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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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...