An accidental achievement: Independence

The BRP Gabriela Silang is lifted to water.  [Photo source: Rappler]

By JoeAm

The Duterte government in 2016 set out to establish strong relations with China. It may have been ideologically pure of intent, the aim to get more infrastructure built quickly and closer ties to the huge economy right over there to the west.

Or it may have been pragmatic, repaying an election debt or gaining an alliance partner that would look the other way as a deadly drug war was pursued. Or maybe it would assure a neat, uncontested drug pipeline into the nation for the enrichment of the families of drug lords.

Whatever . . . It didn’t work out the way it was intended.

China did not deliver on infrastructure dreams and instead began to prowl Philippine seas, take Filipino clams and fishes, and harass the Philippines about its gambling establishments. The drug war failed and its dirty underbelly became clear: crooked drug-cops and drug lords freed from jail. It became obvious that the US was a more reliable and respectful defense partner, even if her senators occasionally nagged about human rights. And Japan was truly a good partner, helping immensely on infrastructure projects and leaving human rights to the Philippine government.

The pro-China policy morphed into something more valuable. A pro-independence policy that had the Philippines deciding who she would work with, under what circumstances, and why.

No one was ruled out as a partner. It all depended on the needs of the Philippines. And no one was allowed to dominate Philippine governance and sovereign choices. If the Philippines chose to kill her own citizens in the name of this ideological motive or that (killing terrorists or drug peddlers even if they looked a lot like farmers and poor people), that was an internal matter. A sovereign matter.

So the Philippines now gets planes from Korea, missiles from Israel, military ships from Australia, coast guard ships from France, oil wells from China, and training from the US. The Philippines may be skeptical about the US delivering on her promises under the Mutual Defense Agreement (MDA), but no matter. China doesn’t know either, so there is value to the agreement, a huge risk to China if the US WERE TO abide by the agreement in a conflict situation. The MDA is an element in the Philippine foreign affairs portfolio. As is the arbitration win.

It doesn’t matter what the US thinks or does. Or China.

This is a Philippine portfolio.

I think this was an accidental achievement, but a valuable one. Or maybe Secretary Locsin, under his brash demeanor, is a genius . . . accidentally or intentionally.

However it happened, I hope the government will continue this balanced, pragmatic approach. Yes, I’d like to see a more compassionate, moral, and democratically respectful government. And I hope all the military gadgets talk to one another. But the newfound independence from any puppeteers pulling Philippine strings is really quite refreshing.

I hope the idea is formalized as policy, and not left to drift as an accidental achievement. Or used to brag and divide the nation.

It does little good to be independent looking out, but divided and brutal looking inward.


24 Responses to “An accidental achievement: Independence”
  1. Francis says:

    Lots of brilliant/effective policies in the Philippines have been “accidental.”


    Post-WW2, the Philippines was facing a balance-of-payments crisis—so import controls were implemented as an “emergency” measure. Somehow, those import controls accidentally led to our first phase of industrialisation under ISI (import-substitution industrialisation).

    We became famous for our OFWs in part because the state started systematically exporting labor abroad—as a “short-term” solution to get more dollars, etc. and alleviate foreign exchange needs.


    Coincidentally, lots of these brilliant/effective “accidental” policies have been (especially in the long run) half-assed—particularly when compared to other nations abroad.

    Our ISI strategy (also carried out by our more prosperous East Asian and Southeast Asian peers) lasted too long (they shifted to EOI earlier) and was carried out haphazardly (we tried to carry out both ISI and EOI to cater to our diversified family conglomerates).

    We’re addicted to remittances to sustain all our fancy, nice malls—our services-first, consumption-led economy—as a brain drain squeezes dry our future. Meanwhile, our peers (even South Korea) also did a bit of labor exporting to earn dollars—but they moved away from dependence on such in the long run. Unlike us.


    Not a coincidence: in the region—our technocrats, bureaucrats are among the weakest/most subordinate to politicians.


    We need good, sound planning—that lasts until the long-run. We need a coherent strategy.

    We need *institutions* to facilitate such.

    Unfortunately, in the Philippines….

    • Francis says:


      Credit is due where credit is due.

      But the above is just to emphasise that the Philippines has no shortage of good policies.

      Our follow-through, however, is terrible.

      • Which is why the likes of Villar echo public sentiment when they say that research is useless, when in fact it is the follow-up that is failing not the ideas, while the ordinary Filipino thinks action is smashing luxury cars, tokhang and throwing out sidewalk vendors.

        How to narrow that gap?

        • kasambahay says:

          lack of fund? after completion of research, there is nothing, no update and upgrade, no assimilation and implementation of research data? fund was only for research, what comes after has to be funded as well. my understanding is that the bulk of the money should not all go to research, fund has to be set aside for trial and promotion as well. and we could end up with a number of highly paid consultants doing research that may or may not be beneficial to us all. and regardless of the outcome, consultants have to be paid.

          in the meantime, people are hungry, they want to eat now, not tomorrow, next month, or next year when research is finished.

          anyhow, there are already a number of research done overseas and by our close neighbors, surely we can borrow some useful ideas from them?

          I’m reminded of a recent research, more like feasibility study about federalism in our country. 25 highly qualified consultants yata were tapped in, all experts in their field and spent months they did and 25 million worth of studies and deliberations. and then, what? nothing. but the consultants got their pay plus pages of research papers submitted that many thought ought to be pulped and made into toilet paper, lol!

        • karlgarcia says:

          We also know that we do not implement many ideas because of lack of follow through.
          We do not know how to maintain and or sustain.
          Funds? misplaced funds maybe- Oxymoronic intelligence, private jets, junkets,pork barrel,etc.

          • kasambahay says:

            there’s one research I wanted to burn: the recto bank research renamed joint exploration. already chickens are being counted before they’re hatched, 60-40 kuno.

            with rice research, I can imagine research questions going like, how many rice eating filipinos support duterte? is well milled rice better than corn grits? and that’s just for starter, the bulk of the research will be tied with patents, rights and intellectual properties and not much of use to taumbayan. the bread has already been sliced and to re-slice bread again in the name of research . . . I’m really not going there.

            research findings are often patented. to implement research findings could mean breach of copyright, and permission is sought, else that’s a legal minefield. we have got to tread carefully.

            • kasambahay says:

              our govt may fund research, but research findings are most likely property of the researcher/s. to avail research findings, our govt may have to buy the rights.

              the wife of my ex boss thus explained.

        • chemrock says:

          I believe Vilar also said prosecuting drug lords is useless. Might as well all just give up and go and buy Villar-built condos.

    • Resilience is inherently reactive and accidental, so, yes, what you get is generally rocks with an occasional gold fleck floating by. You are absolutely right about sound planning and coherent strategy. Duterte does not know what you mean, unfortunately. It simply is not in his lengthy line of experience and knowledge.

      • kasambahay says:

        his style of govt is hit and miss and many of like minded ilks benefited considerably. there is push back though, hard push back, slow but.

  2. NHerrera says:

    Since DFA Sec Locsin was mentioned in the new blog and may have contributed significantly to the “Accidental Achievement: Independence” — in fact, he may be a bellwether — here is a half-baked thought: how about Locsin as the next President? There is to a fit between the characteristics of the PH and Locsin.

    • NHerrera says:


      Even among our thinking, college educated countrymen there may be an overemphasis on the soft-side elements required of our President, missing hard-side elements such as realpolitik, in and out of the country. Especially in this cyber-age, geopolitics has become as important if not more important than the in-country politics. [The island-nature of the country makes me relabel that as country geopolitics. 🙂 ]

      • The Mayor is a mayor, old-school ruthless dynastic politics, and always will be. The only geopolitics would be those Locsin and Lorenzana argue for. Even Go can’t counter them, I think.

      • NHerrera says:

        I am no historian, but I generally agree with the following statement of George Friedman, in his analysis of the geopolitics of US and Turkey:

        Foreign policy is a ruthless and unsentimental process.

    • I think he is the main reason for the independent policy, actually. He would not bow to China, he will not break from the US for military backing, he will argue for sovereign rights for the nation to kill her own.

  3. NHerrera says:

    Hahaha. The last one: he knows Duterte to a T. As a President, methinks he may argue for capital punishment, but not the way the Drug War has been handled. But that is just my opinion.

    • NHerrera says:

      Oops, the comment above should come after

      The Society of Honor says:
      October 14, 2019 at 12:32 pm

  4. My blog goes offline for a while.

    The hoster is closing, I will save it and reload it when I find time and a new hoster.

  5. There’s a bit of an accidental achievement too, in all this Syria mess, namely Syria/Russia get to work with the Kurds, to deter the Turks. Between the Turks/ISIS and Russia/Syria, Russia/Syria and the Kurds would have more in common.

    In the end, Turkey is technically invading Syria, so another , in a weird way Trump has kicked Turkey out of NATO, an accidental achievement. Which opens up to Russia pouncing on Turkey, leaving the Baltic nations in peace now.

    Truly an accidental achievement. Makes me think now that foreign policy just like the stock market can be played simply by handing a chimp some darts.

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