Monday, November 23, 2015

Aquino seeks to end term on a high note

12:06 AM November 18th, 2015

WITH only a little over 200 days left in office, President Aquino has to make the most of his two days of being on center stage when he hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting on Nov. 18 and 19, the culminating activity of the year-long Apec conference series.

“President Aquino can banner this as one of his final accomplishments in his effort to revive the economy in his strong campaign for good governance,” said security expert Chester Cabalza.

Mr. Aquino, after all, is the “poster boy for good governance equals good economics” with his daang matuwid (straight path) political platform, Cabalza said.

‘PH can deliver’

Whether his critics acknowledge it or not, Mr. Aquino has made some remarkable achievements on the economic front.

From the investment upgrade ratings to a stable currency, several factors have made investors and analysts worldwide take a second look at the Philippines and baptize it as “Asia’s Economic Bright Spot.”

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte hopes that through the Apec meetings, the Philippines will be seen in the Asia-Pacific region as a “nation that can deliver on a very significant scale.”

“I think that, under President Aquino, we have enjoyed a kind of standing in the international community that allows us to forward our vision of a more inclusive nation and region. The opportunity we have now is the ability to harness that trust and confidence to better articulate and realize our vision,” she said.

Time and again the President has emphasized that the Philippines “is a responsible member of the international community,” Valte said.

“There’s so much evidence of this in terms of our willingness to help in peacekeeping, economic support, among others. Apec further highlights that fact—that the Philippines has arrived, can deliver and will continue to deliver,” Valte said.

Valte said the AELM—which brings together the leaders of the world’s biggest economies—is an opportunity for Apec leaders to see for themselves all the good news they have been hearing about the Philippines.

“It is different when they come and see for themselves that they can bring their business here. That is what the President has been saying, we are open for business, we are under a new management,” Valte said.

Serious player

Some would argue that there is very little political gain from organizing an international summit like Apec because it is primarily an economic forum.

But Cabalza said that hosting the Apec meetings “cements the Philippines’ position as a serious player in the Asia-Pacific region.”

“The hosting of the Apec summit has placed the Philippines in the radar of foreign investors facilitated by economic reforms done during the Aquino administration. Although there are more reforms that should be done, Apec will certainly open doors to more opportunities based from an evolving regional cooperation and integration,” he said.

“From the investment upgrade ratings, strong macroeconomic fundamentals, anti-corruption campaigns and other economic reforms, the Philippines is becoming an agent of change in the region and a game-changer in a very competitive globalized world,” Cabalza said.

The Philippines, however, should be careful not to “spoil this economic momentum to repaint its bad image,” he said.

Mr. Aquino’s hosting of the Apec summit will also be a “benchmark for aspiring presidential candidates in their bid to sustain economic momentum and inclusive growth to upgrade the standard of living of Filipinos and the next generation to come,” Cabalza said.

Primary gain

For the Philippines to be able to get “economies of various sizes to agree on a set of principles and turn those agreements into action points” is something that Valte considers a “primary gain” for the country hosting the Apec meetings.

“I think that the delegations sent by their respective economies have seen and will continue to see that the Philippines is an economy they can trust and really partner with. And to my mind that leads to greater prospects for our countrymen,” she said.

Valte said that the goodwill established by Mr. Aquino during the summit would almost certainly be carried over into the next administration, whoever the new President will be.

“You are talking to economies and our goodwill from Apec carries over because remember, you have an entire system of bureaucrats that speaks to the economies. So whatever happens in the political sphere, there is an institution that keeps talking to another institution,” she said.

As Apec conference host, the Philippines organized over the past year more than 30 meetings and events in different parts of the country focusing on different sectors and issues, such as food security, energy security, transportation, tourism, women empowerment, climate change, and disaster reduction and response.

All these were done under the banner of the Apec theme, “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World.”

“Our theme, which has been a thrust of the Aquino administration, is inclusive growth, and every aspect of our hosting has tried to demonstrate that—from showcasing venues that serve as emerging regional centers for trade and tourism, to promoting topics like resilience and MSME [micro, small and medium enterprises] development, which have been vital to our growth strategy,” Valte said. MSMEs are key economic growth drivers that must be nurtured and honed to allow them to “integrate” into the global market, to be more competitive and “not be left behind,” she said.

“MSME is not just finding one person a job but also a capacity to move up because that one person is in a position to give jobs to other people,” she said.

Valte said the various meetings, not only among government representatives but also with the private sector, had allowed the Philippines to “make solid pitches” for sectors like agriculture and manufacturing.

The beauty of Apec is that it “gives us a forum to speak to other economies and make our concerns known,” she said.

“It also gives us the opportunity to not just air our concerns and issues but also…access to sharing of best practices in economies,” she said.

Face-to-face relationships

Apec is a forum that allows the economies to build “relationships face to face,” Valte said.
“Whether we admit it or not, economies sometimes talk to each other when their leaders visit. It is good also that down to the level of the senior officials, they have the chance to talk and interact and get to know each other because that goes a long way into entering into agreements that would benefit all of the parties,” Valte said.

“When you have that goodwill or when you have a certain familiarity with an official from another economy then it makes your work easier,” she added.

The series of meetings that began last January produced agreements intended to help the member economies with policy directions that would benefit the entire Asia-Pacific region.

These include the Cebu Action Plan that presents a road map for a more sustainable future for the individual Apec economies and for the Asia-Pacific region as a whole; the Boracay Action Agenda to Globalize MSMEs; the Iloilo Initiative: Growing Global MSMEs for Inclusive Development; Renewed Apec Agenda for Structural Reform; Apec High-Level Policy Dialogue on Food Security and Blue Economy Plan of Action; Apec High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy; Disaster-Risk Reduction Framework for Cooperation; 2015 Apec Strategy for Strengthening Quality Growth; the Apec Services Cooperation Framework; the 2015 Energy Ministerial Meeting; and the 9th Transportation Ministerial Meeting.

“All these, of course, contribute to the macro and micro aspects of economic stability, a topic which our economic cluster secretaries will enjoy discussing,” Valte said.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar Heritage Resort

Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2015 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

#Apec2015PH - at the height of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a multilateral trade forum, hosted by the Philippines on November 18-19, 2015, I had the chance to visit the historically mesmerizing and the architectural wonders of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, the province of Bataan!

The successful APEC Summit in Manila was attended by powerful leaders including three of the world's largest economies today in this order: the United States' President Barack Obama, China's President Xi Jinping, and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, among other 21 world leaders participating in the APEC.

Of the tourist sites and beautiful hosts for the Apec Summit around the Philippines (Bagac, Bacolod, Boracay, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Palawan, Tagaytay, and Manila) I got enthused of taking beautiful pictures around the well-paved and manicured complex of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar Heritage Resort!


Monday, November 16, 2015

Xi’s presence a test for China

06:00 AM November 6th, 2015

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s attendance at the Philippine-hosted Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit would serve as a “litmus test” to determine how he would address the overlapping claims to the South China Sea, with questions on China’s actions in the disputed waterway expected to be raised at the conference, a security expert told the Inquirer.

“Apec being an economic forum with its multilateral approach will not deviate from broader realities, either political or security, in the region. China will nevertheless not be spared from questions about its military might and continued artificial island-building in the South China Sea that have had almost occupied some islands claimed by the Philippines in the disputed West Philippine Sea,” Chester Cabalza of the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) said in a statement sent via e-mail.

“Xi Jinping’s presence in the Apec Summit hosted by the Philippines will become a litmus test of his commitment on how to deal with complex issues like the South China Sea disputes,” Cabalza said.

He said the Apec Summit is an opportunity for Xi “to show China’s political stance among its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific despite brewing maritime disputes, as China takes a serious step to multilaterally engage with bigger or smaller economies in the region.”

President Aquino will host the Apec Economic Leaders Meeting (AELM) on Nov. 18 and 19, the culmination of the summit that promotes free trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

There is no word yet on whether or not Xi would be attending the AELM.

MalacaƱang has confirmed the attendance to the conference of US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Cabalza said Xi’s presence to the Apec Summit “is much anticipated,” especially after his recent state visits to the United States and the United Kingdom.

“His presence will cement his position as a global leader in his commitment to foster global prosperity and security,” Cabalza said.

If Xi decides to skip the Apec Summit in Manila, Cabalza said this would reflect on China’s “unpreparedness to hold greater responsibility as a regional power.”

“It does show an asymmetry of relations after his successful visits to bigger and powerful countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, and his absence to the Apec Summit hosted by the Philippines will only escalate mistrust in the region,” he said.

“[Xi’s] absence might stain the sincerity of the Chinese leader to answer complex and multiple issues as a giant neighbor in the region. If China really wants to cement its presence and show benign power in the region, the Apec Summit is one the best forums to demonstrate its commitments as a respected regional power. Xi Jinping’s absence will certainly draw flak from the international community,” Cabalza said.

If Xi attends the Apec, he has “every right not to comment” on the South China Sea dispute, Cabalza said, but the Chinese leader should still issue “pronouncements to assure China’s continued efforts to elevate peace and security in the most dynamic and important region in the world—the Asia-Pacific, since regional security greatly impacts economic stability of the region.”

A bilateral or pull-aside meeting between him and Mr. Aquino at the Apec summit is also much awaited, similar to what the two leaders had last year when Beijing hosted the conference.
President Aquino is pushing for the full implementation of a code of conduct among all claimant countries in the South China Sea but with only seven months left in office, he might have to step down without seeing a code of conduct agreed by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Aside from the Philippines and China, the other countries who have wrangled over territory in the South China Sea are Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

China is laying claim to almost 90 percent of the South China Sea, a resource-rich and major sea-lane where $7 trillion in global trade passes, insisting on a so-called “historic right” using a “nine-dash line” demarcation.

The Philippines haled China to a UN arbitral tribunal questioning among several issues, the nine-dash line.

The court, based in The Hague, recently ruled that it had jurisdiction over the Philippines’ petition and set the hearings a few days after the Apec Summit.

Dumaguete - Siquijor Escapade

Photographs by Chester B. Cabalza
Copyright © 2015 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

After reading and presenting my scholastic paper in an UGAT Conference mostly attended by anthropologists and geographers  at Siliman University in the Land of Gentle People in Dumaguete City, I decided to spend the night in the mystic island of Siquijor. I brought with me the Lonely Planet as my travel buddy to the best sounds, smell, and sights in Dumaguete and Siquijor.

Dumaguete City

Aside from the beautiful and sprawling Siliman Univeristy, the oldest American University in Asia, my taste bud savored the culinary culture in this beautiful provincial City of Dumaguete and enjoyed their callos, sansrival and silvannas!


The fear of the unknown I had with this mystic island transformed my perception about the magical place. Local people are friendly and I was able to tour around the small island in five hours through the ever-reliable tricycle. I stayed in a resort owned by a Japanese couple well-recommended by Lonely Planet and spent the night soul-searching! 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Rule of law prevailed, says Aquino

03:15 AM October 31st, 2015

The rule of law has prevailed, and President Benigno Aquino III is “very happy.”

“We are very happy that the [UN Permanent Court of Arbitration] said it has jurisdiction (over the case),” Mr. Aquino told reporters during a visit to Eastern Samar province on Friday.

He was referring to the UN tribunal’s ruling on Thursday that it has jurisdiction to hear the Philippines’ case seeking the invalidation of China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea, including waters within the West Philippine Sea.

The President also noted that the tribunal is expected to rule on the merits of the Philippines’ petition against China “as early as next year.”

“It’s a fast process. The discussion is quite complicated but we can say, who wouldn’t be happy that and we call the rule of law prevailed?” Mr. Aquino said.

Echoing a Supreme Court associate justice he did not name, the President said the rule of law was the “equalizer” in the relations between a big state and a small state.

Had the UN tribunal ruled that it did not have jurisdiction over Manila’s petition, it would have been “the end of such avenue” for the Philippines, Mr. Aquino said, referring to the legal track that his administration follows in resolving the territorial dispute with China.

Relations with China

Asked how winning the first round would affect the Philippines’ relations with China, Mr. Aquino said the clarifications made by the tribunal would, hopefully, be an “avenue for better relations” between the two countries.

He said the maritime dispute was only one of the aspects of the Philippines’ relations with China.

Before President Aquino spoke Friday, the government’s reaction to the tribunal’s decision was subdued and measured, especially with the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Economic Leaders’ Meeting to be held in Manila on Nov. 18 and 19.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has yet to confirm his attendance at the meeting.

Presidential spokespersons Herminio Coloma Jr. and Abigail Valte said in separate statements that the tribunal’s decision would allow the Philippines to present the merits of the case.

“Our people can be assured that those representing our country have been continuously preparing for this,” Valte said.

“[The] government would really be careful on how to play this up… The Apec should be an opportunity to start mending fences,” Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, told the Inquirer by phone.

Batongbacal said the announcement of the tribunal’s decision coming at the heels of the United States’ testing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, as well as the upcoming Apec summit, was purely coincidental but “not exactly a good mix.”

“China could be taking time to study these things,” Batongbacal said.

President Aquino said the tribunal’s decision would be one of the issues to be tackled at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Kuala Lumpur next month.

President Aquino has consistently campaigned for the conclusion of a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea between Asean and China.

“The voice that we bring [to the Asean] must have an urgency, that we finish the discussions and we have a code of conduct. That would be part of the interventions we will have at the Asean [summit],” he said.

Regional peace, stability

The Department of National Defense (DND) welcomed the UN tribunal’s ruling.

“It’s a very good development not only for the Philippines but [also] for all nations believing in the Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). We will closely monitor the developments in this court,” said Peter Paul Galvez, spokesperson for the DND.

He said the DND was optimistic that other nations would adhere to international laws for regional peace and stability.

“As long as we maintain freedom of navigation and [overflight] in the [South China Sea], then that is for the stability of the region,” Galvez said.

Sen. Grace Poe, a presidential candidate in next year’s general elections, hailed the UN tribunal’s ruling, which she said cleared the way for the hearing of the merits of the Philippine case.

“[W]ith this development, which I think the international community will support, I am hopeful that China will respect the ruling and desist from any actions that will negate any decision of the tribunal on the case in the future,” Poe said.

China won’t stop

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, head of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said the tribunal’s ruling validated the Philippines’ complaint against China and strengthened its call for global intervention.

Trillanes said, however, that he did not believe China would stop intruding into the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea within Manila’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

“China, for fear of losing face, would likely continue with [its] activities and insist on [its] claims even if it eventually loses the case,” Trillanes said.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said the tribunal’s ruling was good news, but it did not mean the Philippines would win the arguments on the merits of its case.

This is the next challenge for the Philippines, Pimentel said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said the ruling was a “crucial positive step” in the Philippines’ efforts to protect its sovereignty.

“The Philippines remains committed to the peaceful settlement of conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea in accordance with international law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Drilon said.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. welcomed the tribunal’s ruling, but said the Philippines should not forsake its relations with China.

“We must remember that this sea conflict is only one aspect and that through many years our country and its people have had very close, fruitful ties with China and we intend to sustain that,” Belmonte said in a statement.

He said the tribunal’s ruling was a “big relief,” clearing the way for the discussion of the merits of the Philippine case.

More assertive China

Batongbacal warned that the tribunal’s ruling could provoke China into becoming more assertive in the South China Sea.

“The realities on the ground have changed and they are not in our favor. Possibly, we won the legal round but on the practical end, we might end up with substantial losses,” Batongbacal said.

He said he was worried about the Aquino administration’s “overreliance on the legal track.”

“Now we could have a hard time with China. We could have developed the diplomatic track to settle the issue amicably. We’ve also lost quite a lot in terms of the strained relations between President Aquino and President Xi Jinping,” Batongbacal said.

He said the timing of the tribunal’s ruling, coming only days after the United States tested freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, “was unfortunate.”

“I am pretty sure these events are not connected but the Chinese might interpret it as the US being behind it (tribunal decision),” Batongbacal said, adding that it could make China more assertive in the South China Sea.

Chester Cabalza, a professor at the National Defense College of the Philippines, agreed.

“Since China’s territorial integrity is now challenged by the United States, definitely they will stringently safeguard their air and naval spaces. China will continuously flex muscle and assert sovereignty over the South China Sea,” said Cabalza, who specializes in Chinese affairs.

“They will finish their constructions and island-building in the South China Sea that would help them secure their strategic interests with or without the tribunal’s decision,” he  said.

Cabalza added that even if the tribunal’s final decision on the merits of the Philippines’ petition would be nonbinding, “China will definitely be pressured by the international community.”

Code of conduct

He said the Philippines “must accelerate its position in the Asean to call for a mutually binding code of conduct in the South China Sea because of these new developments.”

Unlike Batongbacal, however, Cabalza believed President Aquino was right in pursuing the legal track.

“Although considered our last resort, notwithstanding our diplomatic and military woes, seeking legal means is the best strategy President Aquino has done,” Cabalza said. 

With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Leila B. Salaverria and DJ Yap