Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Exploring Historic Manila City, Philippines

Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2019 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

With the new mayor 'yorme' Isko Moreno in Manila, I joined my UP Diliman graduate students exploring the revived capital of the Philippines. From the National Museum (Fine Arts, Anthropology, and Natural History), we had lunch in Binondo - the world's oldest Chinatown, and proceeded to the historical Intramuros. Tried the famed bamboo bike around the cobbled stone pavements of the Spanish heritage walled city sightseeing Manila cathedral, San Agustin church, and chill at Casa Manila!
















Monday, September 30, 2019

Advancing the Philippines-Russia Security Relations

Photo from Reuters
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2019 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

All is set for President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Russia on October 1-5 where he will speak before the Valdai Forum in Sochi about the theme “The World Order Seen from the East.”  It is recalled that jihadists and foreign terrorist fighters in Mindanao maneuvered a perfect timing to attack Marawi City in Southern Philippines last May 2017 while the Filipino leader flew to Moscow for a five-day state visit but was aborted within half day upon arrival in an attempt to reorient his country’s geopolitical alliance through his newly concocted Independent Foreign Policy created during his election three years ago carrying the mantra of “friend to all, enemy to no one” approach - a move to strengthen Philippines’ international defense and security cooperation with non-traditional allies including socialists China and Russia.

Initially President Duterte got star struck to Russian president Vladimir Putin in November 2016 at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting in Lima, Peru. When President Putin invited him to Kremlin, the Filipino firebrand leader ardently acknowledged the bromance on his first trip to Russia and personally met his “favorite hero”. That gave him the iota of realigning his ideological framework on working on a new world order with China, the Philippines, and Russia at the forefront against the world. For Russia’s appeasement, it has refrained from admonishing Duterte’s strategic acquiescence on war on drugs that led to thousands of extrajudicial killings.

At that time, one of his intentions of forging a formal defense accord with Russia addresses the need for securing precision weaponry to be used against Islamist militants in Mindanao. This major blow on Philippine internal security under Duterte’s regime apparently showed the massive impact of terrorism, an endemic security problem not just in the Philippines but within Southeast Asia. Terrorism turns out to be a common foe of the two Eurasian countries that gave more meaning to the nascent stage of friendship while fostering a mutually-beneficial and building a stronger defense and security relationship. Advancing into a strategic partnership, Russia disclosed to adamantly support the Philippines’ struggle against terrorism, drug trafficking, piracy at sea and other security sector issues. 

In over four decades of the Philippines-Russia relations, Manila sent for the first time its defense attaché to Moscow last May 2018 signifying the Philippines’ seriousness in pursuing defense and cooperation with Russia. It aimed at strengthening linkage with Russian military institutions and defense industry while monitoring the implementation of the Defense Cooperation Agreement signed with Russia in May 2017. This however ensured the synergy in the Philippines’ relations with Russia in the politico-security and defense arenas. As early as September this year, Moscow reciprocated the act of sending its defense attaché to Manila while setting a milestone for the diplomatic ties of the two countries paving a new channel of communication to enhance bilateral defense pact.

This renewed diplomatic ties is seen as multi-dimensional in keeping with the principles of sovereignty, non-interference and equality since Peter the Great laid down a strategy to explore the Far East via India and the Philippines to establish trade links in 1722. Today, the beautiful dive sites and pristine islands of archipelagic Southeast Asian Philippines have become favorite hubs among tourist Russians despite the absence of a direct flight from Moscow to Manila. Since 2013, the Philippine Department of Tourism has been participating in the Moscow Travel and Tourism Exhibition to strengthen existing relations by ensuring continued growth in the hospitality and tourism sectors. As Russia achieves an upper middle-income status from a mixed and transition economy since its fiscal reforms in 1990s, thereby aggressively expanding the privatization of its energy and defense-related sectors, Filipino household service and skilled workers are in demand in the former USSR. However, Russia wants to limit the agreement from government-to-government negotiations in which the Philippines has yet to comply considering that labor organizations in Manila are not abreast to this kind of set-up.

Meanwhile, the highlight of the visit is the honorary doctorate degree to be conferred by the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations or the MGIMO to the Filipino leader, formerly a city prosecutor and mayor, before becoming the 16th president of the Philippines. This conferment is an exception from his other state visits aimed at expanding and forging relations as a manifestation of his undefined independent foreign policy, thinking that the diversification of partnerships can recognize the growing interdependence among states that may contribute to the Philippines’ national interest and domestic agenda.

In November last year, the Philippines and Russia completed the plan mapping out joint military activities that paved way to the four-day friendly visit of three Russian warships docked recently in Manila last September 23. This military plan include high-level exchanges, port visits of navy vessels, reciprocal visits of staff and security consultants for military training exercises, people-to-people engagement and education exchanges. In the same way, a Philippine frigate made a historic trip to Vladivostok last year while Russian gray ships now make regular visits to the Philippines. It is only during the time of President Duterte that the two non-traditional countries have reached the peak of golden age of partnership while the Philippines sees Russia as a major strategic player in geopolitics, defense and security, and a good host to overseas Filipino workers.

The warming defense and security relations of the Philippines and Russia started from admiration to admission of Russia’s strategic role in global politics as the Philippines tries to spell out its diversified Independent Foreign Policy while at the same time Russia enjoys a foreign policy to retain its position as a major power in the multipolar security architecture of the world.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Duterte’s Double-Edged Sword Diplomacy

Photo from South China Morning Post
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2019 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).


Rodrigo Duterte, the first Philippine president from Mindanao, has recently staged a climactic tribute mission to Beijing to discuss the volatile sea row and harvest unfulfilled economic pledges from China. Taking a bolder step in the negotiating table to Asia’s most powerful country, he elevates the Philippines’ national interests over sovereignty rights and maintaining peaceful regional security architecture emanating from his promises to the Filipino people since his election in 2016.

His fifth visit to Beijing bears a critical success in managing risk assessment and treatment to the escalating global insecurity affecting the South China Sea (SCS) including the proliferation of trade war between the United States and China. Understandably, the ultimate goal of China reflects the goals of the Communist Party of China (CPC), declaring the SCS as a core interest which may become a prerogative of the CPC. Hence, the survival of the regime is premised on the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) strengths and capability to consolidate and unify China’s lost territories.

In October 2016, Chinese president Xi Jinping initially rolled out his red carpet to Southeast Asia’s strongman. Duterte’s state visit pompously tested the waters of friendship and repaired the broken lines held two months after the Philippines won the arbitral award spelling out China’s excessive maritime entitlements and violations on sovereign rights in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the Philippines.

China responded aggressively by militarizing the artificial islands that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) built in order to strengthen China’s anti access and area denial (A2/AD) capabilities that would limit the strategic capabilities of the United States including other Southeast Asian claimant-countries to deter future offensive actions. Intermittent aggressions of continental China to archipelagic Philippines spurred through constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance to unveil its own strategic ambiguity and gray zone strategy. The ambiguity on how Beijing is communicating the issue on its forceful defense of the SCS is a core national interest that is seen risky by the international community. Thus, the strategic ambiguity intends to induce uncertainties that will affect the decision making process of another white elephant in the room which is the US foreign affairs with the Philippines.

On the other hand, it also allowed the former Davao City mayor to loosen up on Beijing by accommodating a paradigm shift and preferential treatment for Chinese plane seen in the country’s largest city in June 2018. The recurrent passage of foreign ships through Philippines’ territorial waters without securing a clearance from Philippine government became problematic recently. But critics blamed Manila’s policy of silence on asserting the arbitral award while Duterte seems to temporarily refrain from opposing on Chinese belligerence by resorting to economic and diplomatic rapprochements at the strategic level while the Philippines aspires for a robust defense posture by hedging to opposing regional rivals, China and the United States, setting a strategic acquiescence of economic gains and simultaneous military buildup.

In sum, the use of dashes and not solid lines illustrate the compromises that may be accommodated in the future. Two strengths of China’s flexing of muscle specify the militarization of occupied features in the SCS and the modernization of the PLA and its maritime forces. Apparently, China has invested heavily in technology development as a primary driver of China’s de facto control of the contested waters.

Duterte’s annual visits to the Middle Kingdom recreates the infancy of the Philippines and China diplomatic relations that paved way in 1417 when a Sulu royalty from Mindanao, Paduka Batara, also known as the “eastern king” sailed to Hangzhou for bridging diplomacy to Ming dynasty’s Emperor Yongle. The emperor was responsible in transferring the seat of power to Beijing, where the Filipino and Chinese monarchs met. During Yongle’s reign, he marvelously built the Forbidden City, amidst the dynasty’s maritime expansion while consolidating China’s hard power.

The machination of economic security bolstered Beijing and Manila’s warming relationship  for almost four years since the two prominent Asian leaders inked a strategic partnership paving a way for China’s growing regional centrality in the Indo-Pacific and solving China’s Malacca dilemma on its economic efforts to tame Southeast Asian neighbors. The Philippine president recognized China’s Belt Road Initiatives (BRI) by solidly supporting it to finance his ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure programs, apparently shown through his annual participation to the Belt Road Forums (BRF) in different cities of China since 2017 to this year.

The two populist and strongmen opted to foster a strategic partnership to slow down coercing activities; however, there are a number of high and low armed conflicts in the contested SCS that raised the bar of Chinese dominance. The June 2019 ramming incident of Chinese militia to a Philippine fishing vessel in the oil-rich Reed Bank in the Spratlys archipelago within the Philippines’ EEZ had outwitted Manila’s soft power and the use of legal means. Only in November 2017 when the two countries permitted a framework for joint exploration undersea through a Mutual of Understanding (MOU) on Energy Cooperation thereby suggesting a majority of share to the Philippines.

Lastly, Duterte’s longest state visit yet to Beijing has tested his maturing diplomatic and trading skills in dealing with the erudite President Xi to prove to the Filipino people that China can also become a true friend of the Philippines. Moving forward, Xi’s past visit to Manila laid down the controversial MOU on Energy Cooperation as a roadmap for the joint oil and gas exploration of the two countries amidst solving their differences in disputed Reed Bank. Meanwhile, Duterte’s current visit to Beijing allows the next step for a possible Terms of Reference (TOR) for proper implementation of the megaproject. Hence, the arbitral ruling and joint exploration may reach an end result of successful risk management to safeguard maritime rights and economic interests to realize a matured cooperation with the acceleration of the Code of Conduct (CoC) in the SCS.  

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Calauit Safari, Palawan

Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2019 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

These giraffes and zebras are island-born, second generation species from Kenyan safari. All of their parents died already after evolving in this island surviving from indigenous plants in Calauit since 1976! #feelslikegalapagos #darwinian #anthropologist









Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Beijing Spots Black Swan in Hong Kong’s Wave of Protest

Photo from The New York Times
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2019 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

“Why the hell Pepe the frog encroaches in all of Hong Kong’s graffiti?” he asks a Hong Kongese  from a chat.

“It’s a hate symbol for tyrant Chinese administrators!” she suspiciously laments.

“Aren’t you Chinese, right?”

“Of course not!” she freaks out. “Hong Kong is part of China but I’m a proud Hong Konger!” she refutes and continues, “unlike the Chinese mainlanders, people of HK have guaranteed freedoms – the right to protest, the right to a press freedom, and freedom of speech!” she pens with confidence, assuredly, provided by the Hong Kong Basic Law.

End of chat.

Based from the 2016 demographic data of Hong Kong, permanent residents in this fat Cantonese megacity hold a Hong Kong Permanent Identity card as well as the right of abode. Populated by ethnic Chinese from mainland China, mostly from newly-industrialized Guandong province; Taiwan; and Macao; while largest non-Chinese residents being Filipinos and Indonesians (just watch Hello, Love, Goodbye, for that matter).

It’s a fact that Hong Kong belongs to China, but it has its own currency, political system, cultural identity; and, considered as an international smart city. Fortified by a policy dubbed as “one country, two systems” since its handover at midnight on 1 July 1997 to the People’s Republic of China.

The now-shelved, controversial extradition bill opened a lot of Pandora’s Box to China’s 22 years old rule in Hong Kong, unifying permanent and non-permanent residents to demand for full democracy and police accountability against Beijing’s Tiananmen option on the use of military force to quell and suppress the escalating ahimsa protest. Certainly, what started as a movement against a controversial law has expanded into something much bigger security concerns.

Undeniably, Beijing is losing its face again in the international community for its lack of strategic foresight in taming the shrew. Hong Kong, a former British colony and an economic gem that inspired Deng Xiaoping, including his successors, to dream bigger for China by setting up a number of colossal and coastal economic hub. Currently, overpopulated and prosperous to rival western business and financial acumen by expanding their economic global clout.

The unstoppable movement in Hong Kong turns out to be a black swan. Black swans are rare. It has high-impact events that have large magnitude and consequence in history. Black swan can be used as a tool to see the future that can be volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous in nature; occurring in frequency that may cause harm in the anarchic international system.  

The belief that swans are always white. It becomes apparent and unique when the white swan turns out to be a black swan that carries a metaphor of fragility in any system of thought. China has seen several black swans from their own Chinese Lake from the Opium War to the Tiananmen massacre. However, a post-modern black swan spotted in Hong Kong can become a litmus test for China's bid for political and economic superpower. Nonetheless, the occurrences of black swan events are increasing and accelerating at a fast-paced in this changing and uncertain times ruled by strongmen and populist leaders. Although, black swans randomly appear by chance, hence, it sometimes impossible to predict. 

If China fails to catch with approving grace the black swan, it will keep on spreading a swine flu to Hong Kong dissents from today and even tomorrow. These black swans are contagious that it may even swim to as far as Taiwan, the Philippines, and other neighboring countries to challenge Beijing's concocted harmonious society!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Coron, Palawan (Paradise Made on Earth)

  Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2019 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

"Thank God, you blessed the Philippines with a paradise"

I have more superlative words to describe Coron! Arguably, the best paradise made on Earth. Coron is a magical, wonderful, and colorful islands, limestones, and beaches! You're so beautiful, Coron!













Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Luzon Island needs ‘Synergy of Stakeholders’ in Combating Terrorism

Photo from Ilocandia
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2019 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

Four days ago, the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Manaoag, beefed up its contingency measures. Yesterday, the city government of Tuguegarao, home to an 18th-century Baroque church and is a gateway to Cagayan Valley's Our Lady of Piat, has temporarily suspended a “no helmet, no travel” policy until August 20, due to threats of terrorism. This concern arises after at least two alleged terrorist crusaders from Sri Lanka have sneaked into the Philippines to train local militants on making bombs and attacking churches and other soft targets north of the Philippines.

Only last January 27th this year, jihadi terrorist suicide bombers in Jolo’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, killed at least 20 churchgoers and 111 people. The use of improvised explosive devices containing ammonium nitrate pipe bombs that exploded inside and outside the church may be similar to the tactic used by terrorists in the 2002 Bali blasts that ebbed fear by inflicting additional casualties to first responders in a widespread act of violence to Filipinos in southern Mindanao. 

The Easter bombing in Colombo at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, presumed to be an Islamic retaliation to Christians, after the bloody Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand by a white supremacist, confusedly created a breed of terrorists. This time, crusader cities is used by the ISIS in describing target areas to fuel what they call 'Bandar Crusade,' or war between Muslim and Christian, spotting on crusader churches to attack and bomb, for all its historic and heritage value to Christian believers.   

Trailing the holy grail of heritage churches from Vigan to Laoag, undeniably, the Ilocandia region prides itself the UNESCO world heritage house of worship in Paoay and other iconic cathedrals of former Spanish stronghold in Nueva Segovia. Not in the list is the Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia in Bicol region, south of Metro Manila, which will be celebrating its famed fluvial parade next month, could also be a possible target in sowing terror and violence from crusader terrorists.

Luzon in general, with all the strings of pilgrimage sites from northern and southern Luzon, is definitely vulnerable to any acts of Islamic terrorism, notwithstanding the fact, that these destinations are resilient to communist terrorism. The need for ‘synergy of stakeholders’ and the ‘whole of nation approach’ in preventing violent extremism and combating terrorism includes participation from the local government units in preparing contingency measures for civilians’ public safety and the community’s possible destruction from the havoc of terror as part of the human-induced disaster risk management, aside from the effective counterintelligence of the military and proper law enforcement of the police. We need to empower all stakeholders in peace-building and conflict prevention.  

Certainly the foreign fighter and suicide bombing threats have tremendously evolved. It has morphed into a global network that has turned into a cottage industry for small terror group actors. This vivid and wide-range networking of foreign fighters fostered by global religious brotherhood has infiltrated the online recruitment and tactical operations of terror clusters, notwithstanding the financial and intelligence support of each group. Ferocious female and children foreign warriors are used in this strategic warfare redounding to their own legal advantage for which the presence of local and international laws can protect them from felony.

This silverlining in understanding terrorism and violent extremism have brought a mix of socioeconomic marginalization, political corruption, and ignorance towards crusaders and foreign fighters which have created a time bomb for the Philippines, particularly in addressing the escalating security threat. Hence, the presence of foreign suicide bombers and fighters in the Philippine soil hinders the elusive peace hoped for by Christians, Muslims and the indigenous peoples in Mindanao. We have seen the shift in DAESH’s operational methods from caliphate-building to waging insurgency as terrorist groups persist and continue to demonstrate resilience by employing all means to spread deceptive and violent ideologies.

Finally, the holistic effort for the reintegration process of foreign suicide bombers and fighters should bring synergy of efforts from different stakeholders including the government, civil society and the local community. Education and equal employment opportunities should be addressed to widen the awareness of Filipino citizens drawn into poverty and ignorance. The Philippine government should also consider the maritime border security along its northern and southern coastlines that would determine who and what is allowed and denied in access to the state’s territory that creates a confluence of actions from various stakeholders in upholding its territorial integrity and national sovereignty.