Archive for the ‘President Noynoy Aquino’ Category

“The changing triangular relations between the Philippines, the United States and the People’s Republic China: From Obama, Aquino, and Xi and beyond”


Amado M. Mendoza, Jr. and Richard Javad Heydarian

Part V

What now?

None illustrates the abject poverty of the Philippine government’s current position vis-à-vis China that the just concluded seventh bilateral strategic and economic dialogue between China and the United States last June.  A glaring contrast is offered by a more powerful U.S. talking with China while the  weakest state, the Philippines, spurns talking with a powerful neighbor.   It appears that the smallest power in this triangle has put all its eggs in two baskets: the ITLOS arbitration case and an expanding security relationship with its American ally (as well as Japan).  It remains to be seen how the Benigno Aquino III administration will respond to the latest entreaty from the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines that the former drop its ITLOS case and resume the bilateral dialogue between the two states.

US-China strategic and economic dialogue

Even the bitterest adversaries can and should talk, and the measure of good leadership is to combine deterrence with smart engagement. After all, diplomacy is about avoiding conflict, resolving disputes, and outsmarting adversaries through means than raw brinkmanship.  We can learn from our neighbors.  The Philippines is not the only country which has territorial disputes with China.  If anything, Tokyo and Hanoi have been locked in a similar, if not fiercer, territorial show down with Beijing.  Since 2010, Japan has had to resist the ever-growing deployment of Chinese para-military patrols and jet fighters close to the shores of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Armed hostilities loomed possible.  Hawks in Beijing have utilized the disputes to fan the flames of anti-Japanese sentiment, which led to violent protests in China against Japanese interests and products in 2012.


Pre-modern Vietnam had waged a millennium-old war of anti-colonial resistance against its powerful northern neighbor.  Vietnam’s very national identity has been shaped by what it sees as a struggle for independence against China.  Unlike Japan and the Philippines, Vietnam has had to contend with both continental as well as maritime disputes with China.  In 1974, China effectively evicted (South) Vietnam from the Paracels in the South China Sea and mounted a full-scale invasion of Vietnam in 1979.  In 1988, Vietnam faced another bloody skirmish with China over disputed islands in the Spratlys.  In mid-2014, Vietnam and China relations suffered a huge setback after Beijing deployed a giant oil rig into Vietnamese-claimed waters.

However, both Japan and Vietnam[1] have maintained robust diplomatic channels with China, while rapidly developing their deterrence capabilities.  Both Tokyo and Hanoi have tried (with considerable success) to maintain large-scale economic ties with China, defend their territorial integrity, and avoid outright conflict. They have accomplished this difficult balancing act by combining pro-active engagement with a determined push to enhance their deterrence capabilities.  Leaders in Japan and Vietnam have tried to ensure territorial disputes with China do not define their overall relationship with Asia’s new superpower.   In economic terms, China is a leading trading partner and source of investments for Vietnam . With respect to Japan, China is a critical investment and consumer market as well as a key source of rare earth elements.

Pursuing (and maintaining) engagement with China has always risked domestic political backlash for rivals, especially among more hawkish circles, which view China as a monolithic expansionist power. In 2014, as the dispute with China entered a dangerous stage, Japan’s nationalist leader, Shinzo Abe, took a huge gamble when he instructed his diplomats to open communication channels with China, culminating in a formal dialogue between Abe and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Beijing.  Abe’s meeting with Xi ended up in one of the world’s most awkward handshakes, but it did not take long before Japan and China resumed high-level talks among their foreign and defense ministries, and began exploring various confidence-building measures to avoid accidental clashes in the high seas.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and China's President Xi Jinping, right, shake hands during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People, on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings, in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. President Xi and Prime Minister Abe held an ice-breaking meeting Monday on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific conference in Beijing, following more than two years of deep tensions over an island dispute. (AP Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon, Pool)

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and China’s President Xi Jinping, right, shake hands during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People, on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings, in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. President Xi and Prime Minister Abe held an ice-breaking meeting Monday on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific conference in Beijing, following more than two years of deep tensions over an island dispute. (AP Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon, Pool)

At the height of their disputes in the South China Sea last year, Vietnam hosted China’s leading foreign policy advisor, Yang Jiechi, and dispatched a top official, Le Hong Anh, to Beijing to de-escalate tensions. Soon, the two countries signed their third hotline, between their defense ministries, while the country’s party chief, Nguyen Phu Troung, made a high-profile visit to Beijing in mid-2015.  China not only withdrew the oil rig from Vietnamese waters; it also did not dispatch additional ones.  In exchange, Vietnam is said to have temporarily shelved the option of taking the dispute to an international court.  All the while, Vietnam as well as Japan have augmented their presence close to disputed features, fortified their position on the ground, and have embarked on a long-term initiative to enhance their defensive capabilities.

The Philippines can draw crucial lessons from its neighbors. First and foremost, it has to acknowledge the importance of maintaining high-level communication channels with Beijing. So far, Aquino and Xi are yet to hold a single formal summit.  For what is publicly known, Manila has not established a single hotline with China to prevent accidental clashes in the high seas and make sure they do not escalate into a full-scale conflict.

It is important to make sure Manila’s bilateral relations with China are not primarily defined by their conflicts but rather by their long-term shared interests.  Finally, the Philippines must also draw lessons from poorer neighbors such as Vietnam, which, instead of relying on external powers, are investing in their own air, naval, and coast guard capabilities in order to push back against Chinese assertiveness.

With Xi Jinping expected to visit Manila for the APEC summit later this year, there is a crucial opportunity to kick start a more proactive engagement with Beijing, keeping in mind the importance of diplomacy not only to mobilize friends but also outsmart or neutralize rivals.  Ultimately, however, as the more powerful party Beijing bears the greater responsibility for reaching out to its much-weaker and vulnerable neighbor.  This is apparently what the Chinese ambassador Zhao Jianhua has done recently, with the assurance that the Philippines is not in any way excluded from the Chinese-sponsored Maritime Silk Road (Remo 2015).  To encourage good will, China should offer greater economic incentives without any geopolitical preconditions. For starters, China can also boost confidence-building efforts by permanently postponing the imposition of any Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea.  It could also raise hopes for greater cooperation by ending its unilateral, coercive occupation of the Scarborough Shoal, ending para-military patrols close to Philippine- controlled features in the area, agreeing to a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, and start negotiating mutually-satisfying joint development schemes with its neighbors.  More than anyone else, the ball is in China’s court, but it is also necessary for the Philippines to re-calibrate its diplomatic posturing, driven by more reason than emotions or ideological preferences.


  1. Books, book chapters, and journal articles

Advincula, J. 2015. “China’s Leadership Transition and the Future of US-China Relations: Insights from the Spratly Islands case.” Journal of Chinese Political Science (2015) 20: 51-65.

Anderson, B. 1999.  “From Miracle to Crash”. London Review of Books. 20(8): 3-7.

Bello, W. 2010.  “From American Lake to People’s Pacific in the Twenty-First Century.” in Militarized Currents: Toward a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific, eds. Shihematsu S. & Keith Camacho. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis.

Bello, Walden. 2006. Dilemmas of Domination: The Unmaking of the American Empire. Metropolitan Books: New York.

Blackwill, R. D. and Tellis, A. J. 2015. Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China. New York: Council on Foreign Relations.

Blanchard, J. and Shen, S. 2015. Conflict and Cooperation in Sino-US Relations. London/New York: Routledge.

Chen, R. 2013. “A critical analysis of the U.S. ‘Pivot’ toward the Asia-Pacific: How realistic is neo-realism?” The Quarterly Journal (Summer): 39-66.

Chung, C.P. 2004. “Southeast Asia-China Relations: Dialectics of ‘Hedging’ and ‘Counter-Hedging’.” Southeast Asian Affairs 2004: 35-53.

Dollar, D. 2007. “Asian Century or Multi-polar Century.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 4174.

Dong, W. 2015. “Is China trying to push the U.S. out of East Asia?” China Quarterly of International Strategic Studies 1(1): 59–84.

Feria, D. 1993. The Barbed Wire Journal: Project Sea Hawk. Baguio: Paper Tigers and Circle Publications.

Garver, J. W. 1992. “China’s Push through the South China Sea: The Interaction of Bureaucratic and National Interests”. China Quarterly, No. 132: 999-1028.

Hamilton-Paterson, J. 1998. America’s Boy: The Marcoses and the Philippines. Mandaluyong City: Anvil Publishing.

Heydarian, R. J. 2015. “The Diplomatic Implications of Philippine-China Arbitration”, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies. January 21, 2015.

Kissinger, H. 2012. “The Future of U.S.-Chinese Relations.” Foreign Affairs March/April 2012.

Kissinger, Henry. 2011. On China. New York: Penguin books.

Kohli, H., Sharma, A., and Sood, A. eds. 2011. Asia 2050: Realizing the Asian Century. Singapore: Sage Publications.

Kurlantzick, Joshua. 2007. Charm-offensive: How China’s soft power is transforming the world. New York: Yale University Press.

Li, J. 2014. “Managing tension in the South China Sea: Comparing the China-Philippines and the China-Vietnam approaches.” RSIS Working Paper No. 273. Singapore: Nanyang Technological University.

Mearsheimer, J. 2014. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (Updated edition). New York: Norton.

Mearsheimer, J. 2014a. “Can China Rise Peacefully?” National Interest  25 October 2014. (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Mendoza, A. and Heydarian, R. 2012.  “China-Philippines”, in ASEAN – China Free Trade Area Challenges, Opportunities and the Road Ahead, Keith, F. & Kalyan Kemburi (eds.). Nanyang Technological University: Singapore.

Morada, N. 2006. “Philippine Foreign Relations after September 11 (2001-2005),” in Philippine Politics and Governance: An Introduction. Eds. Morada N., & Teresa Encarnacion Tadem. Quezon City: University of the Philippines.

Morrison, W. 2015. “China-U.S. Trade Issues.” US Congressional Research Service.

Nye, Joseph Jr. 2015. “The future of U.S.-China Relations.” Brazilian Journal of International Relations 4(1): 7-20.

Saha, P. 2015. “The Scarborough Shoal Dispute and the United States-Philippines Relations.” Global Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies 4(6): 237-253.

Saunders, P. 2014. “China’s Rising Power, the U.S. Rebalance to Asia, and Implications for U.S.-China Relations.” Issues & Studies 50(3): 19-55.

Shirk, Susan. 2007. China: Fragile Superpower:  How China’s Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise. New York: Oxford University Press.

Swaine, M. 2015b. “Averting a deepening U.S.-China rift over the South China Sea.” National Interest, 2 June 2015.

Swaine, M., et al. 2015. Conflict and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region: A Strategic Net Assessment. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Yamaguchi, N. 2012. “Facilitating the US Pivot: A Japanese Perspective.” Global Asia 7(4): 42-45.

Zhao, S. 2014. “A new model of big power relations? China-US strategic rivalry and balance of power in the Asia-Pacific.” Journal of Contemporary China 24(93): 377-397.

  1. Periodical articles

Allan, A. 1974. “Red arms smuggling plot busted.” Philippine Daily Express, August 29, 1974, pp. 1-2.

Anon. 2015. “Russia first to approve AIIB.” The BRICS Post, 3 July 2015.

  1. 2015. “US Pacific Fleet chief joins surveillance of South China Sea.”, 19 July 2015.

Bosco, J. 2015. “America’s Asia Policy: The New Reality.”  The Diplomat, 23 June 2015.

Chubb, A. 2015. “The South China Sea: Defining the ‘Status Quo’.” Name of publication, 11 June 2015.

Fonbuena, C. 2014.  “SC orals on EDCA: China threat looms over charter issues.” Rappler, 18 November 2014.

Fonbuena, C. 2015. “Miriam sends anti-EDCA draft resolution to Supreme Court.” Rappler, 30 June 2015.

Jakobson, L. and Medcalf, R. 2015. “The perception gap: Reading China’s maritime objectives in Indo-Pacific Asia.” Lowy Institute for International Policy, 23 June 2015.

Heydarian, R. J. 2015. “The China challenge in the West Philippine Sea.” Rappler, 12 June 2015.

Heydarian, R. J. 2015. “Made in Beijing: An Anti-China Alliance Emerges.” The National Interest, 13 June 2015.

Heydarian, R.J. 2015. “Engaging China: Time for smart diplomacy.”  Rappler, 16 June 2015.

Heydarian, R. J. 2015. “Japan: The Philippines’ New Best Friend?” Publication’s name, 17 June 2015.

Heydarian, R. J. 2015. “Time for China and the Philippines to Talk: Resolving the South China Sea Conundrum.” The World Post, 18 June 2015.

Heydarian, R.J. 2015. “Chinese-Filipino Community’s Dilemma: The Philippines, China, and the China South Sea Disputes.” The World Post, 28 June 2015.

Katigbak, J. 2015. “US to China: Prove your claim.” Philippine Star, 29 June 2015.

Malay, R. 2005. “How NPA guerillas lost China’s support”. Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 29, 2005, p. A1.

Perlez, J. 2015. “Stampede to join China’s development bank stuns even its founder.”  Asia Pacific, 2 April 2015.

Reuters. 2015. “China: Changing position on sea dispute would shame ancestors.” GMA News Online, 27 June 2015.

Torode, G. 2015. “’Paving Paradise’: Scientists alarmed over China island-building in disputed sea.” Jakarta Globe, 26 June 2015.

Uy, V. 2013. “Scarborough Standoff a year later: Don’t take the US side and other tips from a Chinese expert.”, 10 April 2013.

  • Primary sources

Ackermann, M. 2014. “China’s Rise to Power: An Examination of Domestic, Regional and Global Impacts.”  Master’s thesis, Johns Hopkins University.

Colberg, C. M. 2014. “Catching Fish with Two Hands: Vietnam’s Hedging Strategy Towards China.” Master’s thesis, Stanford University.

Cruz, E. S. 2015. “In Defense of the Spratly Islands: The Philippines’ Bilateral Defense Policy against a Looming China”. International Studies Capstone Research Papers. Paper 2. (Accessed 4 July 2015).

Garcia, Z. 2014. “China’s Military Modernization, Japan’s Normalization and its Effects on the South China Sea Territorial Disputes.” FIU Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 1315. (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Hendriks, J. T. 2015. “Rebalancing great power politics: a new cold war between the US and China.” Master’s thesis, Leiden University.

Lum, T. and Dolven, B. 2014. “The Republic of the Philippines and U.S. Interests—2014.”  Congressional Research Service, US Congress.

Mahan, T.J. 2013. “Allies of necessity: U.S.-Philippine strategic relations, 1898-2013.” Honors thesis, Texas State University-San Marcos.

  1. Online sources

Amadeo, K. 2015a. “China’s Economy.” (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Amadeo, K. 2015b. “U.S. Debt to China.” (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Amadeo, K. 2015c. “The U.S. Debt and How It Got So Big.” <> (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Harding, R. 2014. “The Lack of Geostrategic Vision in the Philippines’ China Policy.” (Accessed 5 July 2015).

Remo, A. 2015. “China urges PH: Let’s talk instead.” 23 July 2015 <>. (Accessed 23 July 2015).

Swaine, M. 2015a. “The Real Challenge in the Pacific.” Foreign Affairs May/June 2015. (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Timaraos, N. 2015. “U.S. Annual Budget Deficit Remains Near 7-Year Low in June.” Wall Street Journal 13 July 2015 <> (Accessed 19 July 2015).

U.S. Treasury. 2015. “Major Foreign Holders of Treasury Securities.” (Accessed 19 July 2015).

[1] Li (2014) compares China-Vietnam and China-Philippine relations and concludes that from a conflict management perspective, China and Vietnam have sought to manage their border disputes through the establishment and development of a system of talks.  This approach has resulted in both formal settlement of land border and Gulf of Tonkin disputes and in better management of disputes in the South China Sea.  In contrast, between China and the Philippines, attempts were made to establish mechanisms for conflict management in the 1900s and 2000s but they have not been sustained, and in recent years the absence of such mechanisms have led to frosty relations.

Strong firewall?.

Vice President Jejomar 'Jojo' Binay

Vice President Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay



Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay has a commanding lead and will emerge the winner in Metro Manila if presidential elections were to be held today, a survey conducted by Novo Trends PH showed. From the same survey, President Benigno Aquino III and Senator Grace Poe, if they run, can be considered to be in a position to make a serious winning bid for presidency in the 2016 presidential elections.


VP Binay, in first place, got 29.3 percent voter preference. President Aquino and Senator Poe are statistically tied at second/third place with 13.1 percent voter preference and 11.8 percent voter preference, respectively. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago is all alone at fourth place (7.9%). The 5th-9th places are statistically shared by Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos (5.1%), Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero (4.6%), Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (3.6%), DILG Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas (3.4%), and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano (3.4%). Former Senator Manuel “Manny” Villar is at 10th place with 2.1% voter preference.


The survey was conducted from October 24-25, 2014 among 1,600 respondents in the National Capital Region (NCR). It has a ± 3 percent margin of error. Other factors included in the survey are specific standing at the city level, and voter preference in relation to wealth status and educational level.


The Novo Trends PH, Inc., is a newcomer in the social research scene in the Philippines. Its president, Carmelita N. Ericta, former head of the National Statistics Office (NSO) said, “Novo Trends PH specializes in the collection and analysis of social, political, economic, and business data. This particular survey represents a test activity for the company and represents our contribution to a more solid appreciation by the public and the stakeholders of the 2016 presidential elections.”




Ms. Ericta disclosed that Novo Trends PH is composed of highly-regarded experts and professionals who are well-versed in this line of work. She herself, before her recent retirement, was the Civil Registrar General of the Philippines and Chairperson of the Committee on Statistics of the UN Economic and Social Commission (UN-ESCAP). She is joined in Novo Trends PH by Dr. Amado Mendoza, Jr., eminent professor in the UP Political Science Department, and Mr. Ramon Casiple, well-known political analyst.


Novo Trends PH has a pool of experts that can be mobilized to provide consultancy services on its various areas of concern. Right now, it is undertaking commissioned and non-commissioned political surveys and consultancies in relation to the 2016 Philippine national and local elections. However, Ms. Ericta said that the company “will also undertake political risk, economic, and business analyses, issue general and specific situationers, maintain a databank and library, in cooperation with select domestic and international institutions, and provide consultancy services on political, economic, social, and business concerns.”


Ms. Ericta further said that, “Novo Trends PH will focus on the Philippines but will also cover ASEAN, particularly with the impending ASEAN integration, and will cover international trends as they affect Asian and Philippine developments.”



References/Resource Persons:


Prof. Amado M. Mendoza, Jr., Ph.D.                           Mobile: 0920 9477690

Ramon C. Casiple                                                                 Mobile: 0916 3690182




Supreme Court on DAP (photo from Philstar)

Supreme Court on DAP (photo from Philstar)


In a near-unanimous decision, the Supreme Court declared yesterday certain acts under the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional.


The court resolution states that DAP acts violate Section 25(5), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers of the executive and legislative branches.  Under the Constitution, while the executive proposes an annual budget, no public monies can be allocated and spent unless covered by a general appropriations act enacted by Congress and passed into law by the President.


The high court declared the following acts and practices under the DAP as unconstitutional:

  • the withdrawal of the unobligated allotments from implementing agencies and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of savings contained in the General Appropriations Act;
  • the cross border transfers of the savings of the executive to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the executive; and
  • the funding of projects, activities, and programs that were not covered by any appropriation in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).

The DAP is considered by many as the “president’s pork barrel”.  Earlier, the Supreme Court also ruled that congressional pork barrel, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional.


Senator Jinggoy Estrada aka Sexy (photo from Philstar)

Senator Jinggoy Estrada aka Sexy (photo from Philstar)

The DAP earlier hit the headlines when Senator Jinggoy Estrada bared that several senators received some P50 million to P100 million supposedly in exchange for voting to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Estrada had questioned the “persecution” he has received for allegedly diverting his pork barrel, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), to bogus nongovernment organizations.


The President and his fighting slogan

The President and his fighting slogan

The Palace as well as House speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. sought to pooh-pooh the SC decision on the DAP by saying the President Aquino has since stopped the program.



photo from

Later, he declared that President Aquino could not be impeached over the DAP because he acted in “good faith”.

 Haven’t the good speaker heard that many roads to hell since time immemorial–from Caligula to Hitler to Ferdinand Marcoswere paved with good intentions?


House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. (photo from Inquirer)

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. (photo from Inquirer)

Good faith, good intentions are never a valid defense against harmful deeds, against unconstitutional acts.

Such reasoning will not wash; if a series of unconstitutional acts were committed in the past, stopping does not cure them of their unconstitutional nature.

Qua unconstitutional acts, they constitute impeachable acts as culpable violations of the Constitution.

 Impeaching the President will first have to be done in the House of Representatives which should approve by a minimum 1/3 vote the articles of impeachment so they could be transmitted to the Senate.

Since a ruling coalition headed by the President’s Liberal Party controls the House, it remains to be seen if the House will impeach the president.

The onus is on House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., currently vice chairman of the ruling Liberal Party.  Belmonte is a proven political butterfly having been a long-time member of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD under then President Fidel Ramos in1992 up to 2009 under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo where he last held the position of senior vice president for external affairs.

Can Belmonte afford not to do anything as the DAP has already been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?

Would he want to be seen as somebody condoning the wrong-doings of the President?  Wouldn’t his instincts tell him to save himself first instead of going down with the President?

The President faces a broad coalition of political enemies who would be interested in impeaching him.  This coalition includes Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the Estradas, the Revillas, and the camp of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  As it is, the Sandiganbayan simultaneously suspended Arroyo as representative of Pampanga.  Rumor is likewise rife that Erap Estrada will be unseated as mayor of Manila due to residence issues.

At the sub-national level, it includes the Jalosjos political clan of  Zamboanga which was practically shut out in the 2013 elections.

Vice President Jojo Binay need not do anything overt. If the president is impeached, he will succeed Aquino as president.

If ever, this will be the second time that a sitting president will be impeached.

 As always, I think we will make history.

Unfortunately, not in a teapot.

It appeared that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV worked famously well with each other especially during the impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona earlier this year.    In the afternoon of September 19, however, they turn their big guns on each other.

Enrile-Trillanes face-off at the Senate

Prior to this exchange, the grapevine was rife with talk of a coup against Enrile’s leadership in the Senate.  The complaint against Enrile?  Tightfistedness over budget releases.

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her son, Dato, who are both members of the House of Representatives

Trillanes fired the first shot accusing Enrile of railroading a bill that will create a new province–Nueva Camarines–to favor Rep. Dato Arroyo, a son of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  Trillanes accused Enrile of being GMA’s lackey.  Enrile was accused of being eager to serve GMA’s preferences and at the same sitting of bills he did not favor such as the controversial Reproductive Health bill.  Trillanes capped his speech by saying that he lost confidence in Enrile’s leadership and that he was leaving the Senate majority.

In a skillful re-framing (this point I owe to my younger colleague at the UP Department of Political Science, Jalton Taguibao) of the debate, Enrile cast doubts on the “quiet, secret and clandestine” meetings Trillanes had with Chinese officials regarding the country’s territorial disputes with China.

Parrying Trillanes’ answer that he was authorized by President Noynoy to act as back-channel negotiator, Enrile insisted that Trillanes should have sought his permission as Senate chief to leave the country and should have submitted proper reports to the Senate.

Ambassador Sonia Brady

Further on, Enrile insinuated that a study of the notes made by former Ambassador Sonia Brady, who met with Trillanes on August 17, would show that the senator was “protecting” the Chinese.  This is obviously convenient wording as Enrile could not yet brand Trillanes a traitor.  That will happen days after when both senators continued their word war.

The attack continued.  Enrile fired from another weapon and asked Trillanes: are you against me now because I disapproved your budget request for your oversight committee?  The latter can only say that was not the case.

So the possible reason came from Enrile himself.  The question: why did Enrile disapprove Trillanes’ budget request?

When Enrile started to read further from the Brady notes, Trillanes countered that the reading was irrelevant to the original matter of creating the new province of Nueva Camarines and walked out.  The ever-ready Enrile quipped: “He’s a coward; he cannot take the heat.”

It is desirable that domestic differences be transcended in relation to the conduct of a country’s foreign policy.  However, professors of international relations know that there is no great wall between domestic and international politics.

I am offering this reconstruction of the events based solely on open sources.  A reconstruction is a reading, my reading of what happened.  I could be right, I could be wrong.  It is up to the reader to judge the plausibility of this reconstruction.

Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa Jr.

Trillanes was tasked by President Noynoy Aquino through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa to do some back-channeling with the China with respect to the Scarborough Shoal issue.  With respect to the Enrile-Trillanes dispute, it does not matter if President Aquino asked Trillanes first or if Trillanes volunteered himself.  At the end of the day, the ultimate responsibility is with President Aquino.  I do no think Trillanes went to China on his own.

President Noynoy Aquino

What is the domestic political angle here?  Trillanes is due for re-election in the May 2013.  Some pogi (brownie) points will not hurt his re-election bid.  If he can claim some success in resolving the dispute with China, then his political stock gets boosted.  Why would President Noynoy entrust Trillanes, who is obviously an amateur on foreign policy notwithstanding his claimed contacts in China, with such task?  Given the small number of senators, a senator is a member of almost all standing committees of the Senate.  Logically, a senator cannot be an expert of the subject matter of all these committees.  He may be considered an expert on the matters covered by the committee(s) he chairs.  Trillanes chairs three committees–civil service and government reorganization, amateur sports competitiveness, and the oversight committee on government procurement.  He is a member of the foreign relations and national defense and security committees.

The reason for the assignment?  Simple.  Trillanes is slated to join the administration’s senatorial slate for May 2013.

Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alberto del Rosario

Trillanes’ appointment as back-channel negotiator to China apparently irked Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario especially since the former reportedly bad-mouthed him in Trillanes’ talk with our ambassador to China Sonia Brady.  He complains about Trillanes’ role in a Philippine Daily Inquirer headline article published on September 19, 2012.  In the same article, Trillanes typically hit back (remember his dressing down of Secretary Angelo Reyes during a Senate hearing on corruption within the military) saying if del Rosario did his work right, there would not be a need for a back-door negotiator.

Secretary Angelo Reyes in a Senate hearing on corruption
within the Philippine military

Ambassador Brady took notes of her conversation with Trillanes notwithstanding the latter’s instruction against taking notes.  The soon-to-be called Brady notes will find their way to Enrile.  No need to ‘agonize’ about the “how” here since del Rosario is Brady’s boss.

Enrile is not the old wily fox for nothing; he has absolutely so much experience to get caught with his pants down.  So when Trillanes fires his Nueva Camarines broadside, Enrile refused to be pinned down defensively.  He counter attacked using the Brady notes; he even called Trillanes a fifth-columnist, an elegant euphemism for traitor.  Even if the China issue was irrelevant, Enrile not only parried Trillanes’ thrust.  The younger senator was now put on the defensive.

Juan ‘Jackie’ Enrile Jr.

One last point.  Enrile is not running for re-election in 2013 and will retire from politics next year.  However, his son, Juan ‘Jackie’ Enrile, Jr. is aspiring to be senator in May 2013.  Since Enrile pere is one of the three leaders (with Vice President Jejomar Binay and former President Joseph Estrada) of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), Enrile fils will join the UNA slate.  Under the country’s electoral system, only the 12 candidates receiving the highest number of votes will be declared as senators.  Under this system, all candidates are competing with each other.  If Trillanes joins the administration slate, he will be competing not only with UNA candidates but with administration slate-mates.  The same is true with Jackie Enrile.

One can say that the Trillanes-Enrile pere tussle is the opening salvo of the 2013 senatorial election campaign.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

(Author’s note:  Before she was appointed to the Supreme Court as associate justice by President Noynoy Aquino, Maria Lourdes ‘Meilu’ Sereno and her family were my neighbors at the Hardin ng Rosas, a walk-up condominium housing facility provided by the University of the Philippines Diliman for its faculty and staff.  The Sereno family is no longer living there.  This information is disclosed for whatever it is worth.)

In his column published in today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the doyen of Philippine political commentators, Amando Doronila raised some important questions with respect to newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

The first concerns the capacity of Sereno to maintain the independence of the Court from the Executive branch, or more particularly, the Presidential Palace.  Sereno was President Noynoy Aquino’s first appointment to the Supreme Court.  His appointment of Sereno to the CJ post allows him to add another appointee to the Court.

Smiling together; but independent of each other?

The independence of the three branches of government from each other is a fundamental constitutional principle to guard against abuse of power.

How does one interpret a court ruling aligned with the Palace’s preferences?  Is it a prima facie case of the court’s lack of

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

independence from the executive?  Must legislatures also have no clear majorities siding with government to be deemed independent?  Did those who are currently raising fears of Sereno’s possible subservience raise any objection when former Gloria Macapagal Arroyo packed the Court with her appointees, including a midnight appointment for impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona?

Independence has a plus side; it also has a down side.  The non-confirmation of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo is one example.  The bi-chamber Commission on Appointments was designed to vet presidential appointments.  As it turned out, it proved to be a case of political accommodation in Robredo’s case.

If one abstracts from concrete examples, independence of governmental branches may prevent abuse of power especially by the executive.  However, this same independence can lead to governmental gridlock, to the lack of unity and perpetual wrangling, and consequently the lack of governmental action.  Citizens are the ultimate losers due to gridlock.

Party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano

Doronila echoes the fears of Anakpawis Rep. Paeng Mariano on Sereno’s ‘fairness’ regarding the valuation of compensation to the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita.  In a unanimous decision on 24 April 2012, the Supreme Court ruled the Cojuangcos (relatives of President Noynoy Aquino on his mother’s side) must distribute land to the estate farmers instead of retaining the stock distribution scheme.  The Court also decided to compensate the Cojuangcos based on the November 1989 valuation (P40,000 per hectare) instead of the  asked-for 2006 valuation (P2.45 million).  Sereno wrote a dissenting opinion favoring the 2006 valuation.

The Cojuangcos appealed the Supreme Court and the case will be heard by a Court presided over by CJ Sereno.  Does it immediately mean that the Court will decide in favor of the Cojuangcos?  It is my opinion that it may not be necessarily be the case.  Note that Sereno was ‘deep-selected’ by ignoring the seniority rule.  This means that more than a lot of feathers were ruffled not only by Sereno but by President Noynoy himself.   Yesterday, I started reading ‘news’ about Sereno’s low psychiatric scores and her apparent ‘lack of moral competence’.  Deja vu!  Noynoy Aquino was also maligned about his alleged ‘Abnoyism’ during the 2010 electoral campaign.


The Court ruling for a lower Luisita compensation was issued in April 24 while the impeachment proceedings against CJ Corona were on-going.  Throughout the impeachment process, the Court was in solidarity with its Chief Justice.  I don’t expect them to reverse the April 24 ruling because Sereno is now chief justice.

Impeached CJ Renato Corona

Sereno has yet to demonstrate she can convince her colleagues to agree with her.  She disagreed when they decided to give another presidential relative, Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco a 20 % block of the shares of the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) worth P58 billion.  Her dissenting opinions may be brilliant or well-written but they are positions of minorities or a single justice.

In this sense, ensuring reasonable independence from the Palace is not among  Sereno’s immediate concerns.  Maybe a more urgent task is to patiently repair the cracks within the Court–something she earlier said does not exist.