Last October 20 to 21, 2016, representatives from the government, civil society and the academe attended the 2nd Katipunan Conference entitled, “Philippine Strategic Environment: New Direction, New Challenges” held at the UP-Law Center. The Katipunan Conference is one of the main components of the China and Strategic Studies Program of the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP CIDS) and is co-sponsored by the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea (UP IMLOS). It aims to discuss the key geopolitical, economic and socio-cultural issues confronting Philippine-China relations and its impact on a national, regional and international level.
Opening the said conference was Professor Jose Wendell Capili, Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs of the UP System. Professor Capili highlighted the importance of the China and Strategic Studies Program which is to examine the current trends in the security landscape of Southeast Asia to predict its future trajectories.
Professor Tina S. Clemente, the project head of the China and Strategic Studies program, provided the rationale, a short history and an overview of its components. She emphasized the efforts of the China and Strategic Studies team to institutionalize and develop the said program these past two years. The program has 3 objectives namely: (1) To maintain a multidisciplinary and multisectoral approach to practical studies of international relations, (2) To develop dialogue and sustain linkages with Chinese academics to come up with principled solutions to conflict resolution and (3) To create a network of government, private and civil society individuals interested and committed to the field of strategic studies and development.
Professor Jay L. Batongbacal, director of UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea, along with Dr. Aaron Jed Rabena, a fellow at the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and Associate Professor Chester Chester B. Cabalza from the National Defense College of the Philippines opened the panel discussions of the first day with a geopolitical scan at a global, regional and local level. Following up on his discussion at the previous Katipunan Conference, professor Jay elaborated on the several recent geopolitical trends and their implications for the country. Such trends include the emergence of three competing economic blocs (USA, China and Russia-led blocs), a rise in anti-globalization sentiments (Trump phenomena, Brexit) and most notably, the “seemingly 180 degree turn of Philippine foreign policy” or the “Philippine pivot to China”. In his discussion, Dr. Rabena argued that the regional competition between the United States and China can be analyzed through their influence on international institutions, wherein we can see most clearly the interplay between politics and economics. In concluding the first panel discussion, professor Cabalza commented that the Philippines is at the crossroads of this geopolitical rivalry between the two superpowers and proposed the probable implications of a Philippine pivot to China.
The second panel zeroed in on the economic issues confronting Philippines-China relations. Philippine Science High School teacher Charles De Guzman’s presentation on the controversial Joint Maritime Seismic Undertaking project between the two aforementioned countries during Arroyo’s term should serve as a warning for the current Duterte administration to uphold transparency and accountability with Chinese Official Development Assistance (ODA)s. Dr. Michael Fabinyi of the University of Technology Sydney discussed the environmental and economic implications of the maritime disputes on Philippines-China trade. Dr. Tina Clemente from the UP Asian Center concluded the panel presentation with an extensive discussion on current challenges in our trade and investment portfolio with China, noting the large gap between the Arroyo and Aquino administrations. The open forum that followed raised a lot of questions regarding the readiness of our institutions for the recent outflow of Chinese ODAs as a result of Duterte’s state visit to China and the rationality behind China’s foreign policy to developing states.
The last panel for the first day explored the critical security and development issues posed by the disputes. Lucio Pitlo, a lecturer at the Ateneo De Manila University, highlighted the growing political competition between the United States and China does not bode well for ASEAN and the Philippines. Dr. Roli Talampas of UP Asian Center discussed a relatively unexamined component of our regional strategic environment, the quality of our coastal and port development. His research concludes that China’s aggressive behavior and Southeast Asian countries’ poor coastal and port governance are complementary to the overall deterioration of the marine environment.
The second day highlighted particular policy considerations that are reflective of the changing security environment in the region. Dr. Banlaoi of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research opened the discussion with the possible policy options of the Duterte administration with China and the United States. Gabriel Hondrada of the Office of Naval Strategic Studies and Charithie Joaquin of the National Defense College of the Philippines explored two divergent implications of an emerging Chinese military: (1) an accelerated arms race among Southeast Asian countries, the former and (2) potentially stronger institutional ties within the military through international military educational exchange opportunities, the latter.
The last panel provided a necessary discussion on the role of think tanks in the strategic environment led by Professor Jay Batongbacal (UP IMLOS), Professor Aileen Baviera (Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation Inc.) and Kaye Clemente (Asian Development Research Institute).
The culmination of the 2nd Katipunan Conference resulted in a renewed call for stronger linkages and partnerships among local and global think tanks in the field of strategic studies to mitigate the fast changing security needs and demands of the country and the region as a whole.