Live Bullet War Exercises, a Prelude to a Real War? by Erick San Juan, PhD

The fifth annual China-Russia naval drill started last September 12, featuring stalwarts from both navies in action at the waters of Zhanjiang, in Guangdong province, the HQ of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy Nanhai Fleet.

Considering this is the first time that the Joint Sea [Exercise] is happening in the South China Sea, apocalyptic alarms from the usual suspects could not be more predictable — and thoroughly dismissed by the Beijing leadership. (Reuters)

What a coincidence that a US military drill named ‘Variant Shield’, 2,000 miles to the east, the US military around the Pacific gathered for a two weeks drill with 18,000 personnel, 180 aircrafts and USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.

President Rody Duterte said that any possible miscalculation during such naval exercise in the contested area, using live ammunitions at that, might lead to a regional conflict. [Sounds] ominous?

Can we blame President Duterte for thinking such possibility might happen? Actually there are other observers who feel the same and fear the same might just occur if either side will not be careful during the military exercises.

In this context we should continue our military relationship with the US. Our status as an ally of the US did not start last June 30, 2016. With the cooperation of our past leaders with Uncle Sam, various treaties were signed.

Revisiting these treaties by the present administration will correct the lopsided parts where we are being short changed. Such agreements should be ratified by the proper institutions like our Congress and not just the Executive branch.

We welcome the statement of President Duterte of an independent foreign policy but it should be handled with utmost diplomacy without hurting our existing allies. Like any policy, it should be without bias and always for the common good and not only for the favoured few. Pres. Duterte can use this as a leverage. His charting an independent policy will be a good bargaining point with the Americans and with China — a balancing act that should be supported by the people.

In the course of his balancing act, Duterte should listen to the Filipino people who believe in him if he doesn’t want to be called a dictator in the making.

In his article, Duterte’s ‘shock and awe’ diplomacy, La Salle professor Richard Javad Heydarian cited some of his observations on the President’s kind of diplomacy and his attitude towards certain matters — “For those, who have underestimated his ability to reconfigure existing relations with the Southeast Asian country’s most enduring ally, the United States, the past two weeks have been a rude awakening. Rapidly consolidating power over key institutions of the state, and backed up by robust support among various civil society groups, Duterte is in a position to redirect the Philippines’ foreign policy like none of his predecessors.”

“I’m really a rude person. I’m enjoying my last time as a rude person,” Duterte famously promised earlier. “When I become president, when I take my oath of office there will be a metamorphosis.” It was a statement of re-assurance that compelled many to (mistakenly) presume that Duterte’s tough campaign-period rhetoric — including those directed at America — was nothing but a clever gimmick.

When Duterte attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, many expected a subdued and statesmanlike Duterte. Instead, the world witnessed a Hyde and Jekyll diplomatic behavior. Duterte, who accepted the Philippines’ chairmanship of the regional group, gracefully embraced his fellow Asian leaders, who appreciated his pragmatism on the South China Sea disputes while going on the offensive against US President Barack Obama.

After uttering what appeared as expletives against the American president, the much-anticipated Obama-Duterte bilateral meeting was cancelled. Shortly after, amid growing panic over a potential diplomatic meltdown, Manila released a statement of “regret”, while the Obama administration reiterated that US-Philippine relations remain “rock solid.” Duterte clarified that his foul-mouthed remarks weren’t directed at Obama, who reassured his Filipino partners that he didn’t take Duterte’s insulting remarks personally.

Just when everyone thought that the damage control efforts were bearing fruit, Duterte once again went on the offensive. Most recently, he asked American special forces in Mindanao to leave the country. He has also made it clear that he is setting his sights on more robust ties, including military, with eastern powers of Russia and China. Duterte is expected to make a state visit to China, a first by any Filipino leader. In a span of months, Philippine-US relations have gone from special and sacrosanct to uncertain and jittery.

Are we going to end the most enduring bilateral relations [with the US] that we had for years now and start a new bilateral relations with China?

Methinks it’s better to deal with the ‘devil’ we know than a perceived ‘angel’ with the same clothes and interest like the demon. I hope Pres. Duterte will be in the right direction to correct our misfortunes. Just asking.

Updated: 03/19/2018 — 02:30:00