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(Project of Kajima Institute of International Peace)

March 2017

The Japan-Philippines Strategic Dialogue

In Manila, January 31, 2017

Hideshi Tokuchi,
Senior Associate, Society of Security and Diplomatic Policy Studies (SSDP)
Senior Fellow, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

The Society of Security and Diplomatic Policy Studies held a Japan- Philippines Strategic Dialogue with the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR) in Manila on January 31, 2017, and exchanged views with prominent figures there. This report recaps the opinions exchanged among Japanese and Filipino experts on that occasion.

1. The Current Situations of the Philippines

Rodrigo Roa Duterte is the first Philippine President from Mindanao. The Duterte administration currently enjoys a very high support rate of over 80%, backed by a healthy economy.

The Philippines maintains a high fertility rate (3.1 in 2010); citizens of 14 years old or younger account for about one-third of the total population, while people over 65 only 4%; thus, younger population is quite dominant (49% of the working population are people aged 25-44).

The Philippine economy maintains high growth thanks to vigorous domestic demand supported by huge homeward remittances from Filipinos migrant workers overseas; during the period 2010-2015, GDP grew by 6.2%, and now the once Sick Man of Asia in the 80s and 90s has turned to a Healthy Man of Asia. In terms of per capita national income, however, the country ranks sixth among the ten ASEAN countries. The poverty problem still remains as big a political issue as ever, and as many as one fifth of the total population feel that they are poor.

Meanwhile, President Duterte, arguing that the maintenance of law and order is the foundation of development, has a strong sense of mission to achieve economic growth by eradicating the drug problem, which he designates as the country's top priority issue. Approximately 60% of domestic crimes are narcotics-related, and 82% of violent criminals are said to be drug users. The Duterte administration asserts that it has advanced drug eradication operations, focusing on high value targets, and has demolished drug production plants and warehouses. According to the administration, in the second half of last year, crimes such as rape, robbery, and car theft halved.

On the other hand, the Philippine National Police (PNP) had been accused for its extrajudicial executions. Lately, corruption cases of Anti- Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG) of PNP were discovered. According to the Amnesty International, police officers in the Philippines are said to have received 8,000-15,000 pesos (some 3,600-6,700 JPY) as financial incentive every time they killed a drug offender. The day before the Japan-Philippines Strategic Dialogue, the drug eradication operations were suspended and AIDG was dissolved; President Duterte ordered the military instead to conduct the drug eradication campaign. Although the Philippine government's campaign to combat narcotics will continue actively into the future, yet, there are many uncertainties in its prospect. A Filipino participant said, "Nobody knows where he (President Duterte) goes."

Regarding the country's foreign policy, President Duterte has a realistic awareness that today the United States alone cannot maintain Asian security, and he aims at building a good relationship with any of the ASEAN countries, China, and Japan (equidistance diplomacy). The Philippine people are basically pro-American and actually the economy of the country relies heavily on remittances from Philippine Americans, whereas a feeling of dissatisfaction can be found among the Philippine citizens that the country has been historically subordinate to the United States. The Philippine relationship with the United States is in this sense delicate. In such circumstances, President Duterte is gaining popularity among the dissatisfied Philippine people by showing an anti-American posture. Incidentlly, there live Muslim inhabitants in Mindanao, and Mr. Duterte, a Mindanaoan himself, disliked (and still dislikes) the United States.

Like the rest of the ASEAN countries, the Philippines also hopes that they should not be involved in the disputes among great powers. The Philippines, a long-standing US ally, is not 100 percent pro-American, but pro-China at the same time. Rather, it can be said that the former Akino administration has been excessively pro-American and anti-China, but in any case it is undeniable that the direction of the Duterte administration's foreign policy is unclear compared with the former administration. On the other, the "strengthened strategic partnership" between Japan and the Philippines is obviously good and positive. Japan is not only the biggest trading partner for the Philippines, but also always a major direct investor and the largest donor country; therefore, economic ties between the two countries have been strong. Furthermore, President Duterte's notable Japanophile attitude is some way or other attributable to a history that the Japanese contributed a great deal to the development of his native city of Davao. By some accounts, the discipline among the Japanese people appealed to Mr. Duterte.

Meanwhile, China is bullying Filipino fishermen and a kind of image is prevalent among the Philippine people that the Chinese are not trustworthy as a business partner. Generally speaking, the people's impression of the Chinese is bad. Regarding the South China Sea issue, although the Philippines has won a lawsuit at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, China will not accept the judgement in any way. The ruling has no enforcement power, either. On the other, it does not mean that the effect of the sentence will go out, even if the parties concerned fail to follow the judgment immediately. The Philippines seems to have chosen the way to advance cooperation with China in the areas not related to sovereignty issues. The South China Sea is one of the world's leading fishing grounds. It is said that 55% of the world's fishing boats gather there for operation. Although the majority of them are small ships of 3-4 crew, yet, the fishing there is affecting the livelihood of petty Filipino fishermen. Consequently, at the China- Philippine summit meeting in October last year, President Duterte prioritized the relaxation of tension in the sea area in order to protect such fishermen. The Philippines, however, has not changed its position on the territorial issue in the South China Sea; it is, according to the words of a Philippine government official, just a question of tact or style.

Cooperation with China is also important for the country's fight against narcotics. At the China-Philippines summit talks last October, China showed readiness for cooperation in the rehabilitation of drug patients--- support for the establishment of drug addicts rehabilitation facilities. China seems to imply that their cooperation should be available only when it is not premised that narcotics are smuggled from China to the Philippines.

This year the Philippines will assume the chairmanship of ASEAN, which will celebrate the milestone of 50th anniversary of establishment, and the Philippine's stewardship will draw attention of the international community.

2. Security Policy of the Duterte Administration

The Philippine government is in the process of establishing "National Security Policy for Change and Well-being of Filipino People 2017-2022." This will provide comprehensive definitions of vision, interests, challenges, objectives, agenda, resource generation, organizations, etc. related to the country's national security.

The policy seems to be based on President Duterte's view that the development of the Philippines will not be achieved unless the citizens can really feel safety; and an emphasis is seemingly placed on internal security threats. For example, the policy lists as national interest as many as eight concerns --- public safety, law and order and justice; socio-political stability; economic solidarity and sustainable development; territorial integrity; ecological balance; cultural cohesiveness; moral and spiritual consensus, and international peace and cooperation. The national security goals and strategic objectives are defined according to these eight concerns. Compared with a draft policy publicized in last autumn, the most recent drat of the National Security Policy seems to much more emphasize matters related to domestic order.

Discernible here is the strong intention of the Duterte administration about domestic security. Nonetheless, from the viewpoint of national security, they pay due attention to not only the internal environment but also the external environment. Listed first as the external environment are overlapping territorial claims and regional concerns --- which signify the West Philippine Sea (Note: The Philippines designates the waters of the Philippine EEZ in the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea ) and elsewhere; encroachments into Philippine EEZ, and defining maritime borders and jurisdiction. And, in order to safeguard territorial integrity and sovereignty, the administration intends to strengthen the defense capability and promoting defense cooperation with other countries. Currently, the Philippine's defense spending is less than 1% of GDP, but it is said to be raised to 2%. Along with so-called soft- side efforts such as fulfillment of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and conclusion of an effective formal code of conduct (COC), Japan should pay attention to how fast and how far hard-side efforts are to be made, and should be ready to provide necessary assistance at the request of the Philippines.

There are two kinds of threat against the domestic security of the Philippines: the Communist Guerrillas NPA (New People's Army), which are considered to exist across the country, and the Islamic extremists (Moro fronts) such as Abu Sayyaf, including ISIS support groups. Unless the Philippine government becomes capable to effectively deal with such domestic security issues, besides narcotics crimes, they will not be able to assign resources to, among others, maritime security issues. In providing security cooperation to the Philippines, Japan should consider these matters.

3.Foreign Policy of the Duterte Administration

A delicate thing seems to exist around the US-Philippine relations, because the Philippines used to be a US colony. The nation is primarily pro-American, and the US-Philippines alliance is one of the five US alliances in the Asia-Pacific region and it largely depends on the United States for national defense, while the Philippine military forces have been primarily responsible for the maintenance of national unity and domestic security. On the other hand, if the country's present state is construed as liberated by the United States, placed under a political tutelage of the United States, and accustomed to a mendicant foreign policy, compatible with a colonial mentality -- - repulsion to these may lead to a nationalistic claim for pursuing an independent foreign policy.

According to Article 2 of the Republic of the Philippines Constitution of 1987, it is stipulated that the Philippines pursues "an independent foreign policy" as its state policy. The constitution prescribes that "in its relations with other states the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self- determination"; and that "after the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate."

The Duterte administration declared separation with the United States; took a pro-China attitude; shelved territorial issues in the South China Sea, prioritizing the protection of Filipino fishermen's interest, and canceled the joint patrol with the United States in the South China Sea-- - quite different from the former Aquino administration which took a confrontational posture against China over the Scarborough Reef, thereby clarifying its stance friendly to the Obama administration. A Filipino expert explained this policy change by the Duterte administration by pointing out the administration's appreciation of the amicable relation between China and ASEAN as the foundation of a stable South China Sea, as well as the decreasing reliability of the security relationship with the United States due to the advent of the Trump administration. The expert also explained "an independent foreign policy" as efforts to prevent foreign countries from making demands against core interests of the Philippines --- efforts which should be accompanied by capabilities and will to safeguard national interests without recourse to assistance from other countries.

Among other remarks of Filipino experts are the following: as for military affairs and security, the Philippines will continue depending on the US armed forces advisors for counterterrorism cooperation; US influences will persist in the Philippine military forces through Filipino officers educated and trained in the United States, and the Philippine military leadership will cling to the long-standing security relationship with the United States. According to those Filipino experts, there could occur a problem of interoperability, if the Philippines militarily cooperated with other countries than the United States. Remarks of Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana were also referred to: "Our air and naval capability to cover these disputed areas are less than 50%, so we need our allies to help and inform us about developments in the South China Sea." (Business World, January 31)

In the meanwhile, there was a view among the Filipinos that self-help / self-reliance is a logical and necessary choice for the Philippines, and that strategic autonomy is a goal not only for the Philippines but also for other countries -- - not peculiar to the Philippines.

4. By Way of Conclusion

Although what the "independent foreign policy" pursued by the Philippines really means is not clear, it would not be achieved by simply adopting an equidistance strategy without promoting national strength. The present author opines that the Philippines needs to promote its diplomacy by taking advantage of its position as a US ally and a member of ASEAN. The Philippines, like the other ASEAN countries, occupies a strategically important position and is not just a pawn in the game played by the United States and China. Embracing a population exceeding 100 million, the Philippines is a country full of vitality and is more than a simple bystander of the game played between the great powers. By gaining greater national strength, the country is likely to be able to wield bargaining power in the future of Asia, particularly in the political dynamics involving the United States and China.

For the Philippines and Japan, island nations in East Asia, freedom of the sea is of vital importance for their survival and prosperity. In addition, both countries are allies of the United States and are located in a geographical position directly affected by China's maritime expansion. Therefore, the two countries share common interests in furthering bilateral security cooperation, especially in the area of maritime security. Filipino participants in the Japan-Philippines Strategic Dialogue voiced expectations for joint patrols in the future. Obviously both countries deem it beneficial to continue efforts to secure a commitment to the security of East Asia from the United States, which has been inclined to adopt inward-looking policies.

Regarding security cooperation between Japan and the Philippines, concrete steps have already been taken between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the JSDF, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Japan Coast Guard, respectively. Incidentally, close cooperation between military and law enforcement agencies is a must to address gray zone situations and conduct proper crisis management. The future Japan-Philippines security cooperation should advance, with this into account. Japan's support to help the Philippines to become a stable, affluent country through cooperation for its domestic security and economic development will be eventually conducive to strengthening the country's security (particularly maritime security) against potential external threats.

While, fortunately, the relations between the two countries are quite good and positive, the relations of each of them with the United States or China are expected to affect the Japan- Philippines relationship. The United Sates has entered into a new era under President Trump; and China, setting the Two Centenary Goals (100 th anniversary of the Communist Party founding in 2021 and that of the People's Republic of China building in 2049) and trying to push forward the realization of Chinese Dream, has to take a hard line externally in advance of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China this autumn.

The average age of the Philippine people is early twenties, and in this sense the Philippines is a most young country in ASEAN. Its population is increasing rapidly, and the people are energetic. That English is an official language of the Philippines means the nation has a large asset to survive in the international community -- - Filipinos, able to speak English, can go abroad to earn money. Needless to say, the Philippines is confronting many problems. In addition to communist guerrillas and drugs, traffic congestion in Manila is a major obstacle to the development of the Philippines.

In order that Japan and the Philippines, which have fostered good relationships so far, can further cooperation in many areas including maritime security, Japan should make more efforts to fully understand the actual situations of the Philippines including domestic problems. By accumulating these efforts, the present author believes, the two countries will be able to open up the future of Asia together for generations to come.