Addressing the Root Cause of Terrorism: Beyond Duterte’s Proposed New Anti-Terrorism Law

by Lucio Blanco Pitlo II*

24 June 2020

While mayor of Davao, Rodrigo Duterte tolerated the presence of rebel groups so long as they will not bear arms and carry out attacks in his city. It was an uneasy arrangement that was generally observed. Since becoming President of the Philippines, the self-confessed socialist even appointed some leftist leaders in his cabinet. But this romance with the reds now seem to unravel as pressure mounts on the country’s remaining insurgent and terror groups. A controversial anti-terror bill recently passed by both legislative chambers is now up to his signature. Whether it will be the nail in the coffin or a boon to recruitment for local non-state armed groups depends on how it will be enforced and whether it will be complemented by non-military measures.

Domestic security challenges long kept the Philippines from shifting towards territorial and maritime defense. The country is home to Asia’s longest communist insurgency by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), a three-decade old reign of terror by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and offshoots from two main Moro rebel groups that since made peace with the government in return for autonomy.

Aside from tying down its military to internal security, conflict frustrated economic opportunities in the countryside, discourage investors and put communities in the crossfire. According to the Global Terrorism Database, over 60 percent of deaths from terrorism in Southeast Asia in 2017 alone occurred in the Philippines.   

Insurgent and terror groups engaged in recruiting child soldiers, targeting civilians, extortion, disrupting public works, destroying telecommunication towers and burning farm equipment and provincial buses not paying “revolutionary taxes.” The CPP-NPA’s internal purges also killed hundreds of former members in “killing fields” unearthed in different parts of the country. The ASG has become notorious for its kidnap-for-ransom, beheadings, and daring cross-border raids. In fact, the transboundary danger posed by this extremist group and its regional linkages, along with piracy, led neighbors Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia to conduct trilateral air and naval patrols.

Most communist movements in Southeast Asia predated World War II and reach their zenith during the Cold War. But they eventually splintered, surrendered, dismantled or withered by the 1990s. Not the CPP-NPA, which persisted, although its numbers and areas of operation greatly diminished. With domestic stability, many of the country’s neighbors were able to focus on economic development. To a much lesser extent, Jakarta continue to fight a localized insurgency in west Papua and Bangkok still deal with occasional disturbances in its far south. But the Philippines joins Myanmar in a continuing struggle against geographically spread armed groups, although Naypyidaw is besieged by more rebel outfits than Manila. And while terrorism has become a regional concern, nowhere is the threat more felt than the Philippines. The five- month battle to retake Marawi from the clutches of these radicals in 2017 showcase this.  

The troop strength of homegrown insurgent and terror groups pale in comparison to their heydays in the 1980s and early 1990s. Nevertheless, their continued presence check development in rural areas and divert military resources away from external defense. At their present form, neither the CPP-NPA nor the ASG constitute an existential threat to the country. But Duterte seems not inclined to give them another 50-year and 30 year leases in life respectively.

The anti-terror bill provides the state greater authority to defeat these enduring domestic security challenges. It expanded the range of punishable acts to include preparatory and mobilization activities for the commission of terrorism. Planning, recruitment, training, financing, facilitating, conspiring, providing material support, inciting and proposing to commit terror were now covered. The bill allows for surveillance, extends the period of detention without warrant, restrain travel, and examine and freeze financial assets of suspects. The proposed measure also has an extra-territorial clause that can apply to Filipinos or foreign nationals preparing for a terrorist attack against the country or a Philippine vessel or aircraft. 

The bill created an executive-led inter-agency Anti-Terrorism Council that can designate individuals and organizations as terrorists. It can also direct and supervise the swift investigation and prosecution of terrorism cases and raise rewards for persons that can share vital information leading to the capture of terrorists. The Council can also cooperate with other countries in the global fight against terror.

The timing of the bill, however, was seen as misplaced priority given the prevailing pandemic and its serious economic impact. Critics also expressed concerns about relaxing legal restrictions for police and security agencies that may create openings for abuses. Government was quick to point out the safeguards present in the proposed law to allay these concerns. These include the need to secure a court order prior to engaging in surveillance, inadmissibility as evidence of any information obtained in violation of the bill, and the opportunity given to persons or organizations about to be proscribed as terrorists to be heard before a court. The bill also prohibited the use of torture or coercion during interrogations.

The bill may help address perennial concerns of security allies about the country’s inadequate legal framework to deal with the evolving landscape of terrorism. Both the CPP-NPA and ASG were designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the United States. Australia listed the ASG as a terror group and the European Union did the same for the CPP-NPA. The United Nations Security Council designated the ASG and its close affiliate, the Rajah Soliman Movement, as terrorist organizations. 

But while the bill can strengthen the Philippine posture in confronting terrorism, addressing the root causes of terrorism will require measures that go beyond its text.

The provision for preventing and countering violent extremism program is a good start, but much of its details remain to be spelled out. Finally, over reliance on draconian measures and limiting space to express legitimate grievances may inadvertently drive people to the fold of the very groups the bill is out to defeat.

*Lucio Blanco Pitlo III is a research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, fellow at the University of the Philippines Korea Research Centre, lecturer at the Chinese Studies Programme at Ateneo de Manila University, and contributing editor (Reviews) for the Asian Politics & Policy Journal.

Original version of this piece appeared in South China Morning Post.

Photo Credit: Fighters of the New People’s Army by EPA as used in South China Morning Post.

Terrorism During COVID-19 Pandemic: A Collection of Analyses and Commentaries

To provide ready materials and references on terrorism and COVID-19 pandemic, we collect and share the following analyses and commentaries for appreciation of our readers. We will update this post from time to time to provide our readers timely and useful sources of analyses and commentaries on the topic. Photo Credit: Google Images

by PIPVTR Research Staff

How to Prepare for the Coronavirus’s Impact on Terrorism

The threat of bioterrorism: Insights and lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic

Has COVID-19 Increased the Risk of Bioterrorism?

ISIS thrives in Covid-19 shadows in Philippines

‘Islamic State’ exploiting coronavirus and conflict to rise again

COVID-19 Breeds Terrorism

Jihad in the shadow of the coronavirus

How will the coronavirus impact the threat of terrorism?

COVID-19 An Opportunity for Terrorists or a Threat to Their Existence

COVID-19 and Terrorism: Assessing the Short and Long-Term Impacts of Terrorism

After Coronavirus, Don’t Repeat 9/11’s Mistake

ISIS Terrorist Attacks Continue During the COVID-19 Pandemic

How COVID-19 Is Reshaping Terror Threats in Indonesia

Terrorist Threat Arise Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Terrorism in the Era of COVID-19

Terror in a Pandemic

COVID-19 and Terrorism

COVID-19: A Game Changer for Terrorist Groups

COVID-19 and American Counter Terrorism Response

COVID-19 and Crime-Terror Nexus in the Cyber Domain

COVID-19 and ISIS in Indonesia

How Europe’s Terrorists Take Advantage of the Pandemic

Terrorism During a Pandemic: Assessing the Threat and Balancing the Hype

Coronavirus is the New Terrorism

Coronavirus and the Threat of Biological Terrorism

Why is Coronavirus a New Biological Weapon of Terrorism?

Radicalization and Violent Extremism in the Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic

List of Analysis here.

The VFA and Philippine-American Alliance Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

Rommel C. Banlaoi, PhD*

21 June 2020

When the Philippine government suspended the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), US Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed his utmost gratefulness to President Rodrigo R. Duterte.  Esper gave his statement during his telephone conversation with his counterpart, Philippine National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, on 12 June 2020. 

An Independent Philippine Foreign Policy

The conversation between the two defense officials was very momentous as it occurred during the commemoration of the 122 years of Philippine independence from Spain.  The timing of the telephone conversation between two defense leaders has delivered a strong message that the US, as an erstwhile colonial master, should respect the Philippine independence and that the Philippines, as a former US colony, deeply cherishes its hard-fought independence from colonial powers.  The termination, and eventual suspension of the termination, of the VFA also conveys a strong message to the US that the Philippines can pursue an independent foreign policy.

The suspension of the VFA termination, on the other hand, is very timely as both countries celebrate the Filipino-American Friendship Day on 4 July 2020.  This indicates that the Philippine government continues to value its security alliance with the US amidst Manila’s simultaneous effort to promote “comprehensive strategic cooperation” with China.

In Light of Political Developments in the Region

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin announced the suspension of the VFA termination based on a diplomatic note submitted to the US Embassy on 1 June 2020.     The Diplomatic Note, with reference number 2020-2622, states:

  • “In light of political and other developments in the region, the termination of the Agreement between the (Philippine and United States governments) regarding the treatment of United States Forces Visiting the Philippines contained in Note No. 20-0463 dated 11 February 2020 is hereby suspended.
  • “The suspension shall start on even date and shall continue for six months which period is extendible by the Philippines for another six months, after which the tolling of the initial period in Note Verbale No. 20-0463 dated 11 February 2020 shall resume.”

What compels the Philippine government to suspend the VFA termination? 

As the Diplomatic Note aptly states, it has something to do with “political and other developments in the region”.  This “political and other developments in the region” may refer to the geopolitical consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic arising from increased US-China tensions in the South China Sea (SCS).

Increased US-China Rivalry in the Time of the Pandemic

The global impacts of the COVID-19 should have encouraged US and China to cooperate in order to overcome the pandemic. 

However, the pandemic has put the two major powers in a blame game situation that accuses each other of mishandling the pandemic and even finger pointing at each other for spreading the coronavirus fear mongering.   Rather than jointly solving the problem for the benefit of the whole world, the pandemic sadly caused the US and China to engage unnecessarily in a bitter and even counter-productive smear campaign against each other’s reputation as global leaders.   

Thus, the pandemic is seemingly creating a global divide for states to be either pro-China or pro-US in addressing the current global crisis.  This perceived divide is creating the nasty illusion of emerging cold war between the US and China because of the worsening major power rivalry between them.

US-China Military Competition in the SCS

Increased US-China rivalry during the pandemic is clearly manifested in the SCS where the Philippines find itself in between two competing powers.  Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic wrecking havoc to the whole world, US-China competition in the SCS has recently intensified as both powers expand their sphere of military influence in a highly strategic maritime domain being viewed as one of the major flashpoints of armed conflicts in Asia. 

Thus, the US is pleased with the suspension of the VFA termination as it can give the Pentagon renewed access to Philippine territories to resume its military activities that aim to promote President Donald Trump’s security strategy towards the Indo-Pacific.  

The VFA termination being suspended for six months, with the possibility of being extended for another six months, can allow the US to implement its more than 100 planned military activities in the Philippines for 2020.  These military activities are in the form of joint military exercises and capacity-building trainings in the following key areas:  Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR), Counterterrorism Cooperation (CTC), and Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).


In this time of the pandemic where terrorist threats persist in the Philippines, HADR and CTC can offer the US and the Philippines mutual benefits to confront their common security concerns.  

Effective HADR activities during the 2013 Typhon Haiyan in the Philippines gave the US a very strong track record of being a reliable Philippine ally.  HADR activities to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines can provide the US another golden opportunities to prove its worth as a strong ally of the Filipino people.

Successful CTC activities during the 2017 Marawi Siege also gave the US another exemplary practice of being an effective security ally of the Philippines.    Through the Pentagon’s Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines (OEF-P), the US provided the Philippines counterterrorism assistance and advice that became essential for the October 2017 liberation of Marawi against terrorist groups in the Philippines aligned with the Islamic State (IS).  With the suspension of the VFA termination amidst the continuing threats from pro-IS groups operating largely in the Southern Philippines during the pandemic, the US can implement its planned CTC activities with the Philippines in 2020.    The Philippine government needs these CTC activities as it pushes for its new anti-terrorism law.

Maritime Domain Awareness

The MDA is the most controversial and the most sensitive aspect of US military activities in the Philippines as it is associated with the SCS disputes.    

Though the MDA has counterterrorism objectives, it allows American military access to Philippine waters to build the capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to promote maritime security in two major problematic maritime domains: the Sulu Sea and the West Philippine Sea (WPS).  The MDA can also cover the waters within the Philippine Benham Rise.

The Philippines and the US have greater security interests to implement MDA activities in the WPS because of China’s growing presence in the area, particularly in geographic features where China conducted massive land reclamation activities.  During the pandemic, claimants have not stopped their usual military and paramilitary activities in the SCS.  Vietnam, China, and Malaysia have even intensified their unilateral patrols in the SCS. 

The Philippines also continued its routine patrols and rotation missions in the WPS, particularly in Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island where it recently inaugurated the construction of a docking port.  Amidst the pandemic, the Philippines announced its long-delayed plan to start the rehabilitation of the runway in Pag-Asa Island. 

The Philippines even facilitated the entry of American ships passing through the WPS in order to conduct freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the SCS.  With the suspension of VFA termination, the US can implement its planned MDA activities with the Philippines, particularly in WPS, where the US can cover in its FONOPs in remaining months of 2020.

Philippine-US Security Alliance: Business As Usual?

In other words, suspending the VFA termination has brought Philippine-American security alliance in business as usual.  Despite some dramas created by the notification of VFA termination on 11 February 2020, its recent suspension has allowed the Philippines and the US to kiss and make-up to sustain their security alliance. 

However, the stability of Philippine-American security alliance remains on uncertain ground under Duterte Administration as the Philippine government can still resume the VFA termination after the suspension period. 

Playing the US Card

Apparently, the Philippine government is currently playing the US card because of China’s recent activities in the SCS.   The indefinite postponement during the pandemic of the negotiation between China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the SCS is also creating renewed regional security uncertainties requiring an American presence to balance China.  Thus, the Philippines can utilize its existing security alliance with the US in order to balance China’s growing presence in the SCS.

Playing the China Card

But being an ally of the US does not make the Philippines the enemy of China.    The Philippines continues to value its centuries old friendship with China.  Under Duterte Administration, the Philippines government is still interested to pursue “comprehensive strategic cooperation” with China.  

In fact, the Philippines and China just commemorated on 9 June 2020 the 45 years of their diplomatic relations where both countries agreed to boost ties and to “embrace a better future” of their bilateral friendship and partnership.  The Philippines still needs to be friendly with China to have another card to play when dealing with its only security ally, the US.

Friendly to All, Enemy to None

The Philippine government’s decision to suspend the VFA termination while remaining friendly with China is an exercise of Duterte’s independent foreign policy.    It is a foreign policy that is anchored on the pragmatic principle of being “friendly to all and enemy to none”.  This principle serves only one purpose: the effective advancement of Philippine national security interests amidst regional security uncertainties in the time of the pandemic.

*The author is a Professorial Lecturer at the Department of International Studies, Miriam College.  He has a PhD in International Relations at Jinan University, Guangzhou China and a BA and MA in Political Science at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.  He is the Chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR) and the President of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS).

This analysis also appeared in Eurasia Review.

Photo Credit: The USS Barry conducts operations in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands, April 28, 2020. U.S. Navy handout photo by Samuel Hardgrove as used in Eurasia Review.

Understanding Terrorism in the Context of the Proposed New Philippine Anti-Terrorism Law

by Rod Kapunan*

20 June 2020

The latitude of freedom accorded to our people has gone a bit too far. To express one’s indignation to the proposed law is beyond the concept of freedom of expression. Such unmitigated rile against the Anti-Terrorist Law already crosses the boundary of freedom.

The action of the so-called militant group is indirect censorship. They are now acting as terrorists demanding that it be stricken off the record. Their opposition manifests their unjustified prejudgment of the proposed law.

One cannot even say the law is unconstitutional. It does not particularize a person or group of persons guilty like a bill of attainder enforced by a coup-installed president singling out the Marcoses as guilty and whose properties were sequestrated by the prejudgment of the presidential-good-for-nothing commission as ill-gotten.

Despite the heated acrimony about the passage of the ATL, Congress has not taken steps to amend the Constitution like giving the President stronger power to impose martial law as the hypocrites would often like to compare.

The creation of a Council is in lieu of suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Suspected terrorists can be detained as determined. However, the fiscal remains free to charge the accused in court. Likewise, the Council is more adept and familiar how terrorist organizations operate than a judge who is preoccupied in deciding cases violated under the Revised Penal Code.

But for all of their denunciations of the ATL, they remain silent why death penalty has not been re-imposed. The misplaced leniency saw many big time drug lords stocked inside the New Bilibid Prison only to continue their syndicated operations and enjoying privileges of private rooms or “kobol” complete with karaoke bar, and visitation pass, which reason why Senator Leila De Lima landed in jail. The opposition is silent on this issue because they do not want to recall this “miscarriage of justice” that ludicrously favored big-time criminals.

Although the ATL provides that any person convicted of terrorism cannot be granted pardon or have his sentence commuted, they skip the truth that this is equivalent to life imprisonment, stated differently. Our decision to spare the life of hardened criminals saw many convicted felons agonizing inside the penitentiary without visitation for years. This has contributed to the congestion of prisoners, thus tempting prison guards to give special favor to well-off criminals.

Admittedly, the Anti-Terrorism Law gives the accused terrorist a slim chance of evading the punitive measures of the law. But looking at the rationale behind its enactment, one could discern that it is intended to pre-empt the commission of crimes unimaginable and grotesque in magnitude. The opposition themselves never clarified the meaning of terrorism for our people to understand their advocacy.

They say it could lead to the arrest and detention of suspects without warrant up to 18 days. The hypocrites want to cram the prosecutors to file cases presenting haphazard evidence only to secure their untimely release. They disregard that the duty of the Council is to ramify cases committed by terror -suspects but are charged with rebellion and sedition and whose penalty correspondingly increases similar to the concept of “qualified” theft which under the RPC increases three times, say for violating the country’s laws on national security like the Anti-Terrorist Law.

The ATL is a modified version of the anti-subversion law that has long been abrogated. In short, the ATL is in reaction to the ferocity and savagery of terrorists.

Our law enforcement authorities are no longer fighting a warfare understood as guerrilla or irregular warfare but one termed today as “asymmetrical warfare.” They observe no rules, no humane treatment of prisoners, and they feel free to torture and execute their hostage.

Terrorists do not distinguish civilian from military targets, nor are they obligated to refrain from bombing hospitals, refugee camps, and residential areas. They prefer to use weapons intended to inflict maximum damage and casualties. Their followers adhere to a primeval form of ideology like executing prisoners in the name of jihad, and finally demand rather than negotiate ransom for the release of their hostage.

Even the dead are desecrated like showing in social media the head of the fallen soldier skewered in a bamboo pole in the most contemptible act of scoffing the dead. The killing of our 44 SAF policemen is the most vivid act of terrorism. Each of the dead body was hacked, mutilated and undressed of their uniform to consummate insult. They express their utter contempt to the government.

As terrorists, they do not recognize such thing as theatre of operations or demand the temporary cessation of hostilities as observed in any conventional warfare. They observe no rules on warfare recognized under international law. They substitute their lack of support by instilling fear to weaken the morale of the people. Their objective is to inflict the greatest number of casualties.

To deal with suspects bent in sowing fear and terror, the ATL has to put limitations: that when terrorism begins, the state has to use all the legal means to preserve order in society. Such is necessary to respond to the degree of crime committed which today poses as the greatest threat to humanity. Terrorism must be rooted out, for often they are committed either through a web of conspiracy and unmitigated treachery.

Admittedly, the latitude upon which suspects are made liable is now narrower but that can never be interpreted as violation of our basic rights. The government is merely seeking to provide itself the remedy in reaction to the drastic changes resorted to by terrorists in the rules of warfare.

For example, the opposition bewails the use of the word “incite others to commit terrorism by means of speeches, proclamation, writing, and emblems or other representations to achieve the same end.” However, they failed to consider that the word “inciting” already exists in crimes of rebellion and sedition. The Council opted to include inciting to commit terrorism, for often suspects use it to sow fear or threat to use violence.

Specifically, left-leaning groups and their front organizations vigorously denounce the ATL. Even the yellow opposition, being the unofficial outlet of US propaganda, adds confusion such that the military is having difficulty classifying them as terrorists for the fact that in many instances they commit ambuscades and are engaged in systematic extortion. The siege of Marawi is a lesson which the opposition wishes to expurgate in our memory.

The issue of human rights and claim of repression blends well to allow known US lackeys and the oligarchy to coalesce with hardcore leftists. This is made convenient by the support of the Church and derailed intellectuals to lambast the government. Yet, nobody now stands up to criticize the US Patriot Act of 2001 which is similar to our ATL that saw the kidnapping of terror suspects by the US to be detained for years without charges in Guantanamo, Cuba.

The danger is they are unaware that the principal sponsor of many terrorist groups today is the US itself. They forgot that it was Duterte who exposed the participation of the US embassy when it airlifted a suspected CIA operative to Manila who was wounded in a bomb blast carried out by the Abu Sayaff.

*The author is a columnist for the Manila Standard. A former rebel soldier, he was a prominent leader of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM).

This piece was originally published in Manila Standard.

Photo Credit: University of the Philippines College of Law.

On the Proposed New Philippine Anti-Terrorism Law: Beyond Constitutionality

By Soliman M. Santos, Jr.*

Naga City, 18 June 2020

The current public debate in media and occasionally in the streets, as well as the reported executive department review of the new Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) presented by the leaders of both houses of Congress to the President for him to sign it into law, can be said to be focused on its constitutionality.  Opponents have already announced their intentions to question the new law’s constitutionality before the Supreme Court (SC) once it has been enacted by presidential approval.  Defenders in turn challenge them to just do so, in their desire to get it enacted already, confident that the SC will uphold its constitutionality.  As if constitutionality is all there is to it.

Of course, constitutionality and the even broader principle of legality are important.  Indeed, it can be said to include concerns of preserving Philippine democracy, fundamental freedoms, civil liberties and human rights – reflected in such basic constitutional concepts and principles as a democratic State, the separation of powers, checks and balances, the Bill of Rights and even adherence to international law.  The latter itself as a long tradition of treaties and institutions on human rights and a more recent, growing set of treaties and institutions on terrorism.  The latter might also be said to be covered by such constitutional provisions as the primary duty of the Government to protect the people, the maintenance of peace and order, and the protection of life, liberty and property, essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.

Still, there is more to anti-terrorism legislation than constitutionality.  Beyond or apart from but adjunct to this is the wisdom, correctness and efficacy of the law for its intended purpose of  protecting the people from terrorism.  Stated otherwise, the question is not only:  is it constitutional?  The question is also:  does or will it serve its intended or at least declared purpose?     If we go by the ATB (Senate Bill No. 1083/ House Bill No. 1083) itself, its Sec. 2 Declaration of Policy contains these parameters:

>   “… to make terrorism a crime against the Filipino people, against humanity, and against the law of nations.”

>     “In the implementation of the policy stated above, the State shall uphold the basic rights and fundamental liberties of the people as enshrined in the Constitution.”

>  “The State recognizes that the fight against terrorism requires a comprehensive approach, comprising political, economic, diplomatic, military and legal means duly taking into account the root causes of terrorism…”

>  “Such measures shall include conflict management and post-conflict peacebuilding, addressing the roots of conflict…”

“… shall not prejudice respect for human rights which shall be absolute and protected at all times.”

These are progressive policies by any measure.  Incidentally, this is the same pareho Sec. 2 Declaration of Policy in the sought to be repealed Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007.  Much of the credit for progressive policy formulations there must be given to the late Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr.   Using the HSA/ATB Declaration of Policy as the standard for evaluating the ATB, three things come out:

1.  The ATB mainly deals with the criminalization of terrorism.  The bulk or the meat of the law covers the “legal means” in the “fight against terrorism,” defining and penalizing terrorism and adjunct crimes, providing for measures of surveillance, interception, designation, proscription, detention, investigation and freezing of bank deposits, continuous trial, special anti-terror courts, among others.  Most importantly, the Sec. 4 definition of terrorism, which is the proper starting point in the fight against it, appears to be in accord with United Nations (UN) instruments on the matter.   It was the late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who called “for a definition of terrorism which would make it clear that any action constitutes terrorism if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, with the purpose of  intimidating a population or compelling a Government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.

2.  There is at least in “the letter of the law” a number of provisions in the ATB that appear to effectuate the Declaration of Policy’s double upholding of  constitutional and “human rights which shall be absolute and protected at all times.”  It is interesting to note that the lead agency Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) in its defining Sec. 45 includes a “Legal affairs program” which “shall ensure respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law as the fundamental bases of the fight against terrorism.”  Again, it was Annan who once said, “Upholding human rights is not merely compatible with a successful counter-terrorism strategy.  It is an essential element of it.”  One might describe this as a human rights approach or a rights-based approach to terrorism.  After all, it has been said that “There is no conflict between the duty of states to protect the rights of persons threatened by terrorism and their responsibility to ensure that protecting security does not undermine other rights.”  But there also serious concerns that such rights, and the spirit of upholding constitutional and human rights, would be undermined by a number of other provisions in the ATB such as most notably the Sec. 29 Detention Without Judicial Warrant of Arrest on mere suspicion of committing terrorist acts or of membership in a proscribed terrorist organization.

3.  The ATB Declaration of Policy speaks of, quite notably, of  the fight against terrorism requiring a comprehensive approach, comprising political, economic, diplomatic, military and legal means duly taking into account the root causes of terrorism … Such measures shall include conflict management and post-conflict peacebuilding, addressing the roots of conflict…”  It appears that this “comprehensive approach” is left for the ATC under Sec. 45 to develop “focus programs” of four kinds:  “(a) Preventing and countering violent extremism program; (b) Preventing and combatting terrorism program;  (c)  International affairs and capacity building program; and (d) Legal affairs program.”   This presentation of four “focus programs” is new, as it is not found in the counterpart Sec. 53 of the HSA.  The ATB or Congress has provided only broad strokes of the four “focus programs.”  The one which seeks to address the root causes of terrorism is the “(a) Preventing and countering violent extremism program.”  To “address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism… It shall identify, integrate, and synchronize all government and non-government initiatives and resources to prevent radicalization and violent extremism, thus reinforce and expand an after-care program.”   

Off-hand, this does not appear to us to be enough to address the root causes of terrorism.  Not to belittle the expert inputs and legislative deliberation that may have gone into and resulted in this policy guidance for the ATC but I believe there can be more inputs and deliberation for a better programmatic guidance… if we give it more time.  If the law is now rushed for passage, the short-term recourse to the SC will cover only at most constitutionality issues, it will not cover the other important issues we mentioned earlier of  the wisdom, correctness and efficacy of the law for its intended purpose of  protecting the people from terrorism.  That will have to wait for another, longer time in the future for legislative oversight review and amendments.  As we had said, the Implementing Rules and Regulations cannot fill the substantive gaps in the law itself.

Though the ATB Declaration of Policy does not state it, there is reason to believe that for certain of its proponents the real target of the ATB is the domestic proscription of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People’s Army (NPA) as a terrorist organization, as part of a “legal offensive” against it under the auspices of a National Plan to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NP-ELCAC).  Apart from questions of transparency about this objective if indeed it is of the ATB, the questions of wisdom, correctness and efficacy might also be asked.  IF this is the underlying motivation for the ATB, does it do justice to the broader and distinct fight against terrorism?   On the other hand, is anti-terrorism the right approach (even if it is just one of 12 lines of effort) to end the local communist armed conflict?   As it is,   President Duterte’sProclamation No. 374 dated 5 December 2017 had already “declar[ed] the CPP-NPA as an entity designated and/or identified as a terrorist organization pursuant to Section 3(e)(1) of RA No. 10168”  (The Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012).”  It cites as basis for this that “on 09 August 2002, the United States of America (USA) designated the CPP-NPA as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) and to date continues to include the CPP-NPA in its list of FTOs.”

Once upon a time, there were President Ramos’ Executive Order (EO) No. 125 dated 15 September 1993 and then  President Arroyo’s EO No. 3 dated 28 February 2001, both on the Government’s Comprehensive Peace Efforts, developed on the basis of nationwide public consultations in 1992-93 of the National Unification Commission (NUC).  Both EOs adopted as government policy the “Six Paths to Peace,” among which were the “Pursuit of Social, Economic and Political Reforms… aimed at addressing the root causes of internal armed conflicts…” and the “Peaceful, Negotiated Settlement with the Different Rebel Groups.”  That now seems like ages ago. 

And now some relevant questions come to mind:  Is the CPP-NPA (still) a “rebel group”?  Or is it (already) a “terrorist organization”?  Or is it both (the categories are not mutually exclusive)?  Or is it what the CPP-NPA claims to be “as a co-belligerent in the civil war in the Philippines”?   The correct characterization should lead to the correct response.   Clearly, questions like these and many others relevant to the ATB are beyond the pale of constitutionality.  We should not limit this important discourse to this.    

*SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR. is presently a Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Naga City, Camarines Sur.  He is a long-time human rights and IHL lawyer;  legislative consultant and legal scholar;  peace advocate, researcher and writer;  and author of a number of books.

Photo Credit: Stand united against terrorism creative vector image/VectorStock

Terrorism: An Emerging Definition and Framework

by Atty. Soliman M. Santos, Jr.*

15 June 2020


Contrary to general impression, there is an emerging internationally acceptable definition of terrorism.  This much can be gleaned from the Report of the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change on 2 December 2004, subsequently endorsed by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in, among others, his keynote address to the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security on 10 March 2005 in Madrid on the eve of the first anniversary of the “3/11” terrorist attacks on passenger trains there.   Those working for or against anti-terrorism legislation in the Philippines should take these new developments into account.  


In paragraph 164 of the said UN High Level Panel Report, it stated that the definition of terrorism should include the following elements:

  • Recognition, in the preamble, that State use of force against civilians  is regulated by the Geneva Conventions and other instruments, and, if of sufficient scale, constitutes a war crime by the persons concerned or a crime against humanity;  
  • Restatement that acts under the  12 preceding anti-terrorism conventions are terrorism, and a declaration that they are a crime under international law;  and  restatement that terrorism in time of armed conflict is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and Protocols;  
  • Reference to the definitions contained in the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and Security Council resolution 1566 (2004);
  • Description of terrorism as “any action, in addition to actions already specified by the existing conventions on aspects of terrorism, the Geneva  Conventions and Security Council resolution 1566 (2004), that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international  organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”

That last paragraph actually provides what could become the internationally accepted short definition of terrorism.   In fact, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan made  use of or paraphrased it in his above-said keynote address in this way:   “The  [UN High Level] Panel calls for a definition of terrorism which would make it clear that any action constitutes terrorism if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, with the purpose of  intimidating a population or compelling a Government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.  I believe this proposal has clear moral force, and I strongly urge world leaders to unite behind it, with a view to adopting the comprehensive convention [on terrorism] as soon as possible.”   (boldface supplied)

Immediately preceding this, Annan had said:   “For too long the moral authority of the UN in confronting terrorism has been weakened by the spectacle of protracted negotiations.   But the report of the High-Level Panel offers us a way to end these arguments.  We do not need to argue whether States can be guilty of terrorism, because deliberate use of force by States against civilians is already clearly prohibited under international law.  As for the right to resist occupation, it must be understood in its true meaning.  It cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians.”            

The UN High Level Panel Report’s above-quoted proposed elements in the definition of terrorism makes reference to Security Council resolution 1566 (2004).    This resolution which was adopted on 8 October 2004 stated in its paragraph 3 that  it:  “Recalls that criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of  hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in  a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act, which constitute offenses within the scope of  and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations  of a political,  philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature…”             

From the above formulations towards an international legal definition of terrorism, it would seem that terrorism during armed conflict is basically covered by the Geneva Conventions and Protocols, the core of international humanitarian law (IHL) i.e. the international law on armed conflict.  What remains to be covered is terrorism during peacetime.  This is where the other international legal terms of reference mentioned by the UN High Level Panel Report come in – like the 12 international conventions on various aspects of terrorism and Security Council resolution 1566 (2004).

None of the 12 conventions, however, has a generally accepted single inclusive definition of terrorism.  Former International Law Commission member Raul I. Goco of the Philippines has pointed out that each of these conventions describes only the particular or specific acts or subject-matter covered by it.  These are aircraft hijacking and sabotage, crimes against internationally protected persons including diplomatic agents, hostage-taking, physical protection of nuclear material, airport violence, acts against maritime navigation safety, acts against the safety of fixed platforms on the continental shelf, terrorist bombings, and terrorist financing.    

It bears noting that the terminology “global war on terror” has been rightly criticized, for example by the Madrid Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security, being not only misleading but also dangerous.  That terminology plays into the hands of  the perpetrators of terrorism, confuses the terminology applied in IHL and jeopardizes the applicability of human rights (HR) standards. To apply the “war on terror” terminology implies the possibility that HR standards that should be applied in these cases may be derogated or indefinitely suspended because of “war.”  


This brings us to the question of framework in handling, including countering, terrorism.  Aside from what we just said about the inappropriateness of “war” terminology and the applicability of IHL only to situations of war or armed conflict, IHL  alone cannot be the sole term of reference or framework in defining and handling terrorism.  IHL is a framework for armed conflict, not just for terrorism, and less so in peacetime.  There is a distinct international legal framework on terrorism – starting with the 12 conventions on its various aspects and moving towards a comprehensive convention with an internationally accepted legal definition.   IHL and the emerging international law on terrorism represent different frameworks dealing with different phenomena which have come to the fore of global attention at different eras.  That the emerging international law on terrorism makes use of IHL particularly for terrorism during armed conflict does not change those differences.       

Indeed, in the 1977 Protocol I Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, Article 51, paragraph 2, and in the 1977 Protocol II Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, Article 13, paragraph 2, one finds an early legal concept of terrorism: “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack.   Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.”  But the context is armed conflict or wartime, not peacetime.  Thus, the early idea to consider an act of terrorism as “peacetime equivalent of a war crime.”  But not all war crimes are committed against civilians, many are also committed against combatants.  So, the analogy or transposition might not be appropriate or satisfactory.       

So, some attention has been directed to crimes against humanity which may be committed not only during armed conflict (like war crimes) but also during peacetime.  But the latest international legal definition of this, in the1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7, requires a threshold, thus:  “when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.”  What if the acts of terrorism during peacetime fall below this threshold, i.e. are “not part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population”?  What international (and national) law would then cover them? 

It is not only IHL which can and must be among the international legal terms of reference regarding terrorism.  Aside from specific international conventions on terrorism, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan cites two others in his Madrid Summit keynote address:  “By the same token, the UN must continue to insist that, in the fight against terrorism, we cannot compromise on the core values I have listed.   In particular, human rights and the rule of law must always be respected. As I see it, terrorism is in itself a direct attack on human rights and the rule of law.   If we sacrifice them in our response, we are handing a victory to the terrorists.”  But in the first place terrorism violates the basic right to life and the fundamental freedom from fear.  Law enforcement is a valid counter-measure against terrorism but the premise of law enforcement is the rule of law.

The Berlin Declaration of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) adopted 28 August 2004 is one on “Upholding Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Combating Terrorism.”   This Berlin Declaration states, among others, that

In adopting measures aimed at suppressing acts of terrorism, states must adhere strictly to the rule of law, including the core principles of criminal and international law [e.g. legality, necessity, proportionality, and non-discrimination] and the specific standards and obligations of international human rights law, refugee law and, where applicable, humanitarian law.  These principles, standards and obligations define the boundaries of permissible and legitimate state action against terrorism…

… There is no conflict between the duty of states to protect the rights of persons threatened by terrorism and their responsibility to ensure that protecting security does not undermine other rights,.. Both contemporary human rights and humanitarian law allow states a reasonably wide margin of flexibility to combat terrorism without contravening human rights and humanitarian legal obligations…

International and national efforts aimed at the realization of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights of all persons without discrimination, and addressing political, economic and social exclusion, are themselves essential tools in preventing and eradicating terrorism.  (italics supplied) 

One might describe this as a human rights approach or a rights-based approach to terrorism. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan even says, “Upholding human rights is not merely compatible with a successful counter-terrorism strategy.  It is an essential element of it.”   The Berlin Declaration has reiterated the relevant guiding principles and the ICJ has been monitoring and providing legal advice on counter-terrorism measures with a view to ensuring compatibility with the rule of law and human rights and, when necessary, challenging excessive anti-terrorism legislation and promoting policy options fully consistent with international human rights law.

The question should no longer be whether to have anti-terrorism legislation but instead whether such legislation upholds human rights and the rule of law, starting with a good, well-informed definition of terrorism (and the prohibition of specific acts of terrorism should follow from this).  As it is, the Philippines has ratified most, if not all, of the 12 international anti-terrorism conventions and therefore already has an international obligation to pass implementing domestic legislation.  Terrorism must be given its just due in terms of a specific legal framework to address it, in the same way that common crimes like murder, political offenses like rebellion, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide have their respective specific legal frameworks.  Murder committed in furtherance of rebellion is absorbed by the latter.  But rebellion does not absorb war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and terrorism even if committed in furtherance of rebellion. 


 In the 112th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held in Manila, it passed on 5 April 2005 a Resolution on “The Role of Parliaments in the Establishment and Functioning of  Mechanisms to Provide for the Judgment and Sentencing of War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide and Terrorism, with a View to Avoiding Impunity.”  Note how terrorism is distinct from and not subsumed under or absorbed by war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  In the Philippine legislature, the latter three international crimes are covered by an existing bill for a “Philippine Statute on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law and Other Serious International Crimes,” while the international crime of terrorism is sought to be addressed in several anti-terrorism bills.  None of the latter appear to be informed of the emerging international legal definition and framework regarding terrorism and its proper handling.  Bad for human rights, bad for human security.

SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR. is a Bicolano human rights lawyer, legislative consultant and legal scholar; author of The Moro Islamic Challenge (UP Press, 2001), Peace Advocate (DLSU Press, 2002), Peace Zones in the Philippines (Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute, 2005), and Dynamics and Directions of the GRP-MILF Peace Negotiations (Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao, 2005).  

This piece was also published in Eurasia Review.

Photo Credit: Image ID : 102570361Media Type : Vector Copyright : Anatolii Korniakov. Source: Vector graphics.

COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons Learned

by Aurora Roxas-Lim*

14 June 2020

There are many lessons to learn from the turmoil brought about by the COVID19 pandemic.

The virulence and rapidity of the spread of this pandemic affect all social classes from all countries of the world. Wuhan City in Hubei Province of China, the origin of the virus, took drastic measures by cordoning off the city in late December 2019, then the entire province.

Subsequently, the national government ordered lockdown of other provinces and restricted local and international travel. At the same time the Chinese government mobilized all health and support agencies to care for hundreds of thousands victims.

When the virus struck our country, our government took similar measures from March to June 2020. Imposition of strict lockdown, ordering people to stay at home, prohibition of travel while intended to prevent the spread of the virus, caused tremendous havoc to the economy.

The hardest hit by lockdowns and stay at home order are the poor.

The order is such an irony   for thousands of Metro Manila residents are homeless. Many live in squatter areas with no potable water and sanitation facilities. Likewise, the stay at home order caused hardships to daily wage earners, street vendors, tricycle drivers, laborers, jeepney drivers, servitors etc.

Not until August 12, 2019 did House Committee Chairman on Metro Manila Development Congressman Manuel Luis Lopez realize that of the 14 million residents in the National Capital region, at least 494,630 are poor. The numbers will increase with the implementation of the National Identification project. Our government realizing the dire effects of its health measures has been providing relief goods and sums money to alleviate the suffering of the poor.

Fortunately, many wealthier sectors of our society, individuals and corporations donate food, health care and medical supplies.  But these are all short-term emergency measures. 

The social-economic consequences of COVID19 pandemic brought to light the long neglected festering problems of our country. There has been great wealth generated since the 1990’s and our GDP growth has been 6% during the last decade.

However our country’s Gini Coefficient that measures social-economic iniquity remains quite high at – 0.475. This means wealth is more and more concentrated in the hands of the fewer wealthy individuals and families. Our economic policy of free enterprise allows the wealthy to invest in whatever enterprises that will bring them greater profit at the shortest possible time.

Hence, the wealthy take over  mainly public lands (often in connivance with politicians)   and put up shopping malls, expensive subdivisions, hotels, condominiums, cemeteries, casinos, resorts, etc. But rarely do they build affordable, safe, durable sanitary housing for the poor.

Exacerbating the lack of low-cost housing is that our government has not done enough to generate employment at home that guarantees enough wages so that when people are too old to work they can draw from their savings and pension. Corollary to job generation at home is putting up educational training system to raise skills of workers and food producers.

The pandemic also put to the spotlight the vital importance of people who clean up our environment – garbage collectors, sewage cleaners, janitors, hospital orderlies whose work should be mechanized, they should be equipped with protective gear and paid just compensation like the system that is practiced in  Germany. Our health workers – doctors, nurses, dentists, therapists and care givers especially in public hospitals and clinics are mostly over worked and under paid. Hence many go abroad. Instead of nurturing native industries and manufacturing that produce high value high tech products we export labor.

Overseas Filipino Workers number between 5 to 10 million whose remittances (hover between $2.5 to $10 billion) help shore up our economy. Our country focuses on attracting Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). Our country is one of the most hospitable venues to Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). We provide land, roads, transportation facilities and utilities (electricity, water) and compliant skilled labor plus favorable taxation. Greater attention is given to to FDI, Business Processing Operations (BPO), franchising (mainly US fast food chains) and exporting labor.

Yet, we have not taken determined efforts to boost food production that requires large investments over long period of time. So we import rice from Thailand and Vietnam. Our farmers and fisherfolk are the poorest sectors of our society.  Poverty incidence nationwide was 38.8% in 2006 and dropped in 2020 but still 19.8% or 23.1 million Filipinos are poor.

Food production should be mobilized in larger scale, which requires large capital investment over long period of time. This also requires  land reform in order to  consolidate the often 3 to 5 hectares of scattered fields, mechanize operations together with improved less costly irrigation and flood control measures, lower farm imputs – seeds and  fertilizers, provide post-harvest, processing,  ware housing facilities,  transportation and marketing. This also entails organizing food production cooperatives and collectives that will be responsible for maintaining machinery, irrigation facilities and payment of loans. The Balik Probinsya (Return to the Province) Program being undertaken by our government is meant to decongest Metro Manila.

Hopefully, the project will also encourage putting up barangay and municipal economic enterprises suitable for the ecological conditions of the area like aquaculture in coastal areas, agri-forestry in mountainous forest areas, food processing, waste recycling, waste management and environmental protection. There is also a need to set up biomass facilities in the municipalities to recycle biodegradable waste. Our government should entice armed and violent rebel groups to participate in economic production.

Above all, it is paramount to eradicate or at least minimize corruption.  

Our government, while attending to health care of victims of COVID19 pandemic needs to draw up immediately a comprehensive, coordinated social-economic recovery program to deal with the problems raised above. Let us appeal to our wealthy capitalists to undertake not only economic activities for personal corporate profit but for the social good.  

*The author was former Dean at the Asian Center of the University of the Philippines and a former President of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS) where currently sits as a member of the Board of Advisers. She is currently teaching at the Ateneo de Manila University.

This piece was also published in Eurasia Review.

Photo by Capacity Media and Eurasia Review.

45 Years of Philippines-China Relations: Deepening Friendship Towards Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation

by Rommel C. Banlaoi, PhD

10 June 2020

Original version of this piece was commissioned by China Report ASEAN.


China and the Philippines have reached 45 years of relationship.  Like many other relationships, the Philippines and China have their own stories of ups and downs.  Yet, they remain friends as permanent neighbors as they were many centuries ago.

Normalization Period

Since 1975, the Philippines has been pursuing a policy of maintaining friendly ties with China, a policy wisely established by then President Ferdinand Marcos (1975-1986).   Marcos saw the importance of cooperating with China as matter of national survival during the cold war while at the same time getting along with the United States as a security ally.   

When Marcos visited Chairman Mao Tse Tung in June 1975 to formalize their ties, Mao exclaimed, “it takes two hands to clap” and that their two nations  “are one family now”.  Thereafter, they enjoyed the normalization period where they entered into various bilateral cooperation agreements covering broad areas of trade, investment, tourism, air services, cultural exchanges, scientific cooperation, technical collaboration, agricultural development, avoidance of double taxation, postal and parcel agreements, educational partnerships, and even military-to-military ties. They also became important trade partners in Asia. From a trade volume with China of US$20 million in 1974, the figure spiked to US$300 million in 1984 making China the Philippines’ 6th largest trading partner in 1985 historically surpassing Taiwan.

Improved economic ties were products of better political ties.  China supported the Philippine government in its campaign against the New People’s Army (NPA) by not interfering in each other’s domestic affairs.  During the oil crisis in the 1970s, the Philippines received friendly price of oil from China to ameliorate Philippine economic crisis. Though Marcos became assertive of Philippine territorial claim in the South China Sea by creating in 1978 the Municipality of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the Spratlys, China’s military attention was the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, which led to the Sino-Vietnamese War or the Third Indo-China War of 1979.

Under Chairman Deng Xiaoping, China began economic reforms by opening up to the world in 1979.  The Philippines has benefited from this opening up policy through greater improvements in trade, investment, and tourism relations.

President Corazon Aquino (1986-1992) sustained this level of friendship with China despite the preference of her administration to strongly embrace the Philippines’ long-standing security alliance with the United States.   China was even one of the first few countries in the world that recognized the legitimacy of the Aquino government.

But during the Aquino administration, Philippines-China relationship was in the state of uncertainties arising from the arduous process of democratic restoration in the Philippines and bothering democratic challenges in China, especially in 1989 during the Tiananmen incident and the breakdown of the Berlin Wall. This was a difficult period in Philippines-China relations as both needed to confront their respective security challenges in the post-cold war.  The difficulty was exacerbated by the fact that Aquino gave more accommodations to Taiwan, which became the Philippines’ 4th trading partner during her term relegating Mainland China behind.

Yet, they committed to remain friendly not only at the government-to-government level but more so at the people-to-people level.  The Aquino government intensified economic, cultural and educational exchanges with China and opened up closer relationships among their non-governmental organizations.  When Aquino visited China in April 1988, she acknowledged her roots to Fuijian province where her ancestors originated.  Aquino even stressed the ancient origin of Philippines-China relations where they shared unbroken friendship.

Troubled Ties

Philippines-China relations became troublesome during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos (1992-1998) arising from the lingering territorial disputes in the South China Sea.  In 1992, China passed the Law on Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone.   This created security anxieties not only in the Philippines but also in the Asia Pacific region.  

Given this situation, President Ramos visited China in 1993 with the intention to expand economic relations and to manage territorial disputes with China.  Ramos wanted to improve economic ties with China in order to overcome their political differences on the South China Sea.  Ramos even established personal ties with President Jiang Zemin who assured the Philippines that China would settle their disputes with neighbors peacefully in order promote mutual economic prosperity.

In 1995, however, China established its control of the Mischief Reef. This aggravated the growing security concern of the Philippines. To surmount this trouble, the Philippines signed with China in August 1995 the Joint Statement on Philippines-China Consultations on the South China Sea and other Areas of Cooperation to emphasize the need for bilateral consultations and cooperation to peacefully manage their conflicts in the South China Sea.   Ramos believed that bilateral cooperation could undermine bilateral conflicts.

Despite their troubled relations in the South China Se, their over-all trade and investment relations interestingly improved.  From a trade volume of US$457 million in 1994, it increased to US$1,306 million at the end of 1995.  This was a 65% increase in just one year despite the Mischief Reef incident.  Even Filipino-Chinese businessmen were encouraged to invest in China despite the two countries’ political problems in the South China Sea.  This demonstrated that troubled political relations in the South China Sea did not affect good economic relations between the two countries. Although the territorial disputes encouraged the Ramos government to sign the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States in February 1998 at the tail end of his presidential term, it was business as usual between the two countries in the area of trade, investment, and tourism. 

During the administration of President Joseph Estrada (1998-2001), political troubles in the South China Sea did not disappear.   The political problem became more complicated in 1999 when China fortified its structures in the Mischief Reef.  This encouraged the Philippine Senate to ratify the VFA in to play the American card with China. At the same time, the Estrada government pursued greater bilateral cooperation with China when he visited the country in May 2000. There he met President Jiang Zemin to sign the “Framework of Bilateral Cooperation in the Twenty-First Century”.  This framework elevated the status of Philippines-China relations to the higher plane.

Golden Age of Bilateral Relations

But the Estrada government was short live.  It was during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2001-2010) when the Philippines and China enjoyed the “golden age” of their relations.  

At the regional level, China improved its relations with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) when they signed in 2002 the Declaration on the Conduct  (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.  The DOC aims to pursue cooperation and avoid conflicts in the South China Sea.  In 2005, then Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the Philippines where both countries decided to set-aside territorial dispute in order to pursue economic cooperation and joint development. This led to the adoption in 2005 of the Joint Seismic Marine Undertaking (JMSU) by China, the Philippines and Vietnam.  However, the Philippines stopped the implementation of JMSU because of domestic controversies.

Nonetheless, President Arroyo pursued the policy of comprehensive engagement with China ushering in the golden years of their bilateral ties.    In 2007, the Philippines and China reached the highest level of their trade relation when it reached US$30.6 billion. By the end of Arroyo term in 2010, China became the Philippines’ third largest trading partner and the greatest provider of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the Philippines. From 2001 to 2010, China committed a loan of US$1.3 billion to the Philippines and signed 65 agreements covering broad areas of cooperation.

Lowest Moment of Bilateral Ties

Sadly, Philippines-China relations severely deteriorated under President Benigno Simeon Aquino III (2010-2016).  The Scarborough Shoal standoff in 2012 and the subsequent filing of an arbitration case by the Philippines against China in 2013 led to the worsening of their bilateral ties under the Aquino III administration.

This was the lowest moment of Philippines-China relations. The Philippines received no ODA from China.  Investment and trade relations severely declined. Official channels of communication practically cut. President Aquino III even pursued the military balancing policy against China when Manila solidified its security alliance with the United States through the signing of Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in 2014. It was the dark of period of their bilateral ties. It was a very stormy relationship.

Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation: Greatest Heights in Bilateral Friendship

But there is a rainbow after the rain.  When President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) assumed office in 2016, the Philippines and China have started to enjoy a new era of closer friendship like the blooming of a big and beautiful flower.    PRRD’s policy of paradigm shift to China ushered in the new age of cooperation between the two countries.   When President XI Jingping visited the Philippines in 2018, the two countries declared their comprehensive strategic cooperation to have an all around relationship, which is a rapid turn-around in their bilateral ties.  As Xi aspires the China Dream for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, he also aspires for the rejuvenation of centuries-old friendship between the Philippines and China.  

Under Xi and PRRD, the Philippines and China are enjoying the highest moment of their bilateral relations, so far.  It is another golden age of their bilateral ties. 

At present, China has become the Philippines’ top trading partner and the largest source of imports with a trade volume reaching close to US$56 billion in 2018 alone.  China has become the Philippines’ largest foreign investment origin reaching at least US$ 67 million in 2018 and the largest source of net equity capital allocation of around US$100 million in 2019.  China has become the largest source of foreign tourists reaching 1.5 million in 2019.  China has become the Philippines’ largest source of foreign assistance to support infrastructure projects of PRRD under its Build Build Build (3B) Plan.  At least 75 projects are earmarked for China funding under the 3B Plan with at least US$24 billion investments and credit line pledges from China.  Under PRRD, China is now the Philippines’ third largest export destination and the largest export market for Philippine bananas. 

Politically, PRRD made a landmark decision in 2018 when he entered an agreement with China for joint development of oil and natural gas resources in the South China Sea.  Xi and PRRD also initiated in 2017 the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism in the South China Sea (BCM) to manage peacefully their territorial disputes. Both countries held their 5th BCM meeting at the end of 2019.  Their five meetings resulted in bilateral commitments to pursue joint marine environmental protections, joint search and rescue operations, and joint fishery managements in the South China Sea.  


After 45 years, China and the Philippines have gone a long way in their bilateral ties. Despite their ups and downs, the two countries have committed to remain friends not only now but in many years to come. 

Deepening this friendship towards comprehensive strategic cooperation is the current and future direction of Philippines-China relations. 

Dr. Rommel C. Banlaoi is the President of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies and the Chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

Photo Credit: CGTN.

45 Years of Bilateral Relations: Jointly Embracing a Better Future of China-Philippines Friendship and Partnership

China and the Philippines have drawn closer together under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Image: Facebook/Chinese Embassy in Manila

by  Huang Xilian*

9 June 2020

Midsummer is a good season to indulge in the beauty and fragrance of the pristine white Sampaguita flowers. It is also high time to tell the story of a blooming friendship between China and the Philippines. On the day of 9 June 45 years ago, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of the Philippines formally established diplomatic relations, which has renewed and continued the millennium-old friendship between the two nations. 

China and the Philippines are close neighbors sharing time-honored bonds of kinship and friendship. Back to more than a thousand years ago, the two peoples jointly paved the way to the flourishing Maritime Silk Road with diligence, bravery, and wisdom. The Maritime Silk Road has not only successfully promoted unimpeded trade and transportation, but also deepened mutual understanding and friendship between the two countries. From then on, our peoples have been good neighbors, close relatives as well as trusted friends. Since the establishment of diplomatic ties, bilateral relations have made substantial headway with the joint efforts of both sides over generations, with sincere friendship and win-win cooperation always being the main theme of our relations. 

Over the past 45 years, China and the Philippines have continually deepened mutual political trust. The bilateral relationship has been steadily upgraded, from 21st century-oriented cooperative relationship of good neighborliness and mutual trust to the strategic and cooperative relationship for peace and development, and then the relationship of comprehensive strategic cooperation. President Xi Jinping and President Duterte have drawn up strategic blueprints for China-Philippines relations and ushering the relationship into the New Golden Age for the two countries. 

Over the past 45 years, China and the Philippines have reaped nourishing fruits of practical cooperation. Bilateral trade volume increased from around US$72 million in 1975 to US$60.95 billion in 2019, with an increase of more than 800 times. China is now the Philippines’ top trading partner, the largest source of imports and the third largest export market. The synergies between the Belt and Road initiative and the Build, Build, Build program have been deepened, unleashing tangible potential in practical cooperation. A number of major infrastructure projects such as bridges, railways, water conservancy and telecommunication, are continuously making headway. Last year, the total value of China’s newly signed contractual projects in the Philippines reached US$6.24 billion, up 102% year on year. China has become a salient partner in supporting the Philippines’ economic and social development.

Over the past 45 years, China and the Philippines have enjoyed thriving people-to-people exchanges. So far, 34 pairs of sisterhood cities or provinces have already been established. China has been the second largest tourist origin of the Philippines for years, with over 1.74 million Chinese tourists visiting the Philippines last year. As exchanges and cooperation between the two countries in science, education, culture, art, media, think tanks, youth and other fields become increasingly vigorous, our traditional friendship has been full of vitality in the new era.

Over the past 45 years, China and the Philippines have been dedicated to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. The two countries established mechanisms such as the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) to exchange views, manage differences and explore practical cooperation. With joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries including the Philippines, the consultation of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea is proceeding smoothly and effectively. Recently, ships and planes carrying critical medical supplies are sailing and flying over the South China Sea, making it a sea of friendship, mutual support and cooperation. 

The year 2020 witnessed profound changes in our lives. The ruthless coronavirus disease (COVID-19) wreaked havoc in many countries around the globe, severely threatening humanity and global public health security. Facing the common challenge of the COVID-19, China and the Philippines have been supporting and helping each other, demonstrating our long-standing profound friendship. At the height of China’s battle with COVID-19, the Philippine government and people from all walks of life provided valuable support and assistance to China, which we will always be grateful and hold dear to the heart. In light of the pandemic situation in the Philippines, we feel keenly for the Philippine people amid the trying times. China extended every help and support to the Philippines to the best of its ability. 

China has unreservedly shared its hard-earned experience in the fight against the pandemic with the Philippines. All these first-hand feasible information and knowledge have been collected through arduous efforts and with tremendous sacrifice, and would hopefully help save more lives in the Philippines. Upon the request of the Philippine government, the Chinese government dispatched an anti-pandemic medical expert team with front line experience, to assist the Philippines in its battle against the COVID-19. 

Despite its own difficulty, China has promptly provided well-needed medical supplies to the Philippines within the best of its ability amid the pandemic outbreak. At the early stage of the outbreak here, the Chinese Embassy in cooperation with the China Mammoth Foundation, donated 2,000 test kits to the Philippine Government. The Chinese government then donated three batches of medical supplies to the Philippines, including 252,000 test kits, 130 ventilators, and 1,870,000 surgical masks. A large number of Chinese local governments, enterprises and civil groups donated millions sets of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies to different local units of the Philippines. Recently, the Embassy has also donated thousands of “Friendship Packages” containing assorted relief goods to Filipino families in need across the country to help them get through the current difficult time. 

China has provided assistance to the Philippines to procure medical supplies in China. We have made every effort to prioritize the production and supply of medicine and medical equipment urgently needed by the Philippines. Over 10,000 cubic meters of anti-pandemic medical supplies and a large amount of medicine have been purchased and transported from China and distributed to the front-liners in the Philippines. In light of the temporary suspension of commercial flights between the two countries, we have issued permit for the Philippine military aircrafts and vessels to land and dock in China for the transportation of medical supplies, and chartered “Goodwill Flight” to deliver anti-pandemic supplies to the Philippines. All these efforts have secured the life channel by air/sea between our two countries. 

Under the new normal of day-to-day pandemic response, China will continue to engage with the Philippines in joint COVID-19 prevention and control, exchanging experience on resumption of work and production to ensure supply and industrial chains, and implementing projects pertaining to the Belt and Road initiative and the Build, Build, Build program, so as to accelerate the recovery and growth of our economies in the post-pandemic era.

True friendship endures trial and hardship. Through joining hands to fight against the COVID-19, the foundation of China-Philippines relations have been further cemented, people-to-people ties strengthened, and the sense of building a community of shared future deepened. We have every reason to believe that, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and President Duterte, with the concerted participation and support from both governments and peoples, China-Philippines friendship and partnership would embrace an ever better future in the new era.

Source: The Chinese Embassy in Manila

*The author is currently the Chinese Ambassador to Manila. Thus far, he worked with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) for 30 years. He also served as China’s Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  Read more.

Photo Credit: Manila Bulletin

RP-China Relations at 45 Under the Covid-19 Pandemic

by Rommel C. Banlaoi, PhD

9 June 2020

Today is the 45th anniversary of the official establishment of Philippines-China relations. It also marks the Philippines-China friendship Day. The COVID-19 pandemic has strongly demonstrated that friendship is solidified amidst crises and difficulties.

When the Philippine government declared quarantine measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, China, as a long-time friend, immediately offered its assistance and unwaveringly expressed its willingness to cooperate with the Philippines.  In one of his public statements, President Rodrigo Duterte thanked China for supporting the Philippines in its battle against the infectious disease.  Duterte also dismissed rumors that the novel coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory, which was the same conclusion reported by the World Health Organization, top Western scientists and even the United States Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.  Counting on China’s helping hand, Duterte has even urged Beijing to prioritize the Philippines once it develops an antibody against the coronavirus disease 2019.

Upon request of the Philippine government, Beijing quickly responded by sending to Manila 12 members of its Anti-Epidemic Medical Expert Team on April 5 in order to support the Philippines in its battle against Covid-19.  The Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian, said China deployed its medical team to the country in order to “exchange experience and practice, with the aim to further improve the Philippines’ epidemic prevention and control policies and enhance the diagnosis, treatment and executive ability.” Most members of this medical team had their frontline experiences in Wuhan of China’s Hubei province.

Aside from the medical team — which already left on April 19 after two weeks of engaging with Filipino health officials and experts in the Department of Health (DoH), Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), Lung Center and Philippine General Hospital and also the general public in an online Q&A session — China also donated medical supplies to the Philippines in the form of 102,000 test kits, 400,000 surgical masks, 40,000 medical N95 masks, 15,000 medical protective suits, 5,000 medical face shields and 30 non-invasive ventilators.  Moreover, it assisted the Philippines in purchasing around 10,000 cubic meters of anti-epidemic supplies and  “a large amount of medicine,” not to mention donations coming from China’s private big corporations and local authorities. The Philippines also requested the assistance of China to prioritize the delivery of the Beijing Genomics Institute laboratory equipment worth $2.5 million (around P126.9 million), which arrived on April 22, to help fast-track the much-needed testing of Filipinos.

A number of enterprises and civil society groups, such as Jack Ma Foundation, Hong Kong Prudential Enterprise, Huawei Corp., Bank of China and Panhua Group, also donated large quantities of medical supplies, including millions of personal protective equipment (PPE), to the Philippines. China’s local authorities like Fujian, Hainan, Shangdong, Guangzhou, Nanning and others  donated large quantities of medical supplies to their corresponding sister provinces and cities in the Philippines like Ilocos Norte, Manila, Cebu City and Davao City.

The Covid-19 pandemic provided opportunities for the Philippines and China to strengthen bilateral ties despite China’s low popularity ratings in the Philippines compared with the United States and Japan.  In fact, China’s low popularity in the Philippines, notwithstanding Beijing’s efforts to deepen friendship with Manila, is posing a challenge in Philippines-China relations. In the latest survey of Social Weather Stations in September 2019, 70 percent of Filipino respondents expressed strong worries about China, particularly in the context of the surge of Chinese working in the Philippines. The same survey said 78 percent of the respondents regarded Philippine relationship with the United States as more important than that with China.

Opposition forces in the Philippines even doubted China’s sincerity in helping the Philippines in the time of Covid-19 pandemic because of China’s continuing activities in the South China Sea.   China recently named 25 islands and reefs in the South China Sea in its efforts to bolster its territorial claims.  In mid-February 2020, a Chinese Navy ship pointed its fire control radar at a Philippine Navy ship conducting routine patrol at Commodore Reef.  This prompted the Philippine government to file a diplomatic protest with China on April 22, 2020 over the incident and for China’s current move to include parts of Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in one of the new districts of Sansha city of Hainan province.

Amid the pandemic and recent developments in the South China Sea, one Philippine senator demanded China to cover the Philippine government’s expenses in responding to Covid-19 as payment for China’s alleged destruction of Philippine reefs in the KIG.  But the Chinese Embassy in Manila responded, “At this trying time, it is ridiculously absurd and irresponsible to make such remarks for the sole purpose of catching eyeballs and for selfish political gains.”

In other words, the Philippines-China relation continues to be dynamic in the time of the pandemic. On the one hand, there is cooperation in Philippines-China relations to overcome the scourge of Covid-19.  On the other hand, conflict in Philippines-China relations remains as a result of the South China Sea dispute.

As both countries commemorate the 45 years of their bilateral ties on June 9, 2020, it is paramount for the Philippines and China to pay greater attention to the development of a strong people’s diplomacy to reinforce and complement government-to-government diplomacy.    Despite its current efforts to remain friendly with the Philippines, China remains unpopular in the Philippines because of its lack of effective strategy to communicate with Filipinos.

Filipino reactions against China’ music video, “Iisang Dagat” (One Ocean), were indications of Beijing’s difficulties in communicating with the Filipinos during the pandemic despite their centuries-old friendships.  China, therefore, needs to learn innovative and sensitive ways on how to talk to the Filipino public so that Filipinos can better understand China’s intentions and actions, appreciate China’s current attitude and empathize with China’s visions for the world — a community of shared future  for the whole humanity.

The author is the President of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS) and a member of the Management Board of the World Association for Chinese Studies (WACS).  He is a Professorial Lecturer at the Department of International Studies at Miriam College, the Philippines. This piece is an updated version of an article published in Manila Times on 3 May 2020. Photo Credit: Manila Times.