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Seeking justice beyond The Hague

July 12, 2019 marked the third anniversary of the Philippine’s victory in its arbitration case against China over the South China Sea. Three years ago, the Philippines received the arbitral award from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that favored Manila’s maritime claims over the West Philippine Sea and legally discredited China’s nine-dash line claims to the South China (which later became a “10-dash line” then “11-dash line”). The award upheld the Philippines’ rights to a full 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.

The fallacy of good intentions: The Philippine Independent Foreign Policy

Politics is swayed by the tempo and spirit of the times. Administrations in power, no matter how visionary, would always be compelled to act on the demands of the present. The Duterte administration, at the beginning of its term, presented itself as a cut different from past governments. The rhetoric of pursuing an “independent foreign policy” caught the attention of many, critics and supporters alike. Midway in its term, the “independence” of the country’s foreign policy remains contested.

Constructing transitional justice

Transitional justice has been one of the buzzwords in the peace agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), specifically, under the Annex on Normalization. True to its mandate, the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) submitted its Final Report to both panels in March 2016, providing explanations for historical injustice, legitimate grievances, human rights violations, and marginalization through land dispossession, and offering analysis as to the root causes of the Bangsamoro conflict as well as recommendations based on the pillars of Dealing with the Past.

Looking forward to the 2019 SONA

There is no shortage of anticipation in the lead-up to a scheduled 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA). The one this coming July 22 should be no exception. After all, the 4th SONA of any presidency occurs just a few months after the scheduled Midterm National and Local Elections. Any president, more so if his/her endorsed coalitions won with a comfortable margin, would take this opportunity not only to take pride in this, it will also try to build bipartisan confidence in order to pursue its agenda for the remaining three years -- unencumbered by the inflamed partisan attitudes fostered by the recently concluded fight.

Vote-Shaming in the Midterm Elections

Yung mga boboto sa mga taong ’to, paki-unfriend ako please. Wala akong kaibigang bobo.” (Those who will vote for the following candidates, please unfriend me. I have no stupid friends.)

Why the opposition lost in the 2019 Midterm (Senatorial) Elections

The opposition lost. Not one of the Liberal Party (LP)-dominated “Otso Diretso” senatorial contenders made it to the 12 Senate seats up for grabs. Not even its frontrunner candidate Bam Aquino who was a reelectionist or Mar Roxas who topped the 2004 senatorial race (15 years ago!), both with outstanding legislative track records to their credit, made it against the other reelectionist senators and political newcomers who ran under the President’s ruling party The Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP–Laban) or under Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s regional party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP). To date, questions about the integrity of the 2019 midterm elections remain in public discourse.

Why we (don’t) vote

Political decision-making is usually the territory of those in power. What electoral democracy affords us is a window of opportunity to improve status quo: to elect representatives who will protect our values, our political aspirations, and our hope for the future. It is the key feature of our political system.

The ‘new cold war’ in the US-China trade wars: Application to...

The United States government’s ban that led Google to discontinue its software dealings with Huawei and other firms as part of the US-China trade wars has led key Philippine businesses to revisit their dealings with Huawei, a crucial partner in 5G development on the front lines of the Philippine government’s bid for telecoms modernization.

‘What is your opinion of your President?’

The Myanmar Colonel was smiling as he asked me this publicly -- it was an earnest question. Majority of the Myanmar Tatmadaw (military and police) present in the gathering are supporters of President Duterte, or at least they approve of what he’s doing as regards peace and order. I answered, “I didn’t vote for him, but he was voted by our people. So, he is my President.” The subtext of my answer is that democracy, imperfect as it is, is still my chosen political system for the Philippines. The officers nodded approvingly, including the Major General in front. Myanmar is in its beginning journey towards democratization; they look at the Philippines for lessons.

The battle for the 12 Senate seats!

Come 13 May 2019, 61,843,750 or 57.4% of the total 107,795,964 Philippine people will select among other political positions 12 new senators -- it is The Battle for The Twelve Philippine Senate Seats.

Elections do not make democracy

Three weeks from now, Filipinos will be casting their votes for the country’s midterm elections. According to the Commission on Elections, there are around 60 million registered voters for the upcoming elections, 2.5 million of whom are new voters. We also have a relatively high voter turnout -- 84% in 2016, considering that voting is not compulsory unlike in other countries such as Australia, Brazil, and Singapore.

Child Soldiers

A few years ago, a 16-year-old boy was killed in an armed encounter. UNICEF called to task both the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) and the military for violating the rights of the child -- the NPA for recruiting him and the military for shooting him. Explaining its side, the military said that in a firefight, the general rule to survive is to neutralize anyone holding a weapon in a firing position. In the mayhem of an armed encounter, differentiating if the opponent is a child or an adult, especially if he is firing at you, is very difficult.

The UHC Law and LGUs

Beyond the mandates, requirements, powers and prerogatives granted to local government units (LGUs) by the universal health coverage law or act (UHCL or UHCA), it is hoped that LGUs, through their Sanggunians and Local Chief Executives will look beyond what the law provides and find innovative and creative ways to achieve the objectives of the law. In building partnerships with other health stakeholders in their given jurisdictions, LGUs will need look beyond being facility ‘owners’ towards a more critical role of being the primary enablers of the UHCA’s success.

Responsible Mining: Planet, People, Profit, Policy

Mining is highly extractive. From the vantage point of environmental protection, “responsible mining” may seem like an oxymoron given the obvious toll of mining on natural resources, especially arable land, water and forests. The nature of this industry thus goes against the principle of preserving and cultivating land and nature for present and future generations.

2019 elections: A litmus test of Duterte’s foreign policy

Three years after his election on May 9, 2016, the Philippine midterm elections this year will serve as a litmus test of President Rodrigo Duterte’s actions, including his decisions to recalibrate Philippine treaty relations with the US and pivot to China. In 2016, Duterte downplayed the ITCLOS arbitral award and entered into a policy of economic rapprochement with China. Three years thereafter, how do we assess Duterte’s foreign policy choices? Here, I seek to explain the hedging strategies of the Duterte government towards China by examining relevant literature on weak states’ hedging strategies and Great Power competition. It is also my objective to frame Duterte’s foreign policy as an outcome of the uncertain post-cold war unipolar environment, and of the interplay of domestic and state preferences in foreign policy.

Our country’s quest for universal health care

The Philippines lies at the threshold of universal health care. By learning from the successes and failures of the last 50 years, capitalizing on its growing economy and its vibrant millennial generation, the Philippines must seize the opportunity to truly transform its health system and ensure the health of all its citizens.

‘For whom the sisterhood calls’

March, the women’s month...and this is a last “hurrah.”

Why should there be election debates?

To many people, ‘election debates,’ is a means to inform voters of how the issues of the day are framed and discussed by candidates. The exchange of ideas that happens between opposing candidates is supposed to reveal information that voters need especially in knowing and evaluating candidates -- what they stand for, what their plans are, among Pothers. Equipped with this knowledge, voters are said to be more capable of making informed decision of who to vote for or not.

An interventionist Senate in Philippine foreign policy

Foreign policy is often an eclipsed subject in electoral campaigns. By its nature, it is reserved to the remit of the agents of the Foreign Affairs department, particularly the Chief Executive, who acts as its main architect. Despite this, there has been an increasing demand for transparency on foreign policies, particularly by members of the Senate, a body that is not directly involved in negotiations.

What’s at stake for us in the 2019 midterm elections?

In most democratic societies, midterm elections are seen not only as a referendum on the performance of a sitting government/political party. It may also determine to what extent can the current administration move forward unencumbered with its agenda -- or whether it will need to begin building bipartisan confidence in order to govern with its symbolic authority intact.

Is charter change the game changer in the next Congress?

On 18 January 2019, three days before the January 21, 2019 plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), President Rodrigo R. Duterte alluded to pursuing charter change once the BOL is ratified. If ratified, the BOL creates the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and replaces the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Now that the BOL was ratified on 25 January, the path to charter change seems clear. Is it or is it not?

Challenges to regional security: Territory and terrorism

The two major issues confronting Southeast Asia today are (a) the dispute between and among claimant states for the control of resources in the South China Sea and (b) the rising threat of armed extremist groups. These two issues are the major stimulus for the military buildup happening in the region today.

Some more musings on Philippine urbanization

Around four years ago, a friend would ask me questions as we go our way back home to Quezon City from our five-day immersion stay with a fisher-folk community in Calatagan, Batangas. As we struggled through urban traffic, my friend and I would keenly observe the peri-urban, built-up areas of Laguna, Cavite, and Batangas -- three of the provinces constituting Calabarzon, which in the 1990s was imagined, and made to be an urban development beltway -- and the arguably (hyper-)urban zones of the National Capital Region (NCR). Then he would ask, among other questions: Who lives in the gated (horizontal) communities and vertical developments that pepper the areas?

Runaway trains

I had the opportunity to revisit Japan last Nov. 16-19 for the 2018 Philippine Studies Conference in Japan (PSCJ) in Hiroshima University. While I could have taken a direct flight to Hiroshima (give or take a layover to another country), circumstances compelled me to land in Kansai International Airport (KIX). From there, I took multiple train line transfers (including the Shinkansen) from KIX to my hotel in Hiroshima.

The Belt and Road Initiative and ASEAN:Cooperation or Opportunism?

It is more than five years now since China’s President Xi Jinping introduced the Silk Road Economic Belt in Kazakhstan in September 2013 and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road in Indonesia in October 2013. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or the One-Belt-One-Road (OBOR) officially became China’s national development strategy in November 2013 and was included in its 13th five-year plan in March 2016 as part of the strategy to deepen China’s reform and opening as well as to establish new mechanisms for economic development.

Women, Peace and Security in the Philippines: Localization or Indigenization?

Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in the country has been a political project for both civil society and government. Taking off from the global agenda of advancing women’s human rights in the context of armed conflict and conflict transformation, commitment to WPS has been institutionalized through several National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security (NAP WPS): the first generation covering 2010-2016, the second generation that introduced amendments in 2014, and the third generation that includes the period from 2017 to 2022.

Where’s the ‘local’ in federal?

“All politics is local,” so the saying goes. This may give the impression that only the distribution of local goods and services matter to the regular voter. However, the person this is attributed to, the late American Speaker of the House Thomas Philip “Tip” O’Neill, was animated by a larger world view -- appealing to local concerns in order to advance a national economic policy agenda.

The Philippines and the Anthropocene

Is there a way for us to radically reframe what we think about how human beings relate to our environment that allows us to properly respond to the challenges of today’s rapidly changing geopolitical and ecological landscape? While the concept is not necessarily novel, nor the term formally recognized, the Anthropocene is a proposed new geological epoch that marks the point in Earth’s history when the actions of humans had permanently and radically impacted the functioning of the Earth’s geological and ecological systems. A group of scientists, including American chemist Will Steffen and Nobel Prize for Chemistry winner Paul Crutzen, describe the Anthropocene as the epoch when “the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.”

The federalism discourse

IN a survey conducted by Pulse Asia last June, two out of three Filipinos do not agree that the 1987 Constitution should be revised...

Constitutional change and transitory provisions: Lessons from history

WHEN Congress or a constitutional convention begins proposing revisions to the 1987 Constitution much attention and discussion will focus on the transitory provisions.

Unintended consequences and the proposed federal government

It cannot be said that the federal proposal is new to the country’s political landscape. In the past, this has been discussed as a stand-alone proposal, but more often in tandem with a shift to a parliamentary form of government. Debates run from the academic to the national government-led proposals. Not one has prospered because of, among other things, the hesitancy with revising the 1987 Constitution.

Fate of the peace process hangs in the balance

Two years into the Duterte administration, trepidations on the fate of the peace process continue. The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the political translation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed in 2014, hangs in the balance. This week, the Bicameral Committee starts deliberation on the Senate and House version of the BBL.

Coordinating rhetoric and practices in the West Philippine Sea

The Philippines under the Duterte Administration should construct a narrative in order to make sense of its position in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Why is there party politics?

One usual mistake many people usually commit in making sense of “political party” is the irresponsible disregard of substantial distinctions between and among: what...

Labor-centered development: the change we need

Boracay shutdown. Bungled OFW rescue mission in Kuwait. Presidential signing of an executive order on contractualization unacceptable to organized labor. A common thread obviously...

It’s complicated: The Relationship between Federalism, Development, and Democracy

The viewpoint that binds federalism, development, and democratization is heavily linked to neoliberal economics where, in broad terms, the preference is less of government...

Substantiating ‘Firsts’: Women, Peace, and Security in the Philippines

There will always be some kind of “bragging rights” for those that come as “the first’” -- the first to do this, the first...

Stand up for the Philippine Rise

On April 12, the Area Task Force (ATF) North under the National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) will stage the ceremonial send off...

Post Arbitration: Duterte’s joint development and other policy approaches to the...

Recently, the Philippines under President Rodrigo R. Duterte announced its plan to pursue “co-ownership” or, more accurately the joint exploration, of portions of the...

Considering the role of voice and choice in Charter change

It seems the Philippines has reached another juncture in its slow march towards political development, with the most recent debate on Charter change (including...

Why should we care about ‘midterm’ elections?

In most democracies these days, discussions on electoral politics are surprisingly limited to general elections. Most media analysts and election “experts” really find happiness...

Rethinking the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992

Last year marked the 25th year of the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA). Enacted in 1992, the UDHA brought the hope of realizing...

The Security Reform Agenda for the AFP and PNP in 2018

The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) effort to reform, post-1986, was largely fueled by fear of political adventurism of the military akin to...

Spending the 2018 billion-peso budget for overseas Filipinos

During his second State of the Nation Address last July, President Duterte declared that he had “ordered the increase of our assistance to the...

ASEAN @ 50: Resilient but weak?

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held its 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in the Philippines last 12-14 November 2017. What marked...