detailed pictures/ info of the islands build by China.

  6. Beware rising imperialist states… Spain in 1521, the USA in 1898, China now. They don’t blink.

    But the Philippine mentality is foolish, it goes for “llamado” (winners) and against “talunan” (losers) – even if it might be more advantageous to be with a 2nd tier power that cannot bully you too much but might need you more – the US needs the Philippines to contain China, I think.

    The EU also can provide a market for a lot of Philippine goods, is already doing so, was poised for more direct investment – but if the Philippines prefers to feel big as China’s lapdog, then fine.

    Reminds me of Filipino embassy drivers in Bonn who based their status on the country they were driving for – a driver for the US embassy was “better” than one just driving for Arabs – or Africans.

    The neediness or needfulness even of Filipino leaders eclipses better judgement, I greatly fear.

    • NHerrera says:

      How about the Filipino drivers for the Chinese embassy, if there are any. How do they rate?

      • Sup says:

        I did try to google that for you Sir Herrera but it said every time ”drivers missing” hahahahha 🙂

        Did you mean: filipino divers chinese embassy
        Search Results
        Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of the …
        Chinese Embassy Celebrates 2017 Spring Festival … Chinese Embassy Turned Over Humanitarian Aid to the Philippine Red Cross(2017/02/16); SecGen Yang …
        Missing: drivers
        Visas For PR China – Chinese Embassy › Home › Consular Services › Chinese Visa
        Oct 15, 2016 – You may read for details the List of Agreements on Mutual Visa Exemption Between China and Foreign Countries. The Philippine Diplomatic or …
        Missing: drivers

        • NHerrera says:

          Sup, Google’s algorithm is not 100% perfect. It looked instead for missing divers, since the internet traffic in PH lately was on Panatag shoal or Benham Rise, so by association … 🙂

          (Thanks for the work I should have done.)

          • Yvonne says:

            It reminds me of a joke about a tourist navigating a treacherous mountain side. His car hit a rock and as the car was falling off the cliff the voice from its GPS was frantic: “Recalculating! Recalculating!”

            • NHerrera says:


            • hahaha, thanks for the grand morning laugh. I fully intend to put that in the box of collectables, along with Cha’s elephant.

            • NHerrera says:


              Readers please ignore if this sounds foolish to insert here.

              While we are on the matter of recalculation and tech matter as GPS, I did some calculation. If travelling 60 mph will not cause frantic GPS alert, while beyond that it does, the cliff is at least 120 feet from the ground, and GPS made that alert 2.7 seconds after the car falling. Doing a little bit of forensics here beside my coffee cup. 🙂

              • Sal’s eyes widened, aghast at your analytical talents. 🙂

              • NHerrera says:

                Oh no. When Sal is saying that, I know my calculation is in trouble. But enough of that. 🙂

              • edgar lores says:

                Just verifying:

                If the cliff is 120 feet tall, the car will hit the ground between ~2.7 – 2.8 seconds… assuming there is no air resistance and the force of gravity is 9.80665 m/s2. (The 2 is exponential.)

                If the GPS makes the alert 2.7 seconds after the car starts falling, it would not have the time to fully enunciate “recalculating.”

              • NHerrera says:

                Oh, oh I am in trouble now. Firstly, the terminal speed is probably about 150 mph, so round about the 60 mph, the air drag is dominated more by gravity pull.

                About, the height being about 120 feet achieved at 2.7 seconds, you are right, GPS may not fully enunciate “recalculating.” Sharp! (The distance has to be more with corresponding time to enunciate the word.)

                edgar, you are keeping me honest here. Thanks. 🙂

              • edgar lores says:

                What if the car is a Mercedes Benz with gull-wing doors that open automatically and immediately when it senses the rubber is not meeting the road?

                (We might have analyzed this joke too much!)

              • Bert says:

                Well, it depends, Edgar. If the GPS can discern that it was only a joke by Evonne the GPS can say anything, heheh.

              • Yvonne says:

                LOL! You guys are funny, a welcome break from the seriousness of the blog topic.

                As in a typical case of over-analyzing a situation, we tend to overlook a very basic information that may be right there in front of us.

                In this instance, commercial GPS works by triangulating changes in the latitude and longitude location of an object (car) – but GPS does not detect altitude.

                When a car ‘falls of a cliff’ (as opposed to ‘flying off a cliff’) its latitude and longitude changes little as it drops in altitude. So, yes the GPS is unlikely to sound a “recalculating” alert in real-life scenario.

                I used the word “unlikely” because late model cars have faster GPS with higher degree of distance resolution. For example, one of the selling points of BMW 2017 models is that they have much faster GPS so, for instance, a driver is unlikely to miss his exit when the GPS reminds him again to “exit the highway in 500 FT.”

                Bert is right, as Duterte would like to say, “It was a joke!”


              • NHerrera says:

                I surrender. Sounds like the high-tech elaboration to end the discussion on the GPS and the car falling thing. Nice, yvonne.

    • Micha says:


      Short of actually defeating the US in a direct military confrontation, there will be no such thing as a Chinese empire.

  7. edgar lores says:

    1. Nice analysis, Yvonne.

    2. I have nothing to add… except to say that I find it difficult to imagine the geopolitics of Southeast Asia as a chessboard where, say, Washington is playing White and Beijing is playing Black.

    2.1. If so, what color pawn is Manila?

    2.2. Under past administrations, Manila seemed to be a White pawn. Now, it is seemingly a Black one.

    2.3. Manila seems to be a unique pawn with its own color volition. It can change color, yet retain streaks of its former color. This characterization is true in three senses:

    2.3.1. Manila maintains ties with Washington while pivoting to Beijing.
    2.3.2. Filipinos trust Washington more than they trust Beijing.
    2.3.3. Each superpower distrusts Manila depending on who the President is. All past presidents were more or less solidly allied with Washington, except GMA and now Duterte.

    3. Perhaps it is better to imagine Manila as two separate pawns — a Black and a White — where each superpower presumes it owns Manila.

    3.1. Or to imagine the chessboard as three-dimensional, where Manila is not a pawn but a unicorn, playing the superpowers against each other.

    4. If we envisage the internals of Manila as a pawn, we know there are different forces within shading the pawn’s primary color. There is the military preferring White and there is some in the business sector preferring Black. As mentioned in 2.3.2, the masses prefer White.

    5. Right now, Duterte and his 16M supporters have “pwned” the country. They have pawned the West Philippine Sea for dubious reasons. As a people, we seem to favor transacting business with pawn shops rather than with banks. We get a smidgen of easy cash for valuables. And we are easily taken advantage of… in our need and desperation.

    • NHerrera says:


      What is the color of my pawn?

      (edgar, I used Red instead of Black on my Black Background. Besides Red seems appropriate.)

      • edgar lores says:

        I agree red is appropriate. And the blue? Is it the 3-D unicorn?

        From a childhood rhyme:

        Red, white and blue
        Stars over you
        Mama said, Papa said
        “I love you”

        A blogger has said: “This is a nursery rhyme in the Philippines that describes the flag of the Philippines.”

    • Yvonne says:

      You dissected it very clearly @edgar lores, thanks for adding clarity. And if I may add also, the pawn if played skillfully can “graduate” to become a powerful piece. It reminds me of Ferdinand Marcos’ playbook with the U.S. playing white and Russia playing black.

  8. Bill In Oz says:

    I wish the Philippines well whatever the ‘piroettes’ performed by the political leaders. Recently Dr Stephen Fitzgerald, an older, informed and well respected China hand published this article about Austria’s relationship with China. He was the first Oz embasador to PRC in 1973. Some bits are unique to the Australia/China relationship. But most is very applicable to the Philippines and China.

    Here is the link :

    • edgar lores says:

      “Now, this influence is not bad, threatening or malign. Most is in fact benign, beneficial to us, and welcome. It’s how we handle it that matters.

      True to a certain extent, but also false.

      I would say that China’s insensitive and “illegal” encroachments are malign. Specifically, Tibet and the West Philippine Sea.

      I will give credit to mainland China for allowing two incompatible China’s to exist. Specifically, “democratic” Hong Kong and “independent” Taiwan.

      • NHerrera says:

        I am glad you made that distinction, especially as the person articulating that thought is from your part of the world.

        About the countries you mentioned, I believe that the leeway or status it allows Hong Kong and Taiwan is because that best serves the economic and financial interests of China (Taiwan of course pose other constraints not present in the case of Hong Kong, that is, relative to the former’s relationship with the US). In the case of the Philippines it is viewed as a country best serving China as a country from which to extract valuable resources and now with Duterte insistently inserting himself, it is a great opportunity not to be wasted, in fact welcomed — it serves its geopolitical interest not only regarding its 9-dash line but as a useful pawn against the US.

        • Bill In Oz says:

          Stephen Fitzgerald’s concluding remarks are pertinent and important I think. This is what he says :
          “Australia must have closeness and trust and influence with both these major powers, the USA & China, but at the same time we must be sceptics – America sceptics and China sceptics.

          To survive in a Chinese ‘world’, we are going to have to say “no” to China. But if we can have that closeness and trust, yet affirm our own standards and not walk past China’s when we disagree, the relationship will survive, just as it has with the Americans when we’ve said “no” to them.

          Gough Whitlam would have understood. I sat with him in Beijing in 1971 when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai tried to draw him into repudiating the US alliance and he said “no” – in public, in front of Chinese, Australian and international media. And yet, he came away with China’s agreement to diplomatic relations.

          China’s acceptance of that “no”, reaffirmed last month by Foreign Minister Wang Yi, has been a given in our relations ever since.”

          Surely there is wisdom in this for the Philippines also ?

          • NHerrera says:

            Bill, thanks for that.

            I agree, there is wisdom in that as Australia expressed and applied it. But here is my thought:

            – there is vast difference in circumstances between Australia and the Philippines, and more importantly;

            – the Philippines is not APPLYING the concept or wisdom “wisely” or appropriately as done by the Duterte Administration.

            • Bill In Oz says:

              Yes NHerrera.. I agree with you. The Duterte government is not applying this concept appropriately.. But it is still worth stating..There are many silent readers of the SOH. And maybe some even among the ranks of the Foreign Affairs bureaucracy.

  9. NHerrera says:

    Off topic


    We may know some bits of these from various sources, but John Nery of Inquirer nicely put them together for convenience.

    If that continues, the house of cards will collapse into itself — implode — without the imagined destabilization from outside.

  10. caliphman says:

    It’s really all not about Benham Rise nor choosing between China and the US. It’s about Panatag or Scarborough Shores where China is seizing not seas but disputed territory. To build a ‘harmless’ environmental monitoring station on the atoll means constructing an artificial island on it, both presumptive declarations of ownership. A claim not established by legal, logical or moral grounds instead accomplished indirectly and via fait accompli by these unchallenged ownership actions. What does it matter that an international court has ruled in our favor about riches in our adjacent seas? It is the very land, submerged as it is, that is at stake here and the ruling is silent on who owns it. If this president is unwilling to dispute this announced landgrab because he has neither balls, bullets nor boats to defend it…would not the same apply not if Manila or any part of the Philippine landmass is threatened by a more powerful adversary?

    • karlgarcia says:

      If we are patriots all those who have a fishing fleet, yatchs,passenger ships, luxury liners would defend our waters, as they would defend our shores.

      But no, we are not patriots.

      • Bingo. I’ve been noodling on a blog to that point, but the American pedestle is getting a little wobbly on the matter.

        • karlgarcia says:

          I understand Joe.

        • karlgarcia says:

          Carpio set 5 points of Duterte’s to do list on West Philippine sea(Scarborogh shial in paricular), but most points involve asking US help and asking US to recognize Scarborough shoals as Philippine territory.
          I do not know if Duterte will change his stance on the US with Trump now as president, but sooner or later we have to reach out to the US.

      • madlanglupa says:

        It boils down to one thing: money. It makes me angry that some people have subscribed to the blind belief that this leadership would soon make them rich and secure.

        • The recent evidence are to the contrary. Peso down, unemployment up, consumer goods up, etc. The economy is taking a beating. It is funny that Teo (DOT) is already blaming the VP about low tourists count and Garcia (HOR) is making VP Robredo accountable for low foreign investments because of the UN video. The VP is accused of singlehandedly tearing down PH reputation globally. Oy vey! Were they paying attention to the perpetual global dismay that started June 2016?

      • Basilio Muncal says:

        I think there are other ways we can do. Why not boycott anything chinese made products. Or we say, use social media and advocate against buying anything made in China. Will that make and impact?

        • karlgarcia says:

          With almost everything imported from China that would be hard, but hopefully our local products can compensate.

        • pelang says:

          FYI, even some parts of famous german cars (Mercedes Benz, VW etc) its raw materials are manufactured in China.Ex. parts of Dashboards, Mirrors, parts of car keys, gear shifter etc.

      • Caliphman says:

        Umm…Karl, not sure about the relevance or logic of that response. ‘We’ who are may or may not be patriots but the president, the administration, and the armed forces have the job and public duty to defend the country and it’s constitution. Contesting attempts to trample either is not based on how willing or conscientious they are regardless if we ordinary citizens are cowards or oatriots.

        • sonny says:

          I think this is an essential difference between dealing with PRC vs the USA: an authoritarian (totalitarian) vs a democratic one; the destination of one’s evolution is the opposite of the other’s development, hence the institutions that are grown and nourished for a common good have different goals and means.

        • karlgarcia says:

          Yes the president and the AFP should defend the constitution whether we are defenseless, cowards, capable of defending own or brave.

          • karlgarcia says:

            Now I remember what I was thinking at the moment: Duterte saying he can’t stop China.
            My thinking is the citizens can help the AFP instead. I know its weird.

            • NHerrera says:


              WEIRD = Protecting the protector who is supposed to be doing the protecting.

              Got my head spinning there, but got it.


            • edgar lores says:

              You will note that Duterte has personalized the issue. He says, “I cannot do anything.” Emphasis on the “I.”

              This indicates that he is not thinking in terms of the nation. He is thinking of his personal weakness. And he brings this egocentric perspective to almost everything he does. Where he thinks he is strong, he will act the bully. Conversely, where he thinks he is weak, he will act the coward.

              • karlgarcia says:

                The AFP is duty bound to protect the constitution even eith a coward president. if they lack the ships the citizen can lend ships and boats, and the AFP can provide the men and the guns.

              • Caliphman says:

                Edgar, the psychological resemblance between presidents Trump and Duterte is truly disconcerting. Their narcissistic and egocentric fixations risks not only their own presidencies but the best interests of their nations. If their political grip on power were not so solid, one would be left wondering who would be toppled first.

              • Edgar Lores says:

                Caliphman, The resemblance is indeed disconcerting and perhaps coincidental. I say coincidental because we do not yet know the reasons for the rise of populism. Geert Wilders lost in the Netherlands and we have yet to know the results in France.

                The coincidence extends not only to the psychological profiles but also to the fact that the preceding presidents are generally considered to be top-notch.

                If I were a betting man and if we exclude the Grim Reaper, I would put odds on Trump being toppled first. For several reasons. US governmental institutions are more intact and not susceptible to corruption, the press is more investigative and critical, the public expects accountability, and there is no culture of impunity.

  11. karlgarcia says:

    In one of your post about the west philippine sea in the duscussions we duscussed the trillanes-del rosario-pangilinan controversy, The Binay’s dinner with the Chinese, etc.

    Now the trips of Trillanes to China is now being used by pro-Duterte forces to nail Trillanes and to redeem Duterte and maybe to downplay the impeachment complaint if ever they include China as one of the issues.

    As to The Binays, what about them?
    Maybe they will be relevant again in the scheme of things.

    • Yvonne says:

      I doubt that pro-Duterte forces would make too much noise about Trillanes trip to China because that subject could backfire on them considering that Alan Cayetano and Arthur Tugade made a similar secret trip to China in June last year.

      And I think it is going to be difficult for the Binay father and son tandem to resurrect their political careers. Perception makes a big difference. Notice, for instance, the difference in public uproar when Senator De Lima is incarcerated in contrast with that of Estrada and Revilla. In De Lima’s case, even the international community are making their voices heard in support of the lady senator.

  12. Incisive. Thank you,, Yvonne.

  13. Sup says:

    O.T. Your favorite blogger was rejected…

    An Army officer privy to details of the conference told, on condition of anonymity, that the invitation to Uson was recalled on Sunday.

    According to the officer, who spoke on Monday, the entertainer-blogger’s posting of the invitation apparently did not sit well with Army higher-ups and they had to take it back.

    The source said some officers insisted on giving Uson a graceful exit by making her appear to have begged off instead.

    • chemrock says:

      I note it’s not ‘back-off’ or ‘back-out’ but ‘begged-off’. That really makes her several notches higher in the esteem of those gentlemen from AFP than you think.

  14. This made me snort and my eyebrows rise….

    Dishearteningly, President Duterte’s response to this latest provocation has been a puzzling display of defeatism: “Wala tayong magagawa dyan (There’s nothing we can do),” he said. “What do you want me to do? Declare war against China?”

    Let’s make it clear: No one is advocating a war to solve this row. But, for a start, how about mobilizing the consensus of Asean, a number of whose members are also disputing China’s claims in the region? The Philippines holds the Asean chairmanship this year; can’t this administration put this urgent matter on the table? How about mobilizing the tools and opportunities of international diplomacy to pressure China to ease up on its expansionism?

    How about, as Carpio says, desisting from issuing any suggestion that the Philippines is yielding its claim on parts of the South China Sea? How about exploring every other peaceful but determined option available to a sovereign nation whose territory is being gobbled up, and not behaving as though one couldn’t care less, or worse, as though one were a loser?

    • chemrock says:

      One dimensional mind. If it’s not black, it must be white. If it’s not peace, it must be war.
      He has been to Vietnam, Burma, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand. To drum up support? Nope.

  15. Micha says:

    Nasa Metro Manila na raw ang Maute Group sabi ni commander Bato.

    Ibig sabihin mag dedeklara si bosing ng marital law hindi sa Mindanao kundi sa Metro Manila.

    Lagot sina karl at NHerrera, may curfew na kayo dyan ng 7pm.. 🙂

    • NHerrera says:

      Patay kang bata ka, karl. Pero Ok lang sa akin Micha, ang curfew ni Misis ko sa akin ay 6:00 pm; kung hindi walang hapunan. 🙂

    • karlgarcia says:


    • Micha says:

      But seriously, it is quite a stretch to believe Dela Rosa’s pronouncements. Lanao based Maute fighters consider southern Mindanao their operational comfort zone and it is there where they seek to establish their caliphate. What would be the strategic value if they venture and engage in terror attacks in Metro Manila? That would only invite more hostile reaction from Christians in Luzon which would undermine their stated goals.

      Sa palagay ko may ibang kinakakatakutan si Bato at si Duterds. Whatever it is (protesta sa kalye? impeachment?), they could then combine that with their fabricated lies about the presence of Maute group and the hyping of the drug problem to ram through the declaration of martial law which Duterte has taken the habit of invoking everywhere and whenever.

      • Yvonne says:

        Duterte might be floating the idea of declaring martial law in the entire country but under the current atmosphere I don’t think he will do that unless he is real stupid and crazy. The reality is that he does not have a bonafide grassroots political structure to support him. Although Duterte’s supporters comprise a super-majority in both houses of Congress, majority of his supporters are turncoats and political opportunists who jumped into the Duterte bandwagon and are likely to jump ship again when the political wind change direction. At best, he can count on a handful of diehard political supporters, most of which are fraternity brothers.

        It is also doubtful that Duterte can count on the loyal support of the military 100%. Many career military officials are strongly anti-communists and do not share his anti-U.S. stance. And there is discontent among many senior military officials whose well-deserved promotions have been side-steeped by political patronage.

        And it seems like Duterte does not have complete control of the PNP as is evidenced by his failure to prosecute the PNP generals whom he publicly identified and humiliated as drug lords, and by his suspension of his ‘war on drugs’ as it became apparent that police officials are getting out of control. It must be recalled that EDSA 2 finally turned the corner only after then PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson withdraw his support of his erstwhile friend and benefactor Pres. Joseph Estrada, in favor of Gloria Arroyo.

        As far as his supposedly 16 million voter-supporters, many of them are ‘soft-supporters’ who are already expressing disappointment over his many broken election promises.

        • NHerrera says:

          ! ! !

        • edgar lores says:

          Yvonne, I would have to agree with you.

          Marcos planned martial law for years — years — and he was organized, methodical, and meticulous. For example, he populated the army with Ilocanos over the years. For another, he staged a series of incidents that would justify martial law such as bombings, that ship carrying arms supposedly from China, and the Enrile assassination attempt. He had complete control of Congress, which by the way Duterte has. He made a complete list of what businesses to seize (mostly media outlets) and who to jail from political opponents and student activists to media critics. On the declaration of martial law, he had all these people picked up for incarceration. Conveniently, he had declared the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

          Duterte has nothing but an indifferent army with questionable loyalty (as you note), an inept PNP, and — oh, yes — an army of trolls.

          When Marcos declared martial law, there was calm the morning after because all the dirty work had been coordinated and done the night before.

          We detect no such planning with Duterte. Most of his actions and reactions are ad hoc, from the declaration of his candidacy to the latest lies on Benham Rise.

  16. NHerrera says:

    A cause for celebration. President Duterte –being toasted by the Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-chais — in nicely dressed barong with unrolled long-sleeve cuffs and iconic ribbon emblem. Goodness. That is pagbabago.

  17. Yvonne says:

    Latest news says France will dispatch its powerful Mistral amphibious carrier to lead a naval exercise with U.S., Japanese and British forces near Tinian island in the Pacific, this coming month of May. The military drill is intended to send a clear message to China that its flexing of military muscle in the region will be met with an appropriate response.

    • sonny says:

      This move seems to call whatever bluff or probe being displayed by PRC: France & US saying, so show us what’ve you got.

    • NHerrera says:

      Tinian Island in the Pacific

      Tinian is at the pointed end of the red Google map marker.

      • edgar lores says:

        Thanks… I think. I spent nearly an hour browsing on Imgur. The feels.

      • sonny says:

        That Tinian Island is involved gives me a queasy feeling in the stomach. The island is one big aircraft carrier and is also the largest airfield in the world. It was the origin of “many” bombing runs westward including the 2 big ones that delivered Little Boy and Fat Man.

        • Yvonne says:

          Thanks for the link. I find the article very informative…and disturbing…

        • NHerrera says:

          Thanks too for that note on Tinian (with some shudder from me too). With THAAD alert, and modern delivery and powerful system, Tinian is then still strategically located. We can bet the facilities are now going to be made in tip-top shape — if only for supplies. In brief, the US and allies have the likes of the facilities in South Korea, Japan, Guam and Tinian. An assortment of first and second line defense/ offense facilities? And a number of submarines lurking around, not to mention the aircraft carriers? (I seem to be again on the war gaming mode recalling Joe’s blog a while ago.)

          • sonny says:

            NH, remember the movie ABOVE AND BEYOND? (Robert Taylor & Eleanor Parker as Lt Col Paul Tibbetts and missus)

  18. NHerrera says:


    After Duterte challenged Impeachment Filer Alejano to lead the charge to China with the batch of Filipinos who want to take the islands occupied by China in the SCS, Alejano — a former Marine captain — comes out with this original:

    “Can I borrow his Jet Ski? Because it’s already rusting from nonuse.”

    Methinks Alejano’s TIT comes out stronger than Duterte’s TAT.

    • Sup says:

      I think Duterte did swap the jet ski for a Mercedes Benz without LTO papers? 🙂

      • NHerrera says:

        Sup, here’s another from Alejano:

        Huwag naman silang mag-file ng impeachment complaint kay VP Robredo, para mag-withdraw ako. Parang Palit-Ulo yata ang gustong mangyari.

        Alejano has creative sense of humor. It seems to me, the Magdalo “stock” is being boosted by him.

        It may not be wild to say that the “palit-ulo” word may be entered in the Pilipino Dictionary.

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