PH short on strategic and geopolitical thinking

/ 12:16 AM February 16, 2017

In a discussion with 10 Filipino journalists (including one from the Inquirer) in Washington recently, Marvin Ott, a strategic studies expert with the Johns Hopkins University, was quoted to have said: “In Manila I could not find anyone who had any interest in strategic studies or geopolitics.” The statement was said in light of the ongoing tension in the South China Sea.

The statement is a damning indictment of the quality of our leadership, in particular, the absence of a clear vision for the country among our leaders. And we, the Filipino people, are as guilty: We, after all, are the ones who elected them into office.


And the indictment is well understood. We are a people who love to talk, talk and talk, and nothing gets done. Witness the “circuses,” presented as congressional investigations “in aid of legislation,” in the House of Representatives and the Senate; serious thinking and planning, dedicated study and reading, never mind the vociferous kind. Well, these are not in our DNA.

But Ott’s statement will surely raise some eyebrows from a sector in our society. For we do have think tanks in the country, among them, Institute of Strategic and Development Studies (ISDS), Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) of the Foreign Service Institute, and Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ADR-ISIS). But a report on think tanks by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government does not list any from the Philippines. Our think tanks are likely considered to have not yet reached the levels of experience and maturity of the world-renowned ones.


That said, we should then at least listen to the voices of the experienced American experts. No matter what else President Duterte may wish and say, make no mistake about this: South China Sea lies very much in the national interest of the United States.

In an article titled “Code of Conduct with China in disputed sea held unlikely” (Opinion, News, 2/10/17), Murray Hiebert, an expert at Washington’s Institute for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said that “China intended to make the negotiations (for a code of conduct in the South China Sea) drag on, as it had for more than a decade.”

China agreed in 2002 to work for such a code with Asean, but it has, indeed, dragged its feet on the issue. But the Duterte administration continues to pin its hopes on the successful conclusion of such a code. Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay has expressed “optimism that Asean and China would conclude by mid-year a framework for the code…”

Ott has a serious concern. He asks: “I have a very large question in my mind, whether President Duterte understands what the geopolitical interests of PH are in the South China Sea.”

In all this, the good news is that, of late, President Duterte seems to be increasingly inclined to listen to other voices in his Cabinet. The bad news is that no one among his coterie of advisers seems anywhere close to being a qualified strategic security and geopolitics expert.

MARIANO S. JAVIER, [email protected]

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