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It is unfortunate that President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent state visits to Brunei and China have been overshadowed by media speculations on his supposed “separation” from the United States and what many call, the “pivot to China”.
Overshadowed by this controversy is the tremendous success of the trips to both Brunei and China. I am honored to have had the opportunity to join him in these historic visits.
In Brunei, the Philippine delegation led by the President, secured the commitment of our ASEAN neighbor in ensuring genuine and sustainable peace in Mindanao.
As President Duterte himself announced, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei expressed his country’s commitment to help “develop Mindanao halal industry, especially in certification and in capacity-building”.
The Brunei trip also allowed both countries to improve trade and investment with the framework of increasing the role of the BIMP-EAGA in the region.
BIMP-EAGA or the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area initiative was launched in 1994 under the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos and was designed as a platform for cooperation for the four nations to accelerate economic development.
Having also visited Indonesia, President Duterte has astutely recognized the potential of the region which, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), “covers a land area of 1.6 million square kilometers with an estimated population of 70 million.”
The President was also able to secure commitments “to address connectivity issues through increased air and sea linkages to facilitate trade and commerce.” This is very crucial I believe in ensuring the free and efficient flow of goods and communications not just between the two countries but in the entire region as well.
The issue of maritime and defense was also discussed particularly on the problems of illegal drugs trade, piracy and trafficking.
It would be a supreme understatement, therefore, to say that the trip was productive for the Philippines.
In China, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced that the Philippine government “signed 13 agreements, mostly economic in nature, and these agreements provide the framework to which we carry out intensified cooperation between the Philippines and China.”
The China trip translated to about “$24 billion worth of loans and business deals” and is “expected to generate two million jobs for Filipinos in the next five years”.
The most significant output of the visit is the normalization of ties between the two countries which have been strained in the past because of territorial disputes. This, I believe, is a most welcome development.
The joint statement issued by the Philippines and China bodes well for peace in the region:
“(The Philippines and China) commit to enhance cooperation between their respective Coast Guards, to address maritime emergency incidents, as well as humanitarian and environmental concerns in the South China Sea, such as safety of lives and property at sea and the protection and preservation of the marine environment, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law including the 1982 UNCLOS.”
I do not think that there is any basis to fear the increasing political and diplomatic rapprochement between the Philippines and China. Aside from our long historic ties with China, the fact that many Filipinos are working in Chinese territories and that the Filipino Chinese community is one of the largest and most vibrant communities in our country, there are enough reasons to support this diplomatic direction that our government is traversing.
On top of this, the renewed friendship between the two countries can potentially diffuse the tension in the South China Sea and offer some prospects for peaceful coexistence in the disputed areas.
Given all these, why should we be afraid of China? President Duterte has time and again insisted that he is merely following the Constitutional provision calling for “an independent foreign policy.”
He has also clarified that he did not announce a severance of diplomatic ties with our longtime ally, the United States. He was merely expressing his desire to rethink our foreign policy in which the interest of the Filipinos will be fully served. He was, in fact quoted by CNN as saying that “it is in the best interest of my country that we maintain that relationship…because there are many Filipinos in the United States”.
Given all these, I think we should applaud the success of the recent trips of the President for increasing cooperation with our neighbors and in ensuring that the interest of the Filipinos is at the core of our foreign policy.
(For comments /feedback email to: mbv.secretriat@gmail or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph.) (Senator Manny Villar)