Monday, December 3, 2018

Lessons from the Battle of Katipunan

Photo from Rapler
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

The hashtag Battle of Katipunan over the weekend protrudes an entertaining matchup on court by two of the country’s leading universities along Katipunan avenue to rally a school pride. Sid Ventura’s nostalgic piece on UP-Ateneo’s symbiotic co-existence begets mutual admiration and respect in spite of ‘fenemies’ zoning in our academic backyard. Game one of the UP Fighting Maroons pitted against Ateneo Blue Eagles represents a figment of realization that the ‘best of three games’ is a finals series 40 years in the making.

The incessant hype flooding on the seamless social media constantly trickles in our sybaritic dream, irrespective of academic communities we belong, pulling off achingly beautiful memes and tweets to celebrate a rare sporting glory. Fostering creativity and euphoria, legendary Eraserheads’ alumnus drummer Raimund Marasigan teamed up with rappers BLKD and Rye, all shared the peyups tradition, composing overnight a track of triumph Atin ‘to from State U captain Paul Desiderio’s vigorous viral verse to fire up fellow Isko and Iska perceived by a league of critics as the year’s best by morphing into classic basketball game after the UP Men’s Basketball Team survived Adamson Soaring Falcons in a heart-stopping blockbuster do-or-die showdown before facing the well-oiled defending champion. 

Floy Quintos’ soulful reflection before game one unifies the aspiration for inspiration in these most uninspiring of times paving a way of chance for UP to win aimed at revving up the school spirit. But Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena’s unsparing playoff skills on the court to get that basketball crown brightened up recessive Blue Eagles cheering squad rarely dominated by the UP community as they altogether jubilantly flocked at the Mall of Asia Arena last Saturday after executing a hard time in shaking off unwavering Fighting Maroons with a hard-earned 88-79 win amidst the gung-ho battlecry #UPFight. Overturning the ratio, Ateneans are camping out overnight for Ateneo-UP Finals Game 2.

Naveen Ganglani’s impeccable angle of observation pens that the Blue Eagles preached System vs. Will to Fighting Maroons with the latter’s convincing structured gameplan based on simplicity and accuracy contrary to American-Kiwi Tab Baldwin’s cautious coaching to his Atenean players when he finally spewed to media interviews that UP head coach Bo Perasol’s surprised strategic redemption may work out well in the succeeding games of the UAAP Season 81 men’s basketball finals. 

Even if the National State University lost its first game to Ateneo de Manila University despite a marked controversial incident between mixed Filipino tower players Angelo Kouame and Bright Akhuetie, the UP community congratulated jovial Ateneans, blessed as the third university to have the most number of championship trophies. Even if UP failed to sustain its victory on game one, Danilo Concepcion alludes to naysayers and discourages the planned violence from his own camp to keep the game in high esteem highlighting the values of sportsmanship, fair play and civility in athletics, notwithstanding, the academic reputation and social conscience these top two universities are known for.      

The cross-pollination of ideas Raissa Robles shares in her article reveals how artists, athletes and intellectuals from these neighboring academia exchange philosophies and designs to get rid of in-breeding from their own boundaries. She shares a mixed feeling upon watching the game describing it as a match between best friends. Regardless of the game results for Game 2 on Wednesday and as the Battle of Katipunan goes on, the unceasing joy it brings to respective campuses buoys up a gracious conscious effort for the two basketball teams to make history written in the stars that cuts across generations  apparently dominated by techno-savvy millennials.

UP proudly plays its first championship game since 1987 persevering a hard work as it competes against a formidable ADMU for two more final games. The narrative of teamwork and sportsmanship commonly shared by the two neighbors on the opposite side of Katipunan should prevail. History is in the making that may perhaps sum up the tears of joy these two vast and manicured campuses can best offer to Filipino basketball fanatics. Belies an attitude of a champion hustling like an underdog. It is a plot of courage between a David versus Goliath on the hoop. A test of gameplan as well as a baptism of fire for the State University to own its unique place in this prestigious league endured by its motto of tapang at talino. Call it a fairy tale of Cinderella or an epic story of Count of Monte Cristo as the UP Fighting Maroons continuously battles the Ateneo Blue Eagles for the first time in the finals.

The Battle of Katipunan is a defining moment not only for the two rival men’s basketball teams. More so, it means a lot to students, administrators, faculty, and alumni from these two top universities as Filipinos from around the world will watch them play living up to high expectations beyond sports. Basketball touted as the most popular sports in all the 15 sports of the UAAP must value the high caliber of human kinetics as we witness a showdown of the best and the brightest rookies at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, transforming the basketball court into a spectacular window of magical run showcasing class and elegance embodying the principles of freedom of expression, academic excellence, solidarity and civility of sports when excited fans of the Fighting Maroons and Blue Eagles meet again.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Xi Jinping Capitalizes on Rainbow after the Rain in Manila

Photo from South China Morning Post
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

The suspension of work in the Philippines’ capital and the wreath laying ceremony to Filipinos’ national hero in Rizal Park quietly capture the warm welcome of President Rodrigo Duterte to his newly-found big brother President Xi Jinping to the Southeast Asian nation in his two-day state visit.

Doubts about the Chinese paramount leader’s stopover in sunny Manila after his weekend sterling attendance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation at Port Moresby concluded without an agreed joint communiqué among world leaders in the Pacific Rim for the first time in its 25-year existence. Only recently the world also caught the attention of mercurial Filipino leader after skipping the regional summit dinner and excused himself in favour of a nap gate at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Singapore.    

Today’s Duterte-Xi expanded bilateral meeting reaffirms the deepening of a futureproof Philippines-China 2.0 relations profoundly dubbed as the “Rainbow after the Rain” state visit deliberately aimed at cementing the broken lines of good neighbourliness and friendship despite the untimely release of anti-Chinese sentiments published by a reputable poll in the Philippines before the red carpet rolled out for Xi Jinping expressing acceptable trust for the Americans than the Chinese. More so the arrival statement of Xi Jinping in Manila deeply reminds Beijing of its past sour relationship with the archipelagic country under Duterte’s predecessor after it won the 2016 arbitration case against China invalidating its maritime claims in the contested South China Sea.

Confident in displaying an eminent role in the region bolstered by clever economic packages through blurry Road Belt Initiative programs and leading a collective support to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, China has arrived intensifying its ability to weaponize small neighbours offering multi-billion dollar investment pledges under the mantle of economic security due to simmering US-China trade war. Meanwhile Filipino critics worry about China’s policy of appeasement over policy of economic opportunity to the Philippines undermined with cautious remarks from other Southeast Asian leaders about the debt trap fear a nation may encounter from signing dozens of juicy Chinese agreements.       

Taking off from how China handles a crisis, this linguistic faux pas may signify clandestine connotations of a chance of “danger” and a possibility of “opportunity” that may illuminate Beijing’s treatment over Manila’s maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea. This despite the tough Chinese hatred by majority of Filipinos posting a mixed reaction to Xi’s official visit in Manila and discounting Duterte’s inaction to China’s intrusion in the disputed man-made islands recognizing the giant neighbour’s continuous militarization in the South China Sea.

The Philippines’ strategic role as a guinea pig for Chinese crisis management apparently bespeaks of the improving mutual understanding of former David and Goliath neighbours in seeking the best formula to reign in the sea of peace. Understandably, China’s burgeoning economic and trade relations with the Philippines can be viewed singularly but the volatility of the two nations’ defense and security relations over the skirmishes of maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea clearly present a multi-linear lens of how economy and security intercedes particularly when the pragmatic Filipino leader calibrated for soft-pedal on territorial disputes with his baffling rhetoric that China is already in possession of the contested waterway that elucidates a defeatist magniloquence of complete surrender of Manila’s claim over the West Philippine Sea.

The heavily debated Framework for Joint Exploration in the West Philippine Sea citing references from the October 2016 Joint Statement of China and the Philippines on joint exploration undersea and the November 2017 Mutual of Understanding on Energy Cooperation certainly differ from the 2004 Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking signed by the two sovereign states with Vietnam joining the tripartite agreement later on to explore the South China Sea for oil and natural gas. The agreement’s constitutionality ceased four years after the three maritime claimant-countries in the South China Sea inked such a ground-breaking cooperation before imploding into diplomatic and legal battles reaching an arbitration case in February 2013 against China while the Philippines reaped legal triumph in July 2016.   

The Philippines’ hedging strategy in pursuit of economic dependence from China to finance robust infrastructure program should be dealt carefully. Manila now holds the key to decide wittingly as other major powers including the US and Japan continuously invest far more than China.

History teaches us the best lesson. This is the time that we should remember General Antonio Luna when the Philippines chose its destiny to ally with the Spaniards or the Americans. There’s a new power in town! China is a reality.

General Antonio Luna will ask you again, “Negosyo o Kalayaan? Bayan o Sarili?”

Monday, November 12, 2018

Amazing Thailand

 Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2018 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

Visited Thailand - the Amazing Kingdom in Southeast several times. The first country wherein my Philippine passport was stamped as a teenager. Now adulting, the vibrancy of Siam's tourism keeps on growing stronger! Sea waves of Caucasian and Asian tourists in Khao San Road, historical visit to Bridge on the River Kwai, majestic temples around Bangkok, and the spicy foods are all amazing!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Goyo may seek ‘amnesty’ if alive today

Photo from Goyo Facebook
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

Against the backdrop of war, doubted youngest and celebrated one-star Filipino general, shrivelled with agile vocation to save a flawed president flunked to triumph in his last battle. Gregorio del Pilar’s tactical command in a visceral level of military strategy diminished a demeanour sauntered out in Tirad Pass, our nation’s Thermopylae waterloo, beheld by aphids of clouds atop the boundless vigor of Ilocandia’s mountain peaks. Fear and salvation snapped out from his stumbling spirit onto a clandestine cloister of inner struggle to fathom his role in nation-building and venture into odyssey if Aguinaldo’s revolution was worth fighting for.

His youthfulness and morose death elevated his snap heroism. No pompous burial bared for him unlike the mad-genius General Antonio Luna flattered with a lush orchestration of political whims in his funeral to mantle white lies about his murder.

Insert post-modern Philippines. Our history has been coated with episodic military adventurism. This euphemism of instigating a war of aggression to the government is mostly not won over by romanticized soldiers when Filipinos deem that our Constitution remains the fundamental law.

This is a great lesson that we should learn from the past.

Charismatic mutineer Colonel Gringo Honasan, now a senator, led five coup d’état to the first Filipina president Cory Aquino during his heydays as rebel against putschists, thieves, and opportunists. Enamored Lieutenant Senior Grade Sonny Trillanes IV, a sitting senator, copied the same military adventurism against the second Filipina president Gloria Arroyo due to alleged rampant corruption in the government. Both former military officers rallied for change, turned out politicians by demand, but aspired to become the second highest official in the country in recent national elections. President Fidel Ramos granted amnesty to Honasan while President Benigno Aquino III endowed amnesty to Trillanes.

Hypothetically if Goyo heeded to his own demon and altered a courageous narrative of defiance against bad governance of a blemished commander-in-chief, could he embody the ideals of Honasan and Trillanes in his trying time? Albeit underlying the historical context of his state at that time, the colonizer came out to be the primary adversary, notwithstanding the Tagalog president and his northern ethnic armed warriors. But if he were alive today, the vicious cycle of Filipino feeble governance and fragile defense posture sum up the Philippines’ corrupted system that may inspire pampered PMAers to stage a coup to the government.    

Goyo might end up guilty of a morbid political offense. Banish or die. Or suffer murder just like what Bonifacio and Luna ended up like. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Cloudy airspace in the West Philippine Sea's 'Great Wall' in the Sky

Photo from Youtube
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

The recent test on the freedom of the sky in the South China Sea above the airspace of Subi reef southwest of the Philippines’ occupied Thitu island and Mischief reef an atoll turned into a fake island by the People’s Republic of China drew an escalating conflict as China continuously fortify its ‘Great Wall’ in the sky.

In a monthly operational routine of oblique sky patrol by a Philippine Air Force plane over Mischief reef, a radio warning from the Chinese navy transmitted a message to the Filipino pilot to “leave immediately or bear responsibility for all the consequences” in a menacing tone. However, the same warning signalled to the US reconnaissance naval aircraft five times in a normal tone conducting lawful military surveillance accorded by the international law around the heavily militarized Spratlys archipelago. This is a first time in recent months under the complete two-year old tenure of President Rodrigo Duterte after he seriously altered his political will to a soft China policy.

The asymmetrical cautionary notice can be concealed as alarming despite Manila’s unceasing efforts to warm up a closer bilateral engagement with Beijing. Given the recent external security development, how come China inversely treats the Philippines over the routine overflight in the South China Sea? Could a code of conduct repair the recent squabble between two countries above the contested airspace?    

In 2009, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) concocted of building a ‘Great Iron Wall in the Blue Sky’ in celebration of its 60th anniversary. This fourth great wall took off from China’s ancient great wall to elevate a terrestrial strength as a civilization-state that later on in post-modern history China purportedly flexed a naval power through massive reclamations of man-made islands in the South China Sea turning to a great wall at sea. It also marked a niche in their cyberspace generating the great firewall. The four instalments of the dragon’s great walls is a holistic approach to establish a grand strategy to fulfil a rejuvenated dream aspired to tame supremacy by protecting and controlling intently their land territories, maritime domains, cyber and air spaces. 

China unilaterally established and deeply enforced its own Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea over a maritime dispute with Japan and now with claimant-countries in the Spartly islands which garnered unilateral objection from major powers in the Indo-pacific region. It even imposed ADIZ without consultation from smaller neighbours that carry direct capabilities on land-based radar coverage, aerial refuelling, and early warning and control. Chinese ADIZ certainly was used as a buffer zone that delineated tasks to report a flight plan to their government, maintain radio communication, and announce warning to China’s armed forces in adopting defensive emergency measure to respond to foreign aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification. However, this military strategy does not grant state sovereignty over airspace. 

Viewing at it as China’s self-proclaimed rights in expanding outright supervision overflight and a constant exercise for China’s flexing an aerial power to enforce a susceptible anti-access area denial (A2/AD) strategy. It also nurtures a military aggression against the freedom of the sky to protect Chinese core interests in the South China Sea and China’s expanding maritime territories from intermittent incursion by the US military. Literally translated as, a way of the dragon trying to evict the eagle from its nest, creating havoc damage that may lead to regional instability and insecurity.

During the third state-of-the-nation address of President Duterte, the populist leader recognized the right of innocent passage and the air above the artificial islands. Only this month, the Philippine military aircraft grieved over intimidation after receiving at least 46 times warnings since the second half of 2017. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque boldly spewed to the media that the Chinese cannot stop unfazed Filipino pilots who expressed unfathomable nationalism by willing to die for the sake of asserting sovereignty while patrolling the skies of Philippine-claimed territories. 

South China Sea, a portion of it claimed by Filipinos as the West Philippine Sea, is a geopolitical tinderbox bearing profound strategic value and opulent natural resources. A code of conduct in the militarized zone should be agreed upon by claimant-countries. After the July 2016 arbitration award in favour of the Philippines gained a momentum, the jarring road to finalize and adopt a code of conduct in the South China Sea between China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) slow motioned. Described as a holy grail, signifying a high desire but unattainable direction, that may be used by China to legalize its hegemonic trajectories while subverting the spirit of the code of conduct. Hence, the appeal to multilateral consensus-based decision-making order should progress geared towards a rules-based norms in the South China Sea that covers the right to exercise freedom of overflight over the international airspace.  

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Philippines’ War on Drugs: Punitive or Restorative?

Photo from CNN Philippines
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

In the third State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rodrigo Duterte this year, he bluntly began his litany of reform by spewing his adamant rhetoric on the war on drugs which for him resulted in the seizure of illegal drugs worth billions of pesos, and confidently declared, “I can only shudder at the harm that those drugs could have caused had they reached the street of every province, city, municipality, barangay and community throughout the country.”

His banner policy on the Philippine drug war has ascended into the spotlight when Duterte was elected as president in June 2016. This promise he made as the longest mayor of Davao City became his legacy in Mindanao’s largest city. Putting interest on the drug problem in the Philippines, the strongman’s heightened crack down using a punitive enforcement of law resulted to the surrender of almost two million illicit drug users to the government. It also caught the attention of the Human Rights Watch when almost 12,000 Filipinos died from police operations and alleged systemic extrajudicial executions since he assumed office. Early in February, the International Criminal Court (ICC) based at The Hague denounced the killings linked to the Philippine drug war and initiated a preliminary investigation which the firebrand Southeast Asian leader halted.

Thus, he sharply uttered in his SONA speech, “And when illegal drug operations turn nasty and bloody, advocates of human rights lash at—and pillory—our law enforcers and this administration to no end. Sadly, I have yet to hear really howls of protest from the human rights advocates and church leaders against drug-lordism, drug dealing and drug pushing as forceful and vociferous as the ones directed against the alleged errant [law] enforcers in the fight against this social scourge.”

Historically speaking, the Philippines’ transformation into a narcostate could be carved by its own history when Filipino ancestors had betel chewed since 1521. Opium was banned in 1908. Marijuana prevailed in 1954, which remained a preference, among persons who used drugs during Martial Law in 1972. While shabu users surfaced in Manila later in 1983 but reached its peak in 2004. Under Duterte’s tenure as president, he continuously crashes the world by tenaciously executing his controversial campaign against illegal drugs. Originally  pitched in as Project “Double Barrel” that connotes a two-pronged approach; namely, project Tokhang (lower barrel approach) and project High Value Target (upper barrel approach), spearheaded by the Philippine National Police (PNP), intended to attain utopian drug-free communities across the country.

However, it was the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 or Republic Act No. 9165 that paved way for strengthening the country’s fight against illegal drugs that was extremely enacted with stricter penalties for drug offenders. As a consequence, there were millions of drug users put to jail around the Philippines, according to the Dangerous Drugs Board, which made the country having the highest rate of shabu addicts in East Asia. Taking off from that supposed all-inclusive illegal drug law, the National Anti-Drug Plan of Action 2015-2020 was formulated, headed by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), to eradicate the supply of and demand for dangerous drugs. Under President Duterte, he also approved the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), signed through Executive Order No. 15, giving teeth to the comprehensive drug law “by putting behind bars the manufacturers, traffickers, and peddlers of illegal drugs and by transforming drug users into productive members of society through, among others, balanced and integrated approaches of supply and demand reduction strategies under Barangay Drug Clearing Program.”

The sudden constructions of treatment and rehabilitation centers and the lack of it ensured preponderance of political aid that questioned a posteriori human rights issue. And those who either voluntarily or involuntarily surrendered to law enforcers add to the harrowing condition of prisons in the country. In response to the war on drugs as a restorative act, the Dangerous Drugs Board created OPLAN Sagip (an operation plan to rescue), operated in September 2016 to establish guidelines for dealing with drugs surrenderees by establishing the Community-Based Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation (CBDTR) services and interventions to low-risk or low-to-mild severity use disorder, which comprises ninety percent of drug users around the Philippines.

Drug policy-making worldwide has become increasingly evidence-based. The same approach should be applied to the Philippines’ current drug policy. Two schools of thought may challenge Duterte’s quixotic program on the war on drugs; whether it is crime deterrence or clinical problem that is essentially seen as a social cancer. Given the drug policy’s messianic complex against a malignant phenomenon, gradually offsetting a relentless dream encompassing suppression, prosecution and rehabilitation in a holistic manner; the failed vision may botch inadequacy of serious policy-making and rigid methods that protects asymmetrical rights of the felony and the victims.

The bloody war on drugs besets wars on poor people, the youth, and crime busters who lost the appetite of seeing the real picture of turning a blind eye about a genuine social dilemma depriving a person of life, liberty and property.  In the end, unconditional surrender programs for users and peddlers must be encouraged augmenting a well-financed management of voluntary submission for drug pushers and rehabilitated drug users. Mainstreaming of drug education in the curriculum of secondary education as explicitly constituted in the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act must be properly supported and implemented by the government. There should be a comprehensive plan for long/medium/ and short term anti-drug operations to formalize the drug war procedures with a maximum end of safeguarding human rights, and not only human lives.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Federalism: Duterte's Biggest Security Reform?

Photo from Rappler
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

As Rodrigo Duterte prepares for his third annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23, cementing his tenure as the 16th Filipino president for the past two years, he aspires to transform the centuries old security system of Asia’s first republic. On 9 July 2018, the official document of the 22-member of the Consultative Committee (Con-Com) to Review the 1987 Constitution entitled, “Power to the People: Bayanihan Federalism, Power to the Regions” labelled as a “draft constitution for a strong, indissoluble republic” has officially been handed to the country’s Chief Executive Officer.

The 110-page draft document consists of 22 articles and a preamble that recommends the creation of 17 federated regions plus the National Capital Region (17 + 1). Apparently it is seen as politically feasible and economically viable that opens “opt-in or opt-out” provisions based from its proximity of a thorough cultural integration and clever political consolidation. Summing it up, the Con-Com proposes a federal-presidential form of government with 18 federated regions including the autonomous Bangsamoro and Cordillera administrative regions.

The firebrand Southeast Asian leader establishes another controversial security platform on federalism which he has been advocating since his presidential election in 2016 as the archipelagic country prepares for the mid-year election next year. If things take place at the right time, Duterte’s proposal to federate the Philippines will become his biggest political reform after his internationally-debated banner policies on the country’s Independent Foreign Policy and the War on Drugs.

Digesting on the newest document, what are the important provisions that may baffle the country’s national interest? How will the Filipino people perceive this constitutional change? Will the Philippines succeed in drawing a feasible politics and viable economics to brighten the country’s chances to improve its national security?  

The assertion of key phrases to “build a permanent and indissoluble nation” and strong words on “progressive society” on its preamble reaffirm the commitment of the Philippines of its singularity and independence as a nation-state aimed at advancing its own national interest to attain prosperity and inclusivity under a Federal Republic of the Philippines.

Sections 1 and 2 of Article 1 on National Territory clearly assert the archipelagic nation’s sovereignty over its territory through its baselines, territorial sea and airspace. It also contextualizes the landmark case of the Philippines at The Hague on its rights “over islands and features outside its archipelagic baselines pursuant to the laws of the Federal Republic, the law of nations, and the judgments of competent international courts or tribunals.” It also underlies the significance of the Philippine Rise or Benham Rise in which the underwater plateau has no scintilla of ownership dispute. 

Section 6 on State Policies of the Draft Constitution explicitly expressed that, “the Federal Republic shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In establishing relations with other states, its paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.” At the infancy of Duterte’s presidency, his general guiding principles of independent foreign policy was unclearly spelled out that misguided the interpretation of the international community as he directed his volatile strategic pivot to China, and defense diversification to emerging military prowess of Russia and India; but only to rely on to US counterterrorism measures to free Marawi City from ISIS-inspired local and foreign terrorists.

Furthermore, Duterte’s state visits to non-traditional partners laid down his changing and evolving independent foreign policy to shed some light on his ambiguous external policy propounded by the vulnerability of the regional security. Although his stint of hosting the golden anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit last year proved his [un]diplomatic skills to elucidate his game-changing overseas policy beyond the resolution of the South China Sea conundrum.

Last May 15, 2018 the bicameral houses of Congress approved the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which aimed at installing a Bangsamoro political entity in place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that appears to be a federated region itself in the proposed Philippines’ Federal Republic to grant a wider self-rule to predominantly Muslims in southern Philippines. It was argued by Filipino legislators and intellectuals that federalism initiatives and the BBL are not mutually exclusive. Albeit the law was passed as one of the requirements under the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014 under former president Benigno Aquino III, which the current president Rodrigo Duterte, contentiously deemed would heal the historical injustices suffered by his fellows from Mindanao.

On its bid to shift to federal form of government, recent polls by the Pulse Asia showed that Filipinos’ perception on federalism remains low with 32 percent of respondents said they were open to Charter Change, the same percentage to those opposing it. Only 23 percent of Filipinos approved the Constitutional Change, although Con-Com members believed this perception will still change after President Duterte delivers his third SONA on July 23. In the end, federalism will certainly become Duterte’s tidal wave on political reform despite ambiguities and clarifications over his open-ended defense and security policies. In essence, the proposed Federal Constitution declares his ambitious clout of the federal government’s control over the armed forces, national police force, foreign relations and finance.

Ultimately, reforms should not start and end at structures and forms. We should also have to contend with the feasibility of pushing this forward. What may be lacking is the wherewithal to proceed and put these needed reforms in place. For now we have to be on the lookout for opportunities for reform; or perhaps, the better option is to create this opportunity and push for reforms. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Sagada, Mountain Province

     Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2018 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

My Indiana Jones Adventure with my son! Returned to this nirvana after almost two decades and Sagada never stops mesmerizing me!

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Philippine Rise Conundrum

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

In an act of bravado to signify Philippine interest to cordon off the Philippines’ latest maritime gem, President Rodrigo Duterte aboard BRP Davao del Sur signed on May 15 a presidential proclamation declaring portions of the Philippine Rise, formerly known as the Benham Rise, and Eastern Kalayaan in the Spratly Islands as protected areas. The 50,000 hectares resource-rich continental shelf which became a Strict Protection Zone exclusively for Philippine scientific studies was ruled out by the United Nations in 2012 as part of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) giving the Southeast Asian’s archipelagic nation-state the sovereign rights to explore and exploit resources in the area.

The Philippine Rise is an uncontested underwater plateau about 150 nautical miles to the east of the northern Philippine island of Luzon. It was renamed also in May last year from Benham Rise, fortified through the Executive Order No. 25, renaming the 13-million hectare area undersea landmass off Aurora and Cagayan provinces in an apparent bid to assert the country’s sovereignty amid alleged incursions by Chinese ships.

Two years ago, in a campaign showdown between and among presidential candidates in the Philippines, the firebrand leader caught the attention of Filipino voters when Duterte said, out of his witticism to augment his tactical approach, to ride a jet ski to the contested waters of the West Philippine Sea on China’s reclaimed land in the Spratlys and plant the Philippine flag there to stir his patriotism to the country at the height of the ongoing row in the West Philippine Sea between China and the Philippines. As of this time, that political promise has yet to be realized.

Last year, China sought permission from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs to conduct its own hydrographic surveys in the uninhabited and structure-free Philippine Rise which saw its presence in several periods. The massive rise has no scintilla of ownership dispute and is recognized by international law that gives an apparent geostrategic importance to China in its quest to establish itself as a regional hegemon. China’s newfound defense and economic confidence is near completion on its reenvisioned maritime power. Understandably, this undersea scientific playing ground matters to China’s quest for maritime expansion.  

Despite the warming relationship of China and the Philippines and frequent visits of strongmen Asian leaders in Beijing and Manila, how come that the Filipino president tries to assert his sovereignty rights over the Philippines Rise? Will China continuously pursue bilateral cooperation in the exploration and exploitation of the resource-rich rise?

In a conciliatory bid to soften Manila’s aggressive attack on Beijing, President Duterte’s  recalibrated diplomatic knack swiftly nurtured a welcoming friendly ties with Xi Jinping after the highly-talked about July 2016 Arbitral Tribunal invalidation of China’s nine-dash line claims, for which after several high-level summits, it will pave a way for an holistic Framework on the Code of Conduct in managing the contested islands to avert the costly consequences of any potential outbreak of armed confrontations in the disputed sea region.

Underlining President Duterte’s action man persona proves that he is trying to assert sovereignty to Philippine territories bounded by the spirit of the Philippine Constitution that explicitly adheres to the protection and security of the country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In his thrust to accelerate federalism, he had ordered the composition of the Consultative Commission that intends to harmonize the country’s 1987 constitution with existing international laws of the sea.

In the proposed Article 1 of the draft charter on Sovereignty Over Territory and Sovereign Rights, Section 1 states that, “the Philippines has sovereignty over its territory, consisting of the islands and waters encompassed by its archipelagic baselines, its territorial sea, and its airspace. It has sovereignty over islands and features outside its archipelagic baselines pursuant to the laws of the Federal Republic, the law of nations, and the judgments of competent international courts or tribunals. It likewise has sovereignty over all the other territories belonging to the Philippines by historic right or legal title. While Section 2 stipulates that, “the Philippines has sovereign rights over that maritime expanse beyond its territorial sea to the extent reserved to it by international law, as well as over its extended continental shelf including the Philippine (Benham) Rise. Its citizens shall enjoy the right to all resources to which they are entitled by historic rights.”

However historic right and legal title on the Philippine Rise can become a potent factor to circumvent the ambiguity and volatility of regional security environment that may make or break any strategic undertaking. To subscribe to the historical claims would be a haphazard calculation of China’s saber rattling military manuevering to legitimize its claims in the disputed islands in the region. It is a double-edged sword tactic resulting to pessimistic multiplier effects on how to deal with the Philippine Rise conundrum.

On the query on bilateral cooperation between the Philippines and China, it appears relatively affirmative and promising. In terms of joint scientific research, Philippine law would allow foreign research in its territory as long Filipino scientists are aboard the research vessel and the findings of the study are shared internationally. Hence, Article 246 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) permits in normal circumstances the granting of consent for marine scientific research projects by other countries.

Nonetheless, the world’s second largest archipelago remained weak in defending its stolen territory and maritime entitlements despite an increase to 13 million hectares on Philippine archipelagic territory based on endowment of the Unclos to the Philippine Rise. Hence, Philippine defense laws and security executive issuances should essentially identify fundamental interests, primarily for the fortification of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In the end, the Philippines is still locked in a period when hegemony of naval powers reign at seas to regain its real independence.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Anilao, Batangas (Scuba Diving)

     Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2018 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

In the deep end of the ocean
when natural born divers
swim gracefully, among the
school of fish, the barracudas,
and other creatures in a
vast body of a deep blue sea;
only goggles as their apparatus
to explore the finest haven
or empire that few can only see

They hold their breath,
crawling like an eel, to catch
a glimpse of an underwater sanctuary
peculiar colors of fish flash
to the sight, jellies as lanterns,
corals as grotto of tiny school,
seahorses robe the majestic kingdom

Beneath the endless basin,
a fortune of ornaments and splendor
amaze divers,
and like fish, they are bestowed with
gills to breath underwater,
the mermen and guardians
of creatures of the abyss

So when divers exhale
no way the whale splash their breath,
is like an astonishing relieve
to glance once more
the dome of the earth,
heedless, the clear skies
ready to clasp them in
their resurrection,
and all the while they inhale

then the underwater
guzzle them again
to see more of the power

down, down, down…

(Poetry by CBCabalza)