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‘Duterte scoring actual gains for Philippine sovereignty’

Helen Flores - The Philippine Star
âDuterte scoring actual gains for Philippine sovereigntyâ
Lucio Blanco Pitlo, a research fellow at the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, cited the first high-level official visit to Philippine-claimed features, the long-delayed construction projects on the area and a record-high military budget under Duterte’s watch, among his reasons.
AP / Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — While President Duterte appears to be pro-China and “defeatist” based on his public pronouncements on the West Philippine Sea, his administration has actually taken concrete action to protect the country’s sovereignty in disputed waters, an expert said.

Lucio Blanco Pitlo, a research fellow at the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, cited the first high-level official visit to Philippine-claimed features, the long-delayed construction projects on the area and a record-high military budget under Duterte’s watch, among his reasons.

“The President has scored symbolic, actual and enduring gains in his two years in office that surpass those of his predecessors,” Pitlo said in a July 25 commentary titled “Duterte’s Underappreciated Foreign Policy Gains,” which appeared on the website of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Pitlo mentioned the visit of a high-level government delegation led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to the Kalayaan (Spratlys) Islands which, according to him, the other claimants that include Vietnam and China have yet to attempt. In April 2017, Lorenzana and other military and government officials set foot on Pag-asa (Thitu), the country’s largest occupied feature in the West Philippine Sea.

He said the Duterte administration has undertaken major improvements in facilities and structures in Kalayaan, which previous administrations wanted to do but hesitated out of concern on how other claimants would react.

Pitlo added that in May this year, construction works started on lighthouses in Pag-asa, Patag (Flat), Likas (West York) and Kota (Loatia) Islands to improve safety of navigation. Seven new buildings on Pag-asa are also being constructed to improve living conditions.

He also cited the “Second Horizon Modernization Program” (2018-2022) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as among the steps the administration has taken.

“While the President has emphasized dispute management, it is erroneous to say that he is not investing in the country’s external defense,” Pitlo pointed out, citing the Duterte government’s approved defense budget of $5.6 billion in contrast to the previous administration’s more than the $1.7 billion allotment.

Duterte also moved the purchase of some items, including submarines, originally earmarked for the “Third Horizon” (2023-2028) to ensure these will be procured before his term ends.

The President, Pitlo said, approved the acquisition of two squadrons of multi-role fighter aircraft and a frigate and has included in the priority defense articles to be purchased long-range patrol aircraft, drones and offshore patrol vessels.

He also said that true to its policy of being “friends to all and enemies to none,” the government is also diversifying arms suppliers and has been receiving arms donations from China, Russia, the US and South Korea.

Military exercises with the US continue despite Duterte’s anti-US tirades, he added.

“These actions show that assessing Duterte’s foreign policy by focusing on his rhetoric alone can lead to erroneous conclusions. The controversy generated by his remarks often distracts attention from meaningful and concrete measures being taken to reinforce the country’s position in the West Philippine Sea,” Pitlo concluded.

DELFIN LORENZANA RODRIGO DUTERTE SOUTH CHINA SEA SPRATLY ISLANDS WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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